Getting started…

So the module formally begins tomorrow and the plan is to introduce the idea of a digital online professional development plan (pdp) to the students (and probably ourselves to an extent) and set out the aims of the module and the various skills sessions that will be taking place. Although there is very much a formalised structure to the module in terms of learning outcomes, the students will be encouraged to explore the various technologies for themselves and apply the idea of a digital portfolio in a way that fits comfortably with their existing working process. Hopefully they will become comfortable with the basic principles enough to begin self-supporting one another and sharing their own best-practice based on their experiments, there’s no particular right and wrong way to do this stuff, just figuring out a way that works best for you.

I attended the Repositories Support Projects ‘Doing it Differently’ event in Sheffield last week which brought together a number of HE institutions and funded projects to present different ways of producing academic repositories from custom configurations of e-prints and D-Space, to itunes-U and reference management software Mendeley and xpert. Of most interest to me in relation to the D-traces project was the presentation by Joss Winn on the potential for using simple WordPress blogs and multi-user installations as an effective repository for scholarly publishing. This is nothing new in itself, the idea of WordPress being used as a CMS is fairly well documented, however I was really excited to see someone offering up ways of publishing that are easy and cost effective and also relatively risk-averse. As with D-traces, the challenge is to not add more complexity to peoples existing ways of working that effectively turn them away from the digital. Joss described one very simple and effective change made to gain academic support to the idea of instant publishing within WordPress that I not heard of before, rather than perceive the blog as a fixed publishing end-point akin to traditional publishing methods, Joss simply began calling blogs ‘documents’ and encouraged users to work on multiple blogs or documents as they would a word document. The benefits of writing in this way being fairly obvious in that the blog itself works on the authors behalf by providing links, feeds, automated semantic tagging via opencalais etc. In this way we can begin to be much more flexible in our approach to both writing, publishing and self/institutional archiving. The use of RSS in creating subject specific research repositories linked from an institutional repository is something that I would like to look at further and I like the thought that through the creative use of simple feeds, any number of collections can be assembled and presented in a variety of ways through the WordPress interface. Joss’ presentation notes can be found here.

WordPress is a fantastic tool and can be made to do any number of things as well as offering up a massive amount of community developed widgets to suit most of the users needs. However I’m also very aware of wanting the students on the D-traces module to be able to get into the process of blogging right away, with the minimum of fuss and see immediate and impressive results. The emphasis at this point being on ease of use, adoption and enjoyment, beyond this the students themselves will decide what tools and technology to employ to suit their needs. Something that they might find an interesting alternative to WordPress is tumblr, which I had come across a while ago but revisiting it I think the visual format might work really well with their documentation and the short ‘notebook’ format might be less daunting than the full blown text heavy format of a traditional blog. I particularly like the ‘archive’ view of tumblr blogs for example culturite and I think it seems to make any content look automatically cool by its formatting. I’ll probably begin to experiment a little with tumblr, maybe by just linking the content from here into a tumblr site for now to see how it looks and which I prefer using.