Controversial: Why it is so Quiet in Many Content Repositories?

© Dustin Lyson –

A content repository needs to integrate with users’ daily work. Immediate benefits must be obvious to trigger and further drive application and content sharing within the respective user community. There are many challenges. At OEB, Dr Koos Winnips from Glasgow Caledonian University and Dr Stanley J. Portier, Stoas Learning, the Netherlands, will be discussing these issues in their session “Content and Not Sharing It: Why Is It so Quiet in So Many Repositories?” The researchers have developed several content repositories themselves, each of them customised differently, so they know about the demands and pitfalls such projects entail.

OEB: Dr. Winnips, Dr. Portier, do you think that online content repositories or so- called Open Educational Resources are a success model? Could you tell us a little bit more about your own experience?


Koos Winnips: No, we don’t think they are a success yet. I think we made the classic mistake of “technology push”. What the technology enabled us to produce, not what users wanted, has guided the design of these systems. A lot of work is done on metadata and standards, but, as usual, the user is forgotten. Although there are a number of successful repositories online, these mainly get used by “champions” and learner-support staff, not by the average lecturer. When you want more people to reuse, you should include their community from the start.


In our own experience on building up a repository, we needed something to store Maths materials from a project and built a simple system to do this. So, we’re ashamed to have to admit that we’ve made this mistake ourselves. The materials are neatly stored, but the community is lagging behind. The materials got used via the existing community, who would have used them even without the repository in place.   In another project, we are building up a repository for a network of three universities. This shows much more promise, as we’re now building this up from the existing communities, i.e. the universities and their departments. The repository is built up from the community and the learning environments that staff already use.


We believe that organisations need to re-design their development process by defining different roles. Then the domain experts don’t have to worry about how to use the learning content management system. Others can help to define clear didactical templates and help storing the content in the right place.


OEB: Where do you see typical fields of application for online content repositories?


Stanley J. Portier: We can see localised repositories are a success with the community that supports the repository already in place. The people using the repository, contributing and rating materials, meet each other face to face. As we found out with e-learning after awhile, we concluded it should be blended. The repository will be integrated with their environment for learning and work. In this way, reuse of your own materials, materials from your communities and global materials will be a standard functionality.


OEB: Is there further potential that has not yet been exploited?


Koos Winnips: The mechanism of sharing is yet to be exploited. Only limited groups of people are now sharing materials online. When existing communities of lecturers will start to share more, they will select, re-mash and re-use content. In doing this, we can improve the efficiency as well as the quality of materials. Quality materials will be localised and further improved. Materials of less quality will not be reused, be less discussed and will just be left on some corner of the Web.


For example, one of the objectives for the three technical universities in the Netherlands is quality improvement of common Master’s programmes by a ‘best of breed’ selection of available materials.


OEB: Your experience indicates that many repositories begin to languish after a certain time. Why?


Stanley J. Portier: The repository needs to integrate with the daily work of users, and they need to see immediate benefits to use it.   Perhaps it’s necessary to define specialised roles and tasks so it becomes part of the job. Furthermore, not many people want to share. As an example: How many people who read a blog-post post a thoughtful response? The option to do so is there on most blogs, and it is easy enough. But most people do not take the time, as there are limited rewards. Luckily, it is not necessary for a successful system to have too many contributors. In learning, when staff agrees, we can just contribute the materials we have produced anyways.   Another issue we have not addressed yet is the entrance of the so-called “NetGeneration” into new job positions. For them it seems to be second nature to share thoughts, ideas and content.


OEB: How can one improve the situation? What are the main pitfalls to be avoided in setting up successful projects?


Koos Winnips: Start from the community of users and from what is already in place. Do not build a separate repository and hope that users will come. So much good material is already out there in our own learning environments. Enable lecturers to share those materials amongst the colleagues they drink their coffee with and meet at conferences. This will make reuse viable, result in the improvement of materials and produce an increase of efficiency of our education. Provide lecturers with specialised teaching assistants so the former can concentrate on their primary task. Preparing and giving lectures is a profession in and of itself; storing the materials as meaningful learning objects in a content repository is a completely different kind of work that can be done by well-trained technical people.


OEB: Many thanks for your time.


Dr. Koos Winnips and Dr. Stanley J. Portier invite you to a discussion session on Thursday, December 4th, from 14:00 – 16:00.

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