Why can’t learning respositories be more like Slideshare

Over the past year we’ve been migrating our online learning content for the early years of our undergraduate curriculum from Blackboard to WordPress.  This move to using WordPress for our learning portal (VLE) was made after a series of pilots led to a bit of a snowball effect with growing numbers of our clinical teachers calling into the office and asking if they could have a WordPress site for their areas of the curriculum.  Staff and students preferred WordPress because it was much more like their everyday experience with the Web, they found it quicker and more user friendly.  WordPress didn’t present them with folders to click on like the old VLE, but webpages that looked like the rest of the Web and a number of students felt it better supported self-directed learning.

In parallel with the move to WordPress we’ve got another project running developing a timetabling and calendaring application which will deliver a personalised calendar to each of our students and tutors.  A key feature of this development is going to be linking teaching resources to each timetabled session so we’re linking the timetable application to a learning repository and we’re currently working on this integration.

Whilst we’ve been discussing learning repositories and possible solutions as a team I’ve been thinking about learning repositories and how I’d like them to work as a user.  The important thing for me is what’s the user experience like, how does it compare to everything else I engage with on the Web, is it going to be easy for my colleagues who are still a bit intimidated by technology to use.  Also how intuitive is to for students to use and does it easily inetragte with other tools that they are likely to use to support their learning.

I know that some have a complete aversion to learning repositories and might question why we’re bothering with one.  There are good reasons including the need for a system to manage and track the increasing numbers of learning assets such as videos, illustrations, animations, e-tutorials created in Articulate etc that we need to manage and keep track of.  We also want to avoid duplication and encourage sharing and reuse of resources across the medical school.  A repository will also help us to more easily produce reports for the GMC about where we are teaching various topics and themes across the curriuclum.  We also want it to support student learning and the dicoverability of resources.

Nationally we have repositories like Jorum, I’m not sure what the usage stats for Jorum are (Mark Hawksey has pulled some data off but I’ve not had chance to look at the detail but you can take a look if you’re interested), but I remain to be convinced that the majority of lecturers have even heard of it.  If I mention Jorum or other repositoies to colleagues I’m generally met with a blank expression and have to explain what it is.

In one of my thinking out loud moments with the team I was saying why can’t we have a learning repository that looks like Slideshare, YouTube/Vimeo, Flickr and Scribd rolled into one.  A platform where students and staff could

  • actually see and play a video, or quickly click through the slides or through a study guide or handbook without having to download it to view it
  • share the resource with their peers via social media buttons or post to social bookmarking tools, Instapaper etc
  • embed the resource on their own blog, Tumblr site etc that serves as an online notebook for their learning
  • rate and comment on the resource and give feedback on how it could be improved to their lecturers
  • see other resources recommended on similar topics to support their learning.

Thinking about this reminded me of a blog post Martin Weller wrote a while ago ‘Slideshare is the best OER site?’, in which he higlighted that Slideshare gets way more traffic than educational sites such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare or the OU’s OpenLearn.  Martin posed a number of questions asking why this might be the case including were individuals more likely to share through Slideshare, could it be considered as an OER repository of sorts and are commercial operations just better than educational ones.

I wonder if sites like Slideshare work well as an OER repository because of their usability and the ability to find the resources easily via web search engines.  Repositories like Jorum and Hum Box do have social sharing buttons but on the whole you have to download the content to view it.  If I go to Flickr, Vimeo or Slideshare I can preview the content, I can then easily embed that content/resource into another webpage and then share it in another context or download it for local use.  When I share it others can easily see the resource, engage with it and share it again, they don’t have to download it either.  That’s how the social web works, but it’s not how most learning repositories seem to work. It’s also easy to engage with these resources on a mobile device and share them whilst you’re on the move.

So why can’t we have learning respositories with this sort of functionality?  Perhaps there are some out there and I just don’t know about them.  Has anyone got an institutional learning repository that presents content like Slideshare and Vimeo, if you have it would be great to see it.

Curating content for students: The guide on the side

Yesterday Alan Cann tweeted a link to a post about that he’d written back in June. Like many others I’ve been trying out to curate content.  I’ve only only got one topic on the go at the minute pulling together snippets on elearning and medical education, but I’m starting to think about whether we should be trying out to curate content for our students.  Recently I’ve been bookmarking sites with Diigo and pulling the feeds from lists into some of our medblog sites. The idea behind using social bookmarking was to create a faux-repository for students of open online resources that have been recommeded by our clinial teachers. The SHEEN project collated resources on employability using Diigo and pulled RSS feeds from Diigo and other sources into Netvibes. The key thing missing from this faux-repository was support for social interaction.  Alan Cann also highlights the social sharing deficienices of Delicious in his post and hence why he likes

Last week at AMEE, an international medical education conference, whilst I was in a symposium on student engagement I was following the tweets from a short communications session on social media and was disappointed to see the digital natives myth was still being peddled. One of my twitter meded circle mentioned that in another session there was a question from someone with concerns about the open nature of the web and the resources students were using on the web and whether they were good or reliable.  The speaker’s response was to highlight that one of the roles of teachers is to be a ‘guide on the side’ and that they could play a role in quality assuring stuff on the web.  At the end of the week I was at a much smaller medical education meeting and had a conversation with a colleague about the wealth of great medical education resources available online.  My colleague suggested there must be a way to collate these and include some sort of star rating to give an indication of how good a resource is and share with medical students across the UK.

This has got me thinking about whether teachers should actively be curating content supporting their role as the guide on the side.  Lecturers do recommended reading lists and links to useful websites posted in VLEs or listed in paper study guides, but tools like allow ongoing curation of content and could, like social bookmarking tools, help build up a quality assured faux-repository to support learning. Students can react to content and share it to others via Twitter and other social platforms. is pretty easy to use, though like Alan I wish you could add tags when you scoop the content rather then having to remember to add tags once you’ve published it. The other thing about is that you can suggest an item to another topic, which would allow students to share content with their lecturers for review who in turn can go on to curate and share with other students.  Another option might be to curate content on a wordpress site that could serve as a repository and include a star ratings plugin so that students could rate how good the resource was in supporting their learning as well as leaving comments.

Is anyone actively curating content for their students in medicine or other subject areas?  I’m going to see if I can find one of our clinical teachers to give a go.  If I get a volunteer I’ll hopefully get round to posting an update of how we get on.