UKOER: what’s in a tag?

Tuesday 13th November saw the final programme meeting for the UK OER Programme 2009-2012. An aim of the programme had been to find sustainable practices for the release of OER, and there were many success stories shared. It seems to me that the funded programme marks the start of a general move towards greater OER practice.

There was a mandated requirement for projects within the Programme to tag their content with “ukoer”. Whether the content is images on flickr, courseware on institutional webpages or videos on youtube, they should be tagged as ukoer.  It also got used for discussions about OER on twitter and in blogposts. As with many mandated requirements it was not universally or consistently applied, despite our best efforts otherwise.

It soon became clear that it can be hard to distinguish between the content that *is* OER and the content that is *about* OER. Particularly because openly licensed materials designed for other people to reuse in a training/learning context can be both about OER and OER themselves: OER squared! There’s quite a lot of content like that.

Recently members of the oer-discuss jiscmail list have been debating whether we should make continued use of the ukoer tag, and whether we can even control tag use post-funding now it is out there in the wild.

What does the tag mean? Is it …

Sometimes the tag might be about the contributor, the OER, or about activities such as workshops.

Focusing on its use for the OER content itself: each of these meanings above might suggest different use cases for how people might wish to slice and present content. Its worth noting that the tag is only one metadata item: each piece of content also has a publish/release data (often relating to when it went live on the platform being used), and an owner/author/contributor (sometimes an institution, or a team, or individual, or combination). Using these variables we can imagine use cases such as:
– see all content tagged ukoer dated 2009-2012
– see all content tagged ukoer
– see all content before 2012 and all content after 2013 (two searches to compare)
and of course, to look at the usage of that content too.

If we take the ukoer tag as a single identifier for content released as part of the programme, that might still be messy – “as part of”, “as a result of”, “with an awareness of”. Those latter meanings could continue to be true. Many people might still see benefits of signifying their content is contributing to a UK OER commons. That commons is the real impact of the programme and it would be healthy to see that continue.

However that does make it harder for people to derive clear narratives / patterns from the data in Jorum (or any other aggregation).  As Sarah Currier puts it “it’s harder to disambiguate a large number of resources with the same tag expressing different properties (“funded by UKOER” *and* “produced by member of UK OER community”), than to just have a new tag that expresses the new property”. “It is very bad data management practice to munge together two concepts in one tag. It is very easy to agree a new tag; data from both can be brought together for analysis much more easily than disambiguating data about two things from one tag”.

However our decision about whether to encourage continued use of the “ukoer” tag will not just be about best practice. It is about weighing up best practice against common practice and the cultural considerations. At the risk of sounding like I’m overcomplicating things: it is a socio-technical issue. There is a balance to be made between the stated or tacit requirements of funders, the role Jorum plays for the funders, the role of Jorum for contributors, and the effort of people involved with OER. Of course by contributors, we are talking about the deposit/share point within an institution or team, who need to keep messages and requirements as simple as possible.

The list members have therefore looked to JISC to say whether/how we will want to draw on these figures as evidence of the impact of the programme. In a sense the measurement of the impact of the programme is inherently fuzzy and that causes complexities for service providers like Jorum who are rightly  trying to anticipate future use cases.

We are lucky to have experts in this field, including two members of the Jorum team who wrote about the challenges of metadata in learning object repositories  and members of JISC Cetis who are writing about resource description in OER. I have gathered their input into this post so that we can try to start articulating the issues here. It is through this exchange that we can make the right decisions for JISC, HEA and the wider community.

The point I make here is that we have before us a classic problem space. It illustrates that metadata decisions are about current and future use, that they are about balancing the needs of contributors and users, and that these things require discussion and the unpacking of assumptions. There are solutions out there, involving the sources, the aggregations … but it depends on what we want.

What’s the answer? Should we continue using ukoer as a community tag for a fuzzy concept or try to restrict use to a controlled tag for a funding stream? If we chose the latter (for any reason) could it actually be controlled in that way?

We would be interested to know what people think. The oer-discuss list leans towards the former but there can be many other perspectives and those of you who have been at the sharp end of evidencing impact may have some valuable war stories to share.


Amber Thomas

Post written with input from Sarah Currier, David Kernohan, Martin Hawksey, Lorna Campbell, Jackie Carter.


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