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.

Thinking about e-portfolios and Posterous

We’re in the process of reviewing our current student portfolio and looking to move from a paper-based portfolio to an e-portfolio.  Once the requirements have been defined and agreed we’ll start to review e-portfolio platforms and decide which one we’ll adopt.  I’ve yet to start looking at possible e-portfolio solutions in detail, but some of my medical colleagues have already made comments about the clunkiness of some of the possible contenders.  I’m at a loss to understand why usability seems to be overlooked in the development of so many educational IT systems.  Why can’t they be as intuitive to use as many of the Web 2.0 type technologies that I use to support my own lifelong learning?

Reading James Clay’s latest blog post about how Posterous had the potential to be used to capture the learner’s voice got me thinking  about how some of the features in Posterous would be good to have in an e-portfolio.  One of the features of Posterous, that’s appealing to many, is that you can post by email.  It’s easy to attach images or web clipings to a post.  You can also attach video and audio files and these will be embedded too.  For those who want to post online they can and posting via your smartphone is easy.  Shouldn’t this sort of functionality be standard in any student e-portfolio?

Thinking about the tutors who need to review student portfolios, again for me usability is a key issue.  Working in medical education where many clinical tutors have so many demands on their time ease of use and access are particularly important.  Looking again at Posterous, it supports commenting by email.  Should e-portfolios automatically send the latest post by a student to their tutor and allow the tutor to post their feedback by replying to the email.  With increasing interest in audio and video feedback could such a system make it easier for tutors to give feedback in these ways.  With most doctors used to using dictaphones being able to record their feedback to students and email it to their e-portfolios might help improve the level of feedback that students receive.

Another feature of Posterous is autoposting to other sites.  Where students are producing their own learning content like video they could autopost to YouTube or Vimeo and share these with the wider medical education and student community and start to accrue some scholarly recognition for the resources they’ve developed.

The other element needed in a medical student portfolio is the abilty to link or map the student’s work to the learning outcomes set out on the GMC’s Tomorrow’s Doctors 2009.  Tagging of entries could help with this, but something a bit more sophisticated might be helpful with templates for different types of entry.

Is there an e-portfolio system out there already with all this sort of functionality and ease of usability?