Making OER visible and findable
CETIS has recently updated our guidance to OER Projects. To supplement this, we’ve been thinking about how to ensure that your content is as findable as possible. There are many routes to finding the content released by UK OER projects, including through Jorum, Xpert and search engines. Myself and David Kernohan have drafted the following guidance to help projects think through the best ways to make OER visible and findable.
Who do you want to be able to find your resources? How can you help them do this?
Firstly, know what RSS functionality your platform offers. One lesson that came clearly from the phase one OER projects was that you choose a platform for all sorts of reasons, it’s rarely a choice from a blank sheet of paper. Whether you are using iTunesU or an institutional e-prints repository or a homegrown solution, make sure you know how it exposes its content to the web so that you can optimise it for discovery. RSS feeds need to be easily findable, both by people and machines, and contain enough information about the items to be useful in identifying the items.
1. What sorts of rss feed functionality does your chosen platform offer? Do you understand the options?
2. Have you got an rss reader set up to display the feeds, so that you understand how they work?
3. Do you have an rss logo clearly visible from your homepage, does it indicate there is a feed of OER content available (whether from your own website or elsewhere)?
Imagine someone has heard of your project. Via mailing list, a casual comment from a colleague, a tip from a tutor, or your own publicity. The first thing they would do is head for your website, maybe via a query to a search engine if they don’t have your url.
4. Is your content findable using major search engines?
5. If your content is hosted outside your institution, what comes up first in the search results, the content or the project website? Do you want to optimise both for search engines, or choose one as your main presence?
6. Is your project website findable from the home page of the institution or network you are linked to? (by browsing and/or by searching)?
If they find your project website, they would immediately ignore all of your fine project documentation, your “about the team” list and your contact details. They would head straight for the resources. so it matters how your project website links to your content (wherever the content is held).
7. Are your open educational resources visible from your project website? Is there an obvious link?
8. When you get to the resources (either from the index of your website or a specific “resources” page) do they look attractive? Is it easy to browse, search and identify resources?
So, someone has found the resource, whether on your own site or a third party site. On finding a resource that interests them, our user may want to view, bookmark or download the resource for later use.
9. Is it possible to view your resource (or at least enough information about the resource to allow people to understand what it is) from your website?
10. Is it possible to directly link to a resource for bookmarking or sharing?
11. Is it obvious how someone can download a resource? Is it obvious what someone needs to do with a resource when they have downloaded it?
The use of the downloaded or direct-linked resource may happen some time after it’s discovery. At the point of use, our user would need to know how the resource can be used, and what conditions would need to be fulfilled in order to meet the requirements of the license.
12. Is license information available within the actual resource, now it is downloaded?
13. If a license requiring attribution has been used, is full attribution information available within the resource?
We are increasingly seeing the rise of OER aggregators, automated tools that collect information about OER wherever it is stored and allow people to search across it. Aggregators have the potential to become a key means of discovery for OER. Examples of aggregators include:
- The UKOER Strand Ci (Collections) Projects – see http://www.jisc.ac.uk/oer
- OER Commons – http://www.oercommons.org/
- Xpert – http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xpert/
- OCW search – http://www.ocwsearch.com
- DiscoverEd – http://discovered.labs.creativecommons.org/search/en/
Different aggregators have different requirements and it is worth properly examining these needs before you attempt to have your material included on an aggregator. CETIS is working on some advice about registering to aggregators. There are some needs that all aggregators have in common. First off all, an aggregator will need an RSS feed of your material (or a choice of feeds). Like an RSS feed for a blog or a news site, each “item” has its own address that leads directly to that item. The feed also describes the item, allowing aggregators and people to know what the item is and how it should be described to others.
Machine readable feeds are important, and its also important that humans find your OER entry pages attractive. We’d also like to have a showcase like the JISC content portal, for very little money we could create one for UK OER content, but for it to work we need good attractive homepages describing the nature of the content you have released and linking clearly to the content, wherever it lives.
We think the wealth of content created so far would benefit from a little extra push to make sure it is found in all the right places.
Post by Amber Thomas and David Kernohan. With particular thanks to Phil Barker’s recent post on sharing service information, Pat Lockley’s tireless crusade for better quality RSS to feed Xpert , and colleagues across the OER projects.