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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12 Responses to A social layer for DSpace?

  1. Tannis says:

    We’re looking at using VUE http://vue.tufts.edu/ as a visual way of locating, understanding, associating, and searching, and previewing the media assets for some health programs. It seems to have a lot of the attributes of social software (eg. tagging) as well.

  2. Brian says:

    Tannis – I wish I had thought to offer a door prize or something for the first helpful comment. I’ll try to think of something. Many thanks!

  3. Doug Symington says:

    The first thing I think of is how tagging of content can be “formalized” to the extent that participants agree on semantics, and yet “open” enough to allow for the power of folksonomies to categorize content in ways that might not immediately to designers and developers.

    “Rules of engagement” especially in terms of tagging, or “meta-tagging” may help with the delineation of content along lines that make sense to users, and provide for the evolution of the content, as well as the exercise of tagging itself. The secret comes in providing direction without being so prescriptive that one undercuts creativity in the use (and tagging) of resources.

  4. Erik Duval says:

    Would be happy to help with this: making learning resources available in ways that make sense is a topic we work on quite a bit – see for instance http://portal.mace-project.eu/ for some nice examples of more innovative and flexible approaches. These at least seem to make some sense for architecture students 😉

  5. J. Minguillon says:

    just in case you want a higher resolution pic of the whiteboard:


  6. J. Minguillon says:

    …well, facebook and high resolution pic do not really match, here you have the Flickr one:


    two worlds are crossing here…

  7. Mike says:

    Is third party hosting a restriction? Both del.icio.us and twitter can be used as skeletal API and messaging systems and a front-end built on top of those. But I think that may not be what you want here. You want something with source code.

    If you are not faint of heart, you can get Ning source and hack that in. Community structure in Ning is really good, and there’s a photo app in there that should be able to be modified for something like this if you want to get in the source code.

    But once again, not sure if I completely get what you are asking. And that board scares me.

    On last note on illegal sharing — I’ve been thinking of this re: illegal torrent sites. Because they suffer from a leech problem there’s some interesting stuff that goes on on them that I find fascinating. One key — having both predictable and unpredictable awards for good behavior (e.g. sharing). Another — Points, that allow those that have shared (or annotated or whatever) to buy access to certain high-load features like power searching. And then, sporadic “wild weeks” or times when all the rules are off — or all the benefits are doubled or tripled, etc.

    So in the case of note sharing, a system might work like this — everybody gets access to x free notes to start. But at some point you have to contribute to get more, either through providing notes, or annotations, or ratings, or reviews. To fill gaps, specials are announced — triple points this week for uploading any chemistry notes. Custom title to person uploading most blackboard captures, etc.

    I know it sounds nuts, but it seems to work on these torrent sites. Of course, people tend to like music and ebooks more than edumacation, so who knows. But it’s certainly worth a look at sites like waffles.fm and other sites which have gotten sharing up to formerly unseen levels, and really dealt effectively with the free rider problem.

  8. Paul Joseph says:

    Hi Brian,

    I think that’s a great question you pose. You might want to check out the work that Mark Leggott and his team have done at UPEI with Fedora Commons, a back-end repository application that they’ve got feeding into a Drupal module. Nothing social to speak of at the moment, but they have made their module publicly available. This at least demonstrates that you don’t necessarily need to be tied to a repository interface (although in this case, Fedora doesn’t have an interface to interact with). This relates to DSpace because, as Mark mentioned in his blog, they are in the process of discussing possible collaborations (and integration?) with the Fedora team. On that agenda includes things like a personal web-based service for end users and lightweight application integration. Hope that helps.


  9. Brian says:

    Thanks so much to all of you for offering such provocative feedback! Julià and I are reading and discussing all of it.

    Doug, the tension you describe is also very much on our minds. The notion of defining the engagement is important, though as you note it’s vital not to squash potential emergent uses that are unanticipated.

    Erik – MACE looks beautiful, and groovy. I will study it closer, and I will be in touch for some follow-up. Thanks!

    Mike – If you think that board is scary to you… Using some third-party tools for enhanced social functions (not to mention data portability and enhanced reuse) is not something we have talked about enough. I appreciate the prompt. And I will suggest looking at the Ning code. If nothing else, it might allow for some rapid prototyping and getting some working models up for feedback. As for the “gotta give to get”, I’ve had similar thoughts… and wondered too if it was nuts. My instinct is that the difference between learning resources and groovy music is too great. Having said that, we have to study what works on the web and these sites work very, very well. I applaud you thinking so creatively.

    Paul – you rule, those examples are being looked at and digested. Now, I definitely gotta buy you a beer when I get back to Van Rock City.

  10. Scott Leslie says:

    So this http://tinyurl.com/6s27d3 piece is about “institutional repositories” (which is the more typically usecase for DSpace) but it’s got some interesting ideas from the perspective of how to omake the repository more compelling for both the author and the users of the content, some of which might qualify as a “social layer.” Certainly, basic things like “embed codes” and “widgets” for the content seem like one obvious move to make it easier for the content to flow.

    Very interested to learn where they go this. Dspace has a lot going for it in facilitating the conventional institutional/library/archive concerns; its lack (and to be fair, the lack of ALL repositories) has always been in how it facilitates the USERS’ concerns around sharing and reuse.

    Cheers, Scott

  11. J. Minguillon says:

    I would like to have also like this


    for the “formal” taxonomy, have you ever tried? any open source solution for creating such dynamic trees from RDF?

  12. Pingback: My network kicks ass …DSpace social layer update

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