A social layer for DSpace?

A good morning’s work, originally uploaded by MrGluSniffer.

The above image represents a snapshot of about two hours out of two days of intense dialogue with my primary host here at the UOC, Julià Minguillón. I will not begin to try to reproduce or even summarize the extensive range of our discussions, but I do feel somewhat tapped out in terms of inspiration… and am hoping by putting some of this stuff out that network effects might kick in.

As you may know, I am a self-described refugee of the mainstream learning objects movement, but one of the projects we are working on strikes me as a legitimate and fascinating application and extension of that approach. The UOC has accumulated a huge collection of resources created for the teaching of statistics via its online distance courses. These resources include exercises, examples, textbook chapters and excerpts, applets and Flash animations, audio and video clips and equations. Presently, these resources are filed on a series of intranet drives and folders; browsing, searching and retrieval are difficult.

The project has proceeded so far with the intention of using the DSpace Repository system to store and share the resources. DSpace is a powerful, media-neutral system, widely adopted by a solid open source community. It is especially strong in terms of its provisioning for long-term archival of media. However, it has primarily been designed for the storage of open access scholarly publications and ePrints, not as an interactive space that supports the learning process. Julià likes to compare DSpace to an Egyptian pyramid – great for preserving the mummy, but maybe not a space you would want to live in.

So the primary question as I see it is can DSpace be extended so that the acts of searching and interaction around these resources can themselves be learning experiences?

Julià and I have spent a lot of time discussing how DSpace might serve as something of a “backend” application, one that can be augmented with something like a “social layer”. Could the API be used to support an interface that employs such new media features as tagging, ranking, annotation and discussion? I’ve done some searching, and so far have found nothing like what we are talking about, with the exception of an interesting presentation from HP Labs entitled Making DSpace Personal, which covers this ground very well, though not exactly in the senses we are considering.

Furthermore… I wonder if the concept of “Lenses” in the Connexions Project might be applicable.

I remember D’Arcy’s post about using Drupal as a socially-oriented content repository (we even tried to collaborate on building one for the Social Learning site, but the project ended up going in another direction), and I wonder if Drupal might be able to provide most of the “social layer” we are discussing.

Two other considerations that will merit follow-up posts on their own:

* Stephen Downes has written an epic, must-read article, The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On, and he details so much there that is essential to consider in a process like this one.

* Julià showed me a fascinating site called El Rincon del Vago, which is essentially a sharing site for cheat sheets for students. It seems to me ad-supported sites like this have no choice but to pay close attention to what users want and how they want it presented, and we have much to learn from them. Indeed, I wonder if there might be a whole avenue of worthy study in the genre of illicit learning. I’m also keenly interested in how sites like these can motivate users to contribute the cheat sheets in the first place.

Any thoughts on anything above is very welcome – and may well contribute to the development of an open content site, one with a presentation model that can be useful to others in the community…

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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  1. Pingback: My network kicks ass …DSpace social layer update

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