Progression and obsolescence: Reflections on archiving the outputs of a community of practice

cables with different plug types

In the last few months, I have been immersed in transferring our outputs of the ELESIG community from our ‘old’ social networking site, ning, to our new home, ALT’s repository, to our Archive. Our ELESIG community was formed in 2008 and we joined ALT’s umbrella in 2019. Our community came together because we had wanted to explore learners’ experiences with technology. In this journey as a volunteer-based organisation, we had hosted symposia at our respective institutions, facilitated webinars, ran small grant projects, inspired regional groups to form and share practice, disseminated our work via blogs and our ning social platform.

Archiving and transferring our outputs from ning started with taking stock of what we have (what files, blogs, articles, documents), what we need to preserve and transfer to our new host platform on ALT. This required downloading and saving files. In some instances this was relatively easy, a direct download and direct upload; in other cases it was more complicated. How do you archive blog posts? Where are the original multimedia resources and presentation slides hosted? Can they be viewed, downloaded, opened, saved? Do the links pointing to resources still work?

This process felt like looking back through a photo album with happy nostalgia and confirmation of our journey and growth. It has also prompted two main reflections that of progression and obsolescence.

Taking progression first, it is perhaps not unnatural for a group interested in the uses of technology in education and how learners and students respond to it that our very ways of connecting our members were progressive, ahead of the times. Looking back from the point of Covid, webinars today are the bread and butter of university life. However, when ELESIG established our popular webinar series in the 2010s, this was not the case. Adobe Connect and Blackboard Elluminate (then Collaborate) were the ‘new kids on the block’, Zoom and Teams were nowhere to be seen. And even then only some institutions had these platforms, so we relied on the few ELESIG Committee members whose institutions had subscriptions to these web conferencing platforms. Webinars were also innovative in providing an inclusive platform for speakers to reach a much wider audience than they would have done with relying only face to face events. Our subscription to the ning platform launched in 2005 as a ‘web2.0’ tool to create social networks, was also in keeping with the times.

Taking obsolescence next, a recurrent phenomenon was overcoming difficulties in archiving because of the digital formats in which our outputs were encoded or hosted. Some of the more successful and longer lifespan technologies and platforms included Vimeo, Slideshare, Haikudeck, Flickr, YouTube, ppt, pdf, doc  and Google doc formats. Whereas blog and forum posts or institutional video recording were harder to archive. In addition, there were artefacts in now (2020/21) obsolescent file formats (.flv files ~ Flash-based media, .pps ~ Powerpoint viewer files) or platforms, where recordings which were no longer available via the link provided (e.g. Adobe Connect recordings hosted on institutional platforms).

Of course, you can see why — after many frustrations of dead-ends (unopenable or unretrievable files) —  some pragmatic recommendations can be further emphasised as we go forward (and ones we have been doing to some extent already), such as:

  • making sure your SIG has a common platform(s) that your committee membership have all access to – and you share the passwords and details of these sites (storing/streaming multimedia, a data asset repository and ways of communicating with members);
  • if you do decide to use third party open access tools, such as Slideshare or video or YouTube that again, you use one account for the whole group consistently;
  • back up and store outputs after events, rotating this responsibility.

Our community have accrued so many useful resources over 12+1 years — this was one happy recognition of this archival process. The other one is the realisation that as a community we have outlived certain technologies and platforms, and in other cases helped pave the way for their widespread use. Surely this signals our strength, going forward.

It also raises questions for our, as well as for other communities: What are your outgoing (obsolete) technologies in your work or maintaining a community? How might you be future proofing your community’s outputs from a technological perspective? Are there ways in which your community is pioneering technologies as a vehicle for sharing practice?

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