Setting up an online collection of educational resources: some practical tips
Over the past three years, I have been working with colleagues to develop a series of [Subject]on theBox blogs, promoting the use of the TV and radio archive Box of Broadcasts in discipline-specific teaching. At the present time BiologyOnTheBox is the best established site, with AstrophysicsOnTheBox as the newest member.
This post is not, however, about the specifics of that project. I thought instead that it would be valuable to share with the ALT community some of the lessons I’ve learned more generally about the establishment of any online educational resource. I worried initially that this was “teaching grandma to suck eggs” but having bounced the idea off a couple of critical friends they assure me that there are important insights here. I therefore hope this checklist will enable members to save themselves from making some of the errors that I have, and allow them to develop useful resources. I’m sure this list is not exhaustive, but I believe there are seven interconnected questions on which anyone considering setting up an online educational resource should reflect.
- What is the purpose of the site? This is crucial, but easy to overlook. For example, in the context of [Subject]On TheBox collections, is the intention only to raise awareness of particular footage, or to comment on potential applications? There are also issues relating to the breadth and tone of the content; e.g. will the focus be on Physics in general or Astrophysics? On Geography in general or on Urban Studies?
- Who are the anticipated primary audience? At the start of the development of a resource, who do you consider as the most likely to use these materials? For example, will it be fellow academics, undergraduate students, or maybe even the general public? Also, are there issues with access to third party materials for some users? In the case of BoB, for example, footage is only available to students and staff at subscribing institutions. Clips cannot be seen by students based outside the UK (for copyright reasons) hence this is not suitable for overseas DL students.
- Who will be authoring articles and reviews for the site? Who will be the authors for your resource? Do you anticipate the post will be written by: A single academic? A broader set of colleagues? Postgraduate students? Undergraduate students? And/or Graduate interns? Do you envisage that the authors will all come from a single HEI or from multiple universities? These questions have important consequences relating back to the purpose of the site. For example, it is unrealistic to expect undergraduates to write “lesson plans” detailing teaching activities based on a TV clip, but they might write an excellent summary of how the content dovetails with other aspects of their course. The question about involvement of other universities is important – intuitively I would favour development of one shared resource for the sector but this is harder to manage and means your site loses some of the fringe benefits, such as giving your institution a unique selling point when recruiting new students.
- Why would someone contribute to the resource? What will incentivise authors? This is a particularly apposite question if the intention is for students to write reviews. Will they be paid for their contributions? Will authoring posts potentially be an assessed task? As an enthusiast for “authentic assessments” I find this an attractive model, and one which naturally provides exemplars for subsequent years (a crucial factor in assuring students about expectations when the task is not something they have done before). On the downside, however, it does mean that any material on which a post is written cannot itself be the subject of a similar assignment the following year, so there needs to be sufficient fresh material available. Or is the promise of CV development and experience that may bolster future employability sufficient reward?
- On what platform will the resource be housed? This is linked to purpose; if the collection is only considered useful for members of the producing institution then it could be within a VLE. In the spirit of open access, however, I would advocate hosting on a platform where all potential users can benefit. Blogging services WordPress and Blogger remain very popular due to their user-friendly interface for both authors and readers.
- Who will be responsible for curation and sustainability? Who will be in charge of uploading material and for quality control? The more authors (and from the more HEIs), the bigger the task this will be. You also need to reflect on whether it is essential that fresh contributions are added on a regular schedule (e.g. at least one per week), or whether sporadic publication is acceptable for your overall goal.
- How will the site be promoted? Having gone to the trouble of produce a new resource, how will you alert potential users to its existence? Methods might include plugging on social media, discussing at conferences, formal and informal publications, and word of mouth.
As noted above, I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list, and colleague will have additional suggestions. If you do, please pass them on.
Chris Willmott, University of Leicester, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, blog twitter
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