Notes from the C-SAP Expert Workshop: the value of small numbers

We are currently going through the valuable material gained from last Friday’s expert workshop that was held in Birmingham. Many thanks must be given to the six participants; Alan Bryman, Antje Lindenmeyer, Sara Ryan, Dave Harris, Sean Moley and Kate Orton-Johnson who made the event such a success. During the workshop we covered a range of issues related to finding resources for methods teaching. It was particularly instructive to hear the perspectives of experienced practitioners responsible for teaching methods courses and their perceptions of what would constitute a useful collection of resources.  The event was filmed and will be made available when the editing is complete. We also carried out a user-testing session of some of the OER repositories and searches such as JORUM, Xpert and Connexions.

I will be writing some blog posts about particular issues that emerged from the session but wanted to comment on the value of this type of format as a means of gathering evidence. This view was reinforced this morning when I attended a similar focus group/user-testing session organised by the TRITON project with a small group of undergraduates.  Both sessions produced insights that would be hard to gather in another context illustrating the value of such small-scale strategies.

One example of this type of information gathered in the C-SAP workshop related to attitudes towards Creative Commons Licensing (C.C.). Since C.C. is at the heart of OERs there can be an assumption that impediments to implementation are mostly technical or legal. However discussions at our workshop revealed a great deal of complexity in attitudes towards making content freely available. The concept did not generate universal support and some participants expressed a preference for sharing resources in the context of personal relationships (such as with colleagues taking over a course or those having similar research interests) rather than making things openly available though Creative Commons licenses. A concern was also raised that making materials openly available might open oneself up to negative judgement from colleagues because of the perception of putting oneself forward as a self-appointed expert without adequate peer review. These views illustrate how the topic of licensing touches on sensitive issues of professional identity which need to be fully explored if higher education wants to promote the use of C.C.  Such complex topics can’t be tackled through one-off surveys and benefit from the ongoing detailed conversation made possible through events such as the C-SAP workshop.

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3 Responses to Notes from the C-SAP Expert Workshop: the value of small numbers

  1. Pat says:

    Keen to know what you thought of Xpert – remember that CC is a license – how you choose to make it available is independent of that.

    Do you think making it anonymous would work better?

    • Isabelle Brent says:

      Hi Pat.
      Specifically for Xpert, the lack of what were considered to be appropriate materials for the search on interviewing coloured the attitude towards the site. Both groups felt there were too many resources listed unrelated to their needs (more than with JORUM) and there was an issue with resources high up in the results list not loading or with broken links. People liked the tag cloud as a means of browsing but were more inclined to just use the search. There were difficulties encountered using the advanced search and the general preference was to use general search and then narrow through tags. Although the Connexions site was considered a little confusing, this ability to narrow by category, subject and level was popular (together with being able to list results by popularity).

      The two groups responded quite differently to particular aspects of Xpert which demonstrates how hard it is to please everyone. For example Anna’s group found the interface bland but mine liked the simplicity. There was also a division in how long resources took to load; since my group reviewed JORUM and then Xpert they were impressed by how much faster Xpert was, but Anna’s group found it slow. My group was very clear that they didn’t like being taken out of the original website when searching (a complaint not specific to Xpert) but this didn’t seem to be a theme with Anna’s group. Also the sharing features were appreciated by Anna’s group but considered irrelevant by mine.

      One additional point – the Xpert widget on the TRITON blog by far the most popular presentation of OER materials and the results were considered to be much more relevant than the equivalent search for qualitative interviewing teaching resources. I think Peter has done some work weighting UK search results which may account for the widget producing results with less noise. The widget had to be pointed out and participants suggested the interface could be better designed but people liked being presented with a small number of relevant resources within the context of a general interest website.

      I suspect the OER Recommender widget might also be popular embedded in such a website.

    • Isabelle Brent says:

      As for anonymity, I should say definitely not. A theme running throughout the workshop and from other contexts, is the importance of attribution. This came out in the TRITON user testing as well when the students wanted to know who was writing blog posts and what their background was.

      I suspect that the culture will gradually shift towards academics being comfortable with expressing themselves online (particularly as the Facebook generation begin to take up academic appointments) and a different form of peer review may emerge. Making things anonymous might take away the collegiality that online forums foster.

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