Extending & embedding the University of Worcester repository service
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The project extended the university’s recently established learning and teaching repository (Learning Materials Online) to create a comprehensive university repository service. A significant part of the project was to develop ways to embed repository use into institutional procedures and workflows so that it becomes a natural part of the working approach adopted by academic staff.
What we have done and why
This project has helped the University of Worcester to establish repository use within its working practices and create an environment where there are options for staff to choose the appropriate repository suited to particular purposes, and a coherent service for support and management. The most successful area of development has been the creation of a repository for research and related publications and the most difficult area to cope with has been that of learning and teaching materials. Indeed, the Project Team feels that there is still need for new initiatives in respect of e-learning resources.
When the project started in the Summer of 2007, the University had already installed software for two separate repositories, one based on EPrints software and the other based on CoRE Following experience of an earlier project called WM-Share, which investigated the sharing of resources regionally, the Project Team realised that engaging staff with repository use would require considerable work, and so one key objective of the DRaW Project was to customise and promote the use of these repositories.
In addition, the Project Team felt that the repositories should not be left as separate entities and the development of a repository culture would be assisted by some kind of integrated approach. Other kinds of repository might be added too and in 2007 there was much talk of using the national system Jorum and of developing an in-house system for media files. So a typical university environment would include access to several repositories! Clearly these cannot be integrated seamlessly as software, but the DRaW Project set out to at least develop an integrated approach to their support and management so that users had a coherent route into their use of repositories. Moreover, we were anxious to maintain sustainability and wanted the support to remain in place after the end of the project so therefore made one of the project objectives the building-in of a support structure.
The membership of the Project Team was drawn principally from members of the University’s Information and Learning Services (ILS) who would be directly involved with continuing support for repository use. We adopted a “long thin” approach i.e. relatively modest time over two years rather than a short intensive burst of activity. On reflection this ideally suited our goals, as changing attitudes and practices does indeed take time.
Research and publications
After the software interface had been customised to university style and requirements, the Worcester Research and Publications (WRaP) repository was launched at an event in October 2007. Added support was given by the Vice Chancellor, who declared that all newly published publications should be uploaded to WRaP.
However, this in itself was not enough to get people using the system and much of the hard work of advocacy was done on a day to day basis by members of ILS and the Project Team. This involved speaking to individuals and groups and arranging substantial amounts of help in starting to use WRaP. There were debates over copyright and how to avoid problems; a whole range of general issues had to be argued with individuals. The initial number of deposits was small but now after just over a year, we are approaching our 500th item, which for a small university we feel is very good.
On reflection it now seems that academic staff do readily accept that using WRaP will improve the “visibility” of their work and improve the reputation of the University by making its outputs public. WRaP provides a useful archive, as well as a way of publicising the papers. There is still however a need to constantly remind staff about WRaP and for those supporting the repository, there is a need to connect with any University initiatives, such as the Research Assessment Exercise and in the case of Worcester, the University’s bid for Research Degree Awarding Powers (RDAP).
Learning and Teaching materials
Our repository for learning and teaching materials has not had the same positive response despite similar and indeed rather more energetic campaigns to promote use. The Project Team has set up events, training and meetings, but the take-up from tutors has been extremely low. Yet the same tutors are happy to upload papers to WRaP and also to upload teaching materials to the University’s VLE and to public services such as Flickr or YouTube; just not to our learning materials repository. As a result of this experience we are convinced that it is not the tutors who are to blame, but that the repository itself does not meet their needs. The Project Team organised a JISC Programme level event in June 2008, to host a meeting of representatives from the other projects in the Programme involved with repositories for learning and teaching. Everyone shared similar problems and there was a common agreement over what was happening, leading to the publication of an event report called Repositories for Learning and Teaching: our recipe for success (Word).
For a range of reasons (PDF), the conventional repository structure and metadata system doesn't seem suitable for the management and interactive use of the day to day learning and teaching resources used by tutors. However, that is not to say that a conventional repository is of no use at all: for centrally managed resources which are publicly available, the metadata system and the unrestricted openness are fine. At University of Worcester we have tested out the use for undergraduate dissertations and also some audio/video files; other projects in the Programme have developed more extensive collections of materials. However, for material belonging to tutors, we believe that a more personal approach is needed i.e. something more akin to a Web 2.0 service, perhaps replacing metadata with tags, stressing personal management and very controlled sharing; perhaps more like social networking software with a completely new, fresh approach being needed.
Though not exactly a repository, the University Information and Learning Services has recently developed a system called 'Release' which is used to manage and deliver video and other material. This is rather like YouTube in that tutors upload media files which can then be played via a url, or embedded code in the VLE or website being used to present material to the students. It is not like a conventional repository in that it is a delivery mechanism rather than an archive, and it performs the added service of converting media files into a consistent format for viewing. Release was launched early in 2009 and is already being put to good use. We mention this to indicate that tutors are not against uploading material to online systems but the repository that they require has to be a new type.
As a result of the Project findings, the University has now decided to pilot a new Web 2.0 style repository based on the work of the JISC Faroes project which has developed a 'lightweight repository' with the personal management and minimal metadata approach mentioned above. This promises to overcome the unsuitability of conventional repositories for certain purposes and will lead to a re-organisation of the university repository environment over the next 2 years.
Integrated repository environment
The Project Team has in mind the idea of an 'integrated repository environment'. Recognising that different types of material being deposited will need different types of repository, how can staff nevertheless avoid being confused and how can they be guided to the right place? The Project Team has designed a web page which aims to provide, in one place, all the information needed to describe what is available at the University and in future will include any relevant external repositories. This will become a vehicle for presentation of training and awareness materials and videos, together with contact details for obtaining help. However, more than this, we have developed a coherent approach to support using a team based within ILS.
At University of Worcester, Information and Learning Services underwent a major restructuring at the end of 2008 and the Project Team took advantage of this to negotiate new roles and responsibilities for ILS staff, for the management and support of the repositories. This was not as easy as it might seem, because introducing new systems raises concerns about the changing nature of staff jobs i.e. who does what and who does extra? We finally arrived at a solution in which the ILS Research Team manages, promotes and provides expert level support for WRaP and the ILS Learning and Teaching Technology Unit for systems provides management for learning resources. They work in collaboration with the ILS Academic Liaison Team whose staff work with subject departments and are able to advise, promote and answer queries on any repository, referring more complex matters to the above mentioned teams. In addition, the University has set up a Repository Development Steering Group so that, as time goes on, there is a group responsible for additions to the repository service in respect of both new software, new systems and new services.
The support approach seems to be very suitable for us here at Worcester; clearly other universities might have to work within different structures. The Project Team would suggest to anyone embarking on setting up a repository that they give serious attention to changing the roles of the support staff at different levels. It is not easy, takes time and lots of negotiation, but is very important to the sustainability of the work once the project initiative is over. We would also recommend that ample attention is given to the substantial effort needed to promote and give help to initial users to get things off the ground. We would also warn that for learning and teaching materials, the situation can be quite complex and the different types of resources, owners and audiences require a very flexible approach. We think it inevitable that several different repository systems might be involved, so it is vital to look at, and deal with, the entire repository environment as a whole.