The University of Southampton has around 22,000 students across six campuses: five in the city of Southampton and one in Winchester. It is a broad-based, research-intensive institution, a member of the Russell Group of UK Universities.
The University comprises three Faculties: Faculty of Engineering, Science and Maths; Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences, and the Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences.
Within the three Faculties, there are currently 21 academic Schools which are responsible for the delivery of education. University academic services, including the University Library, iSolutions (IT infrastructure group), the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit (LATEU), Student Administration and Registry (SARD) and the Student Services Department (SSD) work in partnership with the Schools to deliver the curriculum, to support students in their learning as well as staff in teaching. Within the University, decision-making, resourcing and staffing is largely devolved to the individual academic Schools.
EdShare , an educational learning and teaching repository has been developed within the University under the auspices of a JISC-funded institutional exemplars project, over the period October 2007-March 2009. Built on the proven, open source, EPrints software, this application has both drawn on and consolidated development work across the institution over recent years. In particular, the Project team, including two past and current members of University Library staff, has built on past success of partnership working with academic groups. For example, within the University during the 1990s (as in many other similar institutions), the Library developed and presented a popular Reserve Collection (Short Loan teaching-focused) for tutors to be able to provide key texts and resources specifically for undergraduates. This collection included lecturers' handwritten or typed notes, reading lists, worked examples, case studies, photocopied journal articles, photocopied book chapters as well as a range of other relevant material. There were practices and policies for use of the Short Loan Collection and service varying according to courses, tutors, programmes, disciplines, departments and faculties. The prime determinant at that time was the preference of the individual tutor or academic team, rather than any articulated "student-centredness" philosophy.
The University Library had a core role in supporting the learning and teaching agenda – assistant librarians worked in partnership with academics to identify, procure, reproduce, curate, and present the selected materials. All of these resources, presented in a building called 'the Library', were visible to the whole academic community. The increase in sheer quantity of material over time was enormous. The pressures on Library space were significant and the task for students in locating, prioritising and accessing materials represented a substantial challenge. Library staff were concerned to provide equitable access to the full range of students – part-time, mature, placement learners – which required specific borrowing privileges to ensure this equity. As electronic services began to emerge, there was an increased emphasis on the benefit that this mode of access afforded in terms of access, availability, convenience and appropriateness for the learner. The building labelled "the Library" in the University of Southampton, whilst still significant has also acted as a base from which professional staff members have worked at developing and re-positioning the contribution of Library professionals to the academic process within the institution.
One of the most innovative recent developments at the University of Southampton has been the UK Department of Health-funded 'New Generation Project' – later to become 'Inter-Professional Learning'. This educational programme, begun in 1999, aimed 'to introduce opportunities for undergraduate students from different health and social care professions to learn together in order to enhance professional collaboration and teamwork skills and so improve the quality of care provided for patients and clients.'
The University Librarian, Dr. Mark Brown, and the strategic lead for Inter-Professional Learning (IPL), Dr. Debra Humphris, in discussion about appropriate support from the Library for this work – originating in a conversation about book budgets - had agreed on modelling precisely the kind of approach that inter-professional learning sought to foster in its participants and identified the inter-professional team to support the design and implementation for IPL – academics, librarians, IT specialists, Web developers and administrative specialists. From the inception of the Project, the University Library was involved in the development work. A range of Staff contributed to support for curriculum development, understanding the evidence base which informed the educational innovation, and working as embedded members of each of the three Unit Teams, responsible for the development of the curriculum itself.
The learning resources to be developed and delivered for IPL were to be founded on a baseline provision for all students independently of their University affiliation or uni-professional programme award. Where possible, access would be electronic – in order to maximise accessibility, anytime and anywhere and throughout the period of the programme on which the student was registered. The mechanism for delivery was to be the customised www.commonlearning.net Web site; neutral as between University and practice, between each of the Universities involved and as among staff within the University and those based in practice locations, supporting the students' learning. In the absence of a content management system, the capacity of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) was increased to store as well as to deliver the learning resources for all of the learning units.
As the librarian who led the work with the New Generation Project/Inter-Professional Learning Units at the University of Southampton, I was also designated the ELearning Lead for the University Library from 2004. This new designation came as positive, deliberate recognition of the increasing significance of electronic delivery of Library content and services. The Library as a whole was making a greater contribution to the shaping of institutional strategy, policy and practice for developing and delivering learning resources in a tailored and targetted way, linked to the curriculum itself. Other factors reflecting this change were leadership from the Library with respect to the information literacy agenda, the emergence of the academic liaison librarian roles to mirror the re-structured University's faculties and Schools, and librarians' membership of University strategy committees such as the Education Committee, the Learning Resources Committee, the ELearning Strategy Committee and the ELearning Implementation Group.
So, by the early 2000s, within the University changes in various academic teams had emerged to support development in the collaborative creation of learning resources as well as sharing them across and beyond the institution .
Meanwhile, there were corresponding developments in provision of electronic delivery from the central University IT service. The VLE at the University of Southampton is based primarily on Blackboard. The Blackboard Learning System is a Web-based learning platform. A pilot version of the service began in July 2000, and in January 2001 the full service was launched. In fact, a different VLE service had initially been implemented at the University of Southampton: WebCT was introduced as a pilot service in Autumn 1997, and the service closed February 2003, when the University standardised on the Blackboard platform. The current declared policy of the University is that the VLE should be used 'to enhance the student learning experience at the University of Southampton'. Blackboard is actually part of a Managed Learning Environment (MLE), integrated with other systems such as the University Portal and Banner Student Record System. In reality, resources to support student learning and the delivery of the curriculum have also been deposited within Blackboard. Guidance is provided to teachers within the University to make these resources accessible by all who need access to the materials for the period that they require them. In addition, the intent is that academic staff should be free to concentrate on the pedagogic development of ELearning.
Since its implementation, there has been a move away from the initial view in which the VLE is an 'enhancement' of the student experience to its becoming a core, infrastructual service. This de facto shift, however, is not yet specifically articulated in the written policies of the University. In practice, what the VLE does is to support course management, deliver documentation and the associated curriculum resources. Staff deposit their resources in Blackboard and if they happen to leave the University, in principle, the academic team/institution, still has access to the resources created which support the delivery of the curriculum.
For the majority of Schools, Blackboard has become the main support for course management and delivery. In a few cases, however, specific Schools and academic disciplines have developed their own intranets, managed learning environments and/or Web sites which support their specialist requirements. In the School of Medicine, a specialist staff group has specifically developed their own learning support Web-based infrastructure within the MEDIS Portal. In the School of Electronics and Computer Science, ECS Course Resources provides access to a whole range of materials including course syllabi, course notes, wikis, timetables etc.; and in the School of Psychology, PsyWeb provides integrated access to core School services, resources and applications for specific programmes and across student cohorts.
VLEs have proved to be useful tools in facilitating staff work on organising educational resources and activities in a hierarchical way to represent the structure of programmes and modules. While VLEs are excellent vehicles for delivering materials, however, they are not in themselves ideal applications for managing and curating materials. Within the University of Southampton, it was recognised that a repository was required for educational materials that could, in turn, be used as a means to link to the appropriate VLE. The University took the strategic decision to develop a repository for educational materials using its own well-established EPrints research repository software. The reason we chose this route was that we recognised that excellent technical specifications alone would be unlikely to promote the cultural change necessary to embed such a service within the institution. We believed that the co-design process (technical staff working collaboratively with academic and educational delivery staff) of specifying and implementing the precise design and functional requirements of the system would be most helpful in ensuring community commitment and uptake.
The EdShare resource was conceived as a central part of the educational infrastructure as envisaged in the recently implemented University ELearning Strategy. The Strategy focuses on enabling student-centred learning in a research-intensive institution, which also emphasised inclusivity and usability. The EdShare repository was envisaged as a social site allowing staff and students to share resources across the rich breadth of disciplines. It would provide for metadata, tagging, and semantic mark-up of stored items. A range of local and external tools would access the repository using service interfaces. In order to be able to achieve this vision, the University constructed a bid in response to the UK JISC 01/07 Strand G Call of 2007. Drs. Hugh Davis and Les Carr, both of the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science, led a cross-institutional, multi-professional team bid which stated that both the University of Southampton and the wider JISC community would benefit from extending the EPrints software into the educational domain, as well as from the case study of the institutional change and integration.
The bid was successful and the EdSpace Project at the University of Southampton began on 1 October 2007. I worked as the embedded Project Manager within the Project Team. This work was essentially a further extension of the role I had developed as Library lead within IPL (2000-2007) as described above. Within the EdSpace Project, we have worked with early adopters and champions identified across a range of roles within the University. This group of "critical friends" has been enthusiastic in contributing to the early design and development stages for EdShare. In addition, these change leaders have contributed early resources to EdShare, sharing their own resources right across the University, and sometimes beyond.
Developing pilot versions of the service and now, in April 2009, working with version 1.3 of EdShare on EPrints 3.1, the front page looks like this:
We have identified the repository content as the core aspect of our work; we are concerned to support educators and learners in sharing their resources and in making materials visible on the Web.
Our developers have provided attractive preview tools to deliver our commitment to put content to the fore.
In addition, we have a range of permission levels, selectable at the point of adding content to the repository which enable our communities to develop their own confidence and comfort in making their materials visible, retrievable and downloadable (or not) to the whole World. The metadata (descriptive details) of the resources are retrievable via Google searches and the material described may or may not be downloadable depending on the permission levels assigned to it by the person who has added the content.
Focusing on the advocacy experience of two team members as well as the respected and trusted status of University Library staff, during the 18 months of the JISC-funded EdSpace Project work we have also been able to extend our work with identified partner academic groups across the whole institution. Our motivation in taking this approach has been the co-design philosophy we have been interested to implement right from the outset and which we believe to be an indispensable and crucial element of any successful implementation associated with such significant pedagogical, technical, and cultural change for the organisation.
The benefits can be described as follows:
Indeed, the decision to make content metadata searchable and visible to the world has proven to be highly significant in developing awareness and supportive conditions for content creators and providers to be able to increase the openness of their resources. When presented with requests for access to their materials from students and other educators across the world, we have been able to encourage academic and educator colleagues to consider ways of simply making their materials available to the world. Some colleagues have found this an easy and comfortable move, others have contemplated their options and, although happy to consider this as a longer term proposition, have preferred to maintain a relatively closed and sheltered profile for their resources in EdShare .
The Edspace Project has been interested in working with wider aspects of the success of Web 2.0 sharing sites such as: YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook. It occupies a neutral location within the institution – not associated with any specific academic School or discipline – linked to the core educational mission of the institution as well as the role of the Library in supporting this work. The Project has been interested in supporting embedding good academic practice across the University, enabling academic change and making visible resources to support this process across the whole institution rather than making these resources visible only to those individuals, enrolled on a specific Unit for the length of time they are registered and for that time only. We have been interested in a range of resources including Inter-Professional Learning materials, resources which support the development of effective research skills for both postgraduate taught and postgraduate research students. We are also investigating ways of reaching beyond the boundaries of the University to local 14-19 year olds (and their teachers), who may be considering applying to University in the future and want to explore ways to extend their own educational achievements and understanding.
Similarly, EdShare provides a secure and persistent storage place for resources from which people can derive a unique URL. There are system functions under development which enable people to collect, aggregate, tag and organise their and others' materials in order to be able gain easy access and associate resources in ways which make sense to the individual rather than in a institutional, programme-centred way as provided by the VLE. Finally, there are communities of practice emerging around educational change within the University as well as specific subject/concept areas which are beginning to emerge within educational practice in the University. As Project Manager I am interested in facilitating these emergent communities, connecting with the University's Learning & Teaching Enhancement Unit work as well as other change agent roles within the learning and teaching domain.
We will be working on building on the role of the Library in sharing resources across the institution, presenting resources which are relevant to students, where students can make judgments based on their own understanding rather than on the basis of which resources are required for a specific Unit – genuine student-centredness. In addition, this work has enabled Library professionals to draw on traditional skills such as: selection, description, presentation, curation and management of materials to support the academic process, and present them within an innovative context while increasing recognition of the changing contribution librarians have to bring to the academic process and how that role is appropriate not only within a building named 'the Library', but also well beyond the walls of such a building .
In a newly-funded JISC bid, effective from 1 April 2009, a multi-professional team with some of the same members as the EdSpace Team, will be concentrating on some specific service developments to further the development of learning and teaching repository functions here at Southampton.
The personal, author profile page in EdShare is to be augmented and enhanced as a means of developing individual discipline career profiles, disseminating subject expertise and linking between research and learning/teaching activities within the context of both learning and teaching, and research repositories.
Work will also be undertaken to develop a closer, integrated deposit mechanism such that with a single deposit 'click', resources will be made visible within the institutional learning and teaching repository, the VLE and other repositories such as the UK national resource, JORUM.
We will be extending our advocacy work with the University academic community to support the emerging confidence of creators and presenters. We are aiming to support the transition of the University to become an influential member of the UK academic community contributing to the Open Educational Resources movement and we cannot overestimate the extent to which this represents a significant change for the University.
Furthermore, this change process has implications for the way in which copyright and intellectual property are regarded, presented and discussed within the institution. We are interested in supporting work for use by academics to ensure that their own resources respect copyright requirements, that third-party issues are well understood and that the range of Creative Commons licences with which we would like to work are themselves understood within the University. We are keen to work across the institution to agree and present clear policies and procedures and to generate accessible and widely disseminated guidance for all staff. We are aware that in the digital environment this is an increasingly significant area of concern and potential risk.
Finally, within the University, we have also been interested in exploring the contribution that EdShare has to make to the reward and recognition of the institution's teaching-related promotion route. With the role of bibliometrics being explored and developed within the context of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) over the next few years, how might the metrics from EdShare relating to deposits, downloads, links, and comments contribute to the gathering of evidence considered permissible and appropriate to inform judgments on the performance of a University teacher?
We will report on developments in the literature over the course of the next year or two and welcome contact from other services and universities interested in the same areas.