For the month of May 2020, Glasgow Caledonian University’s (GCU) Sir Alex Ferguson Library are curating the Open Scotland blog. The topics GCU are presenting provide an insight into the work they do in supporting open practice, open education, and open educational resources.
In our second post Toby Hanning, the library’s Research Information and Systems Manager, provides some background on the development of edShare (GCU’s educational resources repository), describes the challenges involved in implementing and managing the service, and asks what the future holds for open education at GCU.
edShare@GCU is Glasgow Caledonian University’s (GCU) educational resources repository. Its origins can be traced back to the Spoken Word project (2003-2008), led by GCU in collaboration with the BBC and two US institutions, Northwestern University and Michigan State University. The project made multimedia resources from the BBC archives and other sources available for educational use in the UK, US and EU. When the project was mothballed all BBC content was withdrawn but what remained was a lot of multimedia resources created by staff at GCU. Many staff continued to create resources even after the project ended and were keen to still share these widely with colleagues across the globe. By 2013 demand for the service was such that support for open education was enshrined in the University’s Strategy for Learning, a document which would shape the development of learning, teaching and assessment across the institution until 2020.
Following extensive consultation with staff, a successful business case to fund the development of a new repository, and the formalisation of the University’s open educational resources (OER) policy, edShare@GCU was launched in autumn 2016.
What is edShare?
edShare is built using an educational resources flavour of the open source repository software Eprints. There is a small but growing community of edShare users in the UK with repositories at the University of Southampton, Edgehill University and most recently the University of Glasgow.
edShare@GCU is a repository primarily for the GCU community which allows educational resources to be securely stored in a central location and shared with staff and students at GCU, or published as OERs. All teaching, research and support staff can deposit resources, whilst students are granted “read” access; they can view content but cannot upload resources themselves. The repository accepts all permanent educational resources, defined as resources which can be retained in perpetuity and are not subject to a retention schedule.
Alongside edShare sits a service run by the Collections and Discovery team in the library. As well as managing the system this service offers users training on depositing resources and runs OER advocacy sessions. There is no formal review process for resources uploaded to edShare so the service also provides formal advice on copyright, licensing and intellectual property rights (IPR) to members of the GCU community, ensuring users have the knowledge and skills to create and upload copyright compliant resources. The service can also assist with technical queries relating to the creation of OERs, and accessibility queries.
As part of GCU’s common good mission edShare also hosts OERs free of charge for a small number of external organisations including the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and the Gathering the Voices Project. If you represent a not-for-profit organisation and are interested in having your OERs hosted on edShare then please contact us.
Is edShare well used?
Whilst we encourage our teaching staff to create dedicated OERs or even MOOCs, we realise that this can be a labour-intensive endeavour and that many well intentioned staff simply don’t have the time to create these resources. As a result we have taken the approach of encouraging staff to share their everyday learning and teaching resources via edShare and to licence them openly for reuse. This approach significantly reduces the barriers to deposit and as a result edShare currently hosts over four thousand resources, over half of which are OERs.
At the time of writing resources in edShare have been downloaded or viewed over 600,000 times since August 2017. Popular teaching resources include a wide range of lecture videos, interactive HTML resources and software tutorials. Support resources are also very popular, such as the library’s referencing guide, programme handbooks and an interactive ICT induction resource for new students.
We have encountered a number of challenges implementing edShare and our associated OER services. Foremost was the challenge of managing educational resources in a repository environment traditional used for static, permanent resources such as research outputs or theses. By definition educational resources are not definitive; they are regularly reviewed and updated over time with new versions created regularly. For this reason edShare has in-built version control. When used correctly users are pushed to the latest version of a resource automatically but can choose to browse previous versions should they wish to do so. Internal policies have been developed over time to manage the various issues that can arise when managing educational resources. For example occasionally resources will be updated to reflect new standards in a particular field and older versions need to be removed. This is one of the few instances where resources will be deleted from edShare, with tombstone citations left in place to prevent broken links. Equally we have learnt over time that whilst edShare supports version control it is not intuitive to use and our key takeaway here has been to include information on versioning in our training sessions and online material.
Another challenge we have faced is how to ensure copyright compliance and good practice without a formal review process. The idea of implementing a review process for resources before publishing them was discussed in depth prior to launching the service, but it was agreed that the difficulty of assessing individual pieces of content in a resource would not only be overly onerous but also impractical. After all an image used in a lecture may appear to be proprietary but could in fact be openly licenced or have been purchased by the creator. Reviewing resources would require an in-depth dialogue with the creator of each resource about how and where they sourced content, and we felt that time could be better spent empowering staff to create copyright compliant resources and showing them how to find and reuse openly licenced content. As a result we offer face-to-face copyright training sessions as well as online materials. We also encourage a self-policing policy whereby if anyone has concerns about a deposited resource they can contact the team who will investigate further and liaise with the creator to resolve any issues. This policy is backed up by a robust takedown policy. To date this overall strategy has been successful; staff have the opportunity to upskill and learn good practice in relation to copyright and licensing, whilst barriers to deposit are reduced as resources are published immediately upon deposit.
The final challenge we have faced is how to encourage staff to publish their resources as OERs when we offer them the opportunity to restrict access. In edShare depositors have the choice to publish their resources openly, with all members of the GCU community, with only GCU staff, or to a select group of individual users. We have found that for many staff the idea of sharing their resources, and the potential scrutiny which comes with that, was a significant barrier to publishing resources as OERs. To combat this we have worked hard to advocate the benefits of open education across the GCU community and to emphasise that scrutiny in particular can be a positive when it comes to increasing the quality of resources. We also took the decision to set the default publishing mode for resources in edShare to “open”, making restricting access an active decision rather than a passive one.
What does the future hold for edShare?
Sustainability of our service is at the forefront of our long term thinking. Technical developments such as migrating the system to a scalable cloud-hosted solution are attainable but require some additional financial investment. An upgrade to the system software is also on the horizon, bringing an improved design and a responsive template for the repository, as well as improved statistical reporting.
The current situation with Covid-19 has precipitated an enforced move to online teaching for most Universities and in this respect GCU is no different. The last two months has seen a significant increase in the number of new users depositing resources in edShare, resulting in increased demand for the services we offer. A silver lining to the pandemic perhaps, but with more users comes the requirement for more resource to undertake training and advocacy, and to deal with copyright and licensing queries. Of course we are competing for finite resource, and often we are competing with ourselves. At GCU we have a small team who manage all the library systems including our library management platform (Alma), our discovery system (Primo), and our research information system (Pure), as well as edShare and a number of smaller systems. What should take precedence for the team in the next year: scaling up our OER services to meet new demand, supporting the hurried move to online learning, managing the institution’s REF submission, or implementing new research data management and digital preservation systems which will offer new functionality and opportunities for our staff and students? All institutions will be having similarly difficult conversations at this time but in reality supporting teaching and research will always be our priority. To this end planned developments for our OER services may have to wait until we have assessed our priorities in a post-pandemic world. Undoubtedly this is disappointing but perhaps not surprising given the uncertain landscape we find ourselves facing and the inevitable financial constraints which will follow.
However there is a positive note on which to end this post. In many respects edShare and our OER services have been built to be self-sustainable and it has been heartening to see the manner in which our team have adapted so quickly to a new way of working. We have guidance and tools in place which enable users to deposit resources without any formal training, including the GCU UK Copyright Advisor tool, which will be the feature of our next blog post. In essence this means staff have all the tools and knowledge at their disposal to continue to create OERs or openly license their everyday learning and teaching materials. Regardless of resourcing or financial constraints open education can and will continue to persist. With parents around the world home schooling their children and students studying remotely, open education is perhaps more relevant now than it ever has been in the past.
If you have any questions about edShare or our associated OER services please email edShare@gcu.ac.uk