At the JISC conference next week I have organised a session on “Making the most of open content: stories from the frontier”
“Over the years JISC has funded many projects to support sustainable open working and release of content. So what are people doing with all this “stuff”? This session will bring together ideas of digital scholarship, open science, open data, open education and open educational resources to look at it all from the point of view of the user. It will be a lively set of stories of how people have found, used and shared free open content, opportunity for discussion and reflection, and participants will help compile top tips for making the most of it all”
I have brought together five people with different stories to tell about how they make use of open content/data and in the process of sourcing those stories I have been struck again by how much more we understand about release of content than of use. The question of “what do you want to do with it” is ever shifting, and the implications that has for how content is released on the web is playing itself out in a number of areas, particularly in open educational resources and open data.
The OER Impact Study is exploring use and re-use, including modelling the landscape , also there is a learner voice literature review out to tender. Understanding audience in order to provide quality content services and collections there are the Strategic Content Alliance audience publications. For models of optimising research data for use there are the current projects on citing, linking, integrating and publishing research data (CLIP) Managing Research Data CLIP projects. focussing on two-way engagement with external communities in the co-development of digital content there are the Developing Community Content projects. Work on ways of collecting, analysing and reusing the data about the way that staff and students interact with institutional systems is being done in the Activity Data Programme.
In preparing, I have been thinking about how much we really understand about use, about what people actually do with the content they find. There is huge potential, and plenty of models, but the task before us now is to understand actual use, so that we can support release models that really accrue the benefits promised. We can optimise content for potential use, but unless it gets used, the affordances we’ve work so hard to provide for don’t translate into benefits for users.
The big issues around open content/data are whether the effort needed to release it will be rewarded with enough benefits to justify continued release. Open data is an organisational decision, with some parallels to “Big OER”: enough benefits have to be realised by the organisation to be able to justify continued release. I think this is different to “small OER”: if individuals have the rights and the drive to release their content, whether as researchers, teaching academics, managers or learners, then they have the option to release it, as individuals: issues around individual motivation to release are not what I am talking about here. For these organisation-level decisions the stakes are higher, and that’s why the question of benefits is in sharp focus. It’s quite possible that benefits may be long tail and /or long term, or difficult to measure, such as process change. I’m really impressed by the approach taken in the Open Bibliographic Data Guide to articulating the nuances of supply- driven and demand- driven use cases: we need more of this pragmatic approach to openness.
Business models for open content can be abused more easily than the business models for paid-for, proprietary and all-rights-reserved content, so its important that users help bring benefits to releasers but at the very least they shouldn’t undermine the business model for release. The need for users to act responsibly in the demand for open data is nicely outlined in this post by Tom Steinberg . The need to assume a spectrum of practice and use, rather than to build for the most pure use case is highlighted in this post by Les Carr .
What might a similar OER pragmatism look like? Certainly an emphasis on attribution. Learning from citation practices, we need to make teaching resources citable and attributed, and one way towards that is smarter use of embedded licences for expressing rights, and ideally machine readable licences for tracking use. There are also things that open licences enable, such as the right to make alternative formats, and the right to translate, both of which make open resources useful to open education: as this post by Terese Bird argues . In looking at the trade-offs between what releasers want and what users want we also need to consider branding, as described by this post by Suzanne Hardy . I’d really like to see more thinking like this about how understanding real use of open content/data can help us make pragmatic decisions about which use cases to optimise for.
We need to know more about use! The OER Impact Study is a key focus for open resources for teaching and learning, but the question is bigger than that: how can we make open content sustainable?
Follow the conference session online, tweet #jisc11 #ocstories, or blog.
Stop Press: published today: sharing, reuse and frameworks by Mike Caulfield.
More! this post by Peter Robinson about feedback from users illustrates what users value, the potential for reaching the long tail, and listening to podcasts as an alernative to afternoon tv. This post by Andy Beggan highlights the irony of bemoaning “a lack of reuse” whilst simultaneously struggling with the licensing of materials full of third party materials: reuse is happening, its just mostly unattributed/illegal and unknown/untrackable.