UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Opening Up Institutional Training Resources

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Oct 2009

I’m now back from a few day’s at Aberystwyth University, where I had been invited to speak at the launch of the HEFCW-funded Gwella project and to give a seminar on “The ‘Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World’ Report: Implications For IT Service Departments“.

As this involved a long train journey I also sought to maximise my time in Aberystwyth by participating in a regional meeting for Welsh Web managers. During the brief summaries of areas of work which the members of institutional Web management teams had been involved in I noticed that a number of the institutions were involved in the delivery of training in use of Terminal 4’s Content Management System. But why, I wonder, are institutions still developing their own training resources? As the meeting took place at the start of the first international Open Access Week I did wonder whether an institutional move towards (or commitment to) open access for research publications and research data shouldn’t be complemented by an institutional commitment to providing Creative Commons licence for institutional training resources. And shouldn’t Information Services departments and Libraries be taking a leading role in this area? After all it is staff in the IT Services departments who will be well-placed to develop the technical infrastructure to provide access to such resources and Library staff who can advise on access mechanisms, use of metadata, etc.

This suggestion is not new – back in 2005 I presented a paper on “Let’s Free IT Support Materials! at the EUNIS 2005 conference. But it is probably timely to revisit this subject, not only due to links with the Open Access Week but also the related interests in open access for learning resources, as described recently in an article entitled “Get it out in the open” published in The Times Higher.

Now I’m not saying that the availability of open training resources, which might include podcasts and screencasts as well as more conventional training resources, will necessarily always be used – perhaps trainers and user support staff will continue to prefer to use resources they have developed themselves. But if that is the case, then what is the point of services such as JORUM and funding initiatives such as JISC’s Open Educational Resources programme? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the community in general if more people were involved in such debates?

10 Responses to “Opening Up Institutional Training Resources”

  1. Tony Hirst said

    This issue has been bugging me, too…

    Eg I think it’s easier to see how Open Training Resources might be used by folk (cf. open courseware or ORs (whatvr they are/however they are supposed to be used?!;-)

    “Open Training Resources” [ http://ouseful.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/open-training-resources/ ]

    “Towards Vendor Certification on the Open Web? Google Training Resources” [ http://ouseful.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/vendor-certification-on-the-open-web-google-training-resources/ ]

  2. Suzy said

    As soon as we have the WHEI wiki sorted, I shall be setting my training materials free :)

  3. Chris Adie said

    There was a short discussion on this a few months ago, on the UCISA Communications Group blog. It was in the context of IT documentation rather than training materials, but very similar considerations apply.

    AFAICT there’s no culture in UK HE of sharing material like this. It takes a bit of effort if the material has to be uploaded somewhere (such as Jorum) and there’s no direct benefit to the document author, the IT unit or the institution from doing that. In fact, it probably never crosses anyone’s mind that it would be worth doing.

    If someone does feel inclined to share their material, the next issue is concern over its ownership. Is the institution happy for (selected parts of) its IT documentation and support materials to be available for re-use under (say) Creative Commons terms? This question can easily be answered by the IT Service Director, but I’m pretty sure staff don’t ask – for the reasons above.

  4. Hi Chris
    Thanks for the response. I would, though, disagree when you say that “there’s no culture in UK HE of sharing material like this“. Back in the late 1980s I was a member of the ISG (Information Sharing Group) which established a document sharing archived, hosted on the HENSA/Micros service. And as the ISG transformed into the IUIC and IUTC there was an awareness that sharing documents and sharing training resources was closely linked.
    Back then although we had to assert copyright on our resources, there was an understanding across many in the sector that we would be willing to share resources across the community. Now that Creative Commons licences are available we have a legal mechanism to support this sharing, not only within our community but also with others.
    The question of why we should bother doing this is being asked of openness of research materials, data, teaching and learning materials and software. But if support departments are unwilling to share, is there hope for openness in these other areas?
    Will people make use of such resources? In my experience when people hear of the availability of new resources there’s often a cry of “can I use it?
    What about the effort of developing aggregators, harvesters, search interfaces, etc? There isn’t a need for heavyweight tools or to deposit resources in services such as JORUM – as I suggested some time ago, a Google Custom Search engine can be used quite easily.
    But perhaps you are right – if user support staff are unwilling to take the lead, senior managers should be making the policy decisions.

  5. Nick Sharratt said

    Much of the IT training matterials at our institute are created using a commercial product which precludes then making them open. The things which are created in house therefore tend to be pretty specific to the systems developed for UoP, and hence would be of very little use outside.

    Some items could be both open and useful, but I think that would be a rare exception.

    • I agree that it is not possible to provide Creative Commons licences for training resources purchased from commerical companies. However my point is that we can – and should – be doing this for resources developed in-house.

  6. DIH said

    Well said Brian … as usual. We’ve been around along enough to see the ebb and flow of sharing initiatives and in respect of training materials there was some collaboration by the PCCC, IUTC and UCISA Staff Development Groups on both producing and sharing materials. Of course (as you well know) Netskills was a direct consequence of such thinking as were a number of the eLib programmes at that time.

    So we move on; we’ve tried to sign agreements with commercial training suppliers – not a raging success – usually because localisation is held up as a barrier, not to mention the “difficulty” of providing online training. However your note prompts me to think that the time might just be right to work on learning objects for training, which can be shared and then cemented together locally.

    I guess we could talk to JISC about it … do you want to, or should I?

    • Thanks for the positive response.

      As I mentioned in response to Nick Sharratt’s comment my interest is in the openness of materials developed in-house. So let’s put this issue toone side.

      I feel we should be providing Creative Commons licence for resources developed by institutional service departments, especially IT Service departments and Libraries) for a number of reasons, but in particular to provide an institutional environment which is supportive of a culture of openness which underpins many of the reasons for openness for open source software, open access to research papers, open access to scientific data and open access to teaching and lerning materials.

      Let’s try and develop a case for embracing this vision – which will include gaining an understanding of the barriers and of ways of addressing the barriers.

  7. […] Opening Up Institutional Training Resources […]

  8. Tony Hirst said

    Just by the by, I posted a Google CSE yesterday which, (if it works properly!) searches over the UK HEI Library websites that are listed on Sconul. Which means it potentially provides a single point of access search tool for searching over UK HEI Library produced training materials?

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