Saturday, October 08, 2005

Kansa and Ashley

Embedding Open Content in Instruction and Research

Eric Kansa and Michael Ashley, Alexandria Archive Institute
Wednesday, September 28, 2005, 3:15-4:00 pm

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Research content is often developed at great expense and effort. The availability of this content for reuse as a basis for follow-up studies has obvious research benefits. In addition, instruction is becoming more and more integrated within the research process. With the emergence of “apprenticeship” and “problem oriented” instructional methods, students are often actively involved in the production and analysis of research content. Thus, students are becoming more than consumers of instructional material—they are becoming active participants in the creation of knowledge.

Our own efforts explore ways to embed the production, dissemination, and application of open content within the context of research and participatory learning. The Alexandria Archive Institute is currently developing “ ArchaeoCommons ” an online resource that provides open content and information management and dissemination services. ArchaeoCommons will focus on the types of content that are thus far underserved through traditional scholarly publication. These include primary fi eld data, conference presentations, and digital media relating to world cultural heritage (archaeology, anthropology, history, and related disciplines). Open licensing enhances the value of this content by encouraging its use and reuse by both students and researchers. To develop and sustain ArchaeoCommons, we are experimenting with a variety of “author pays” professional services for primary researchers who are themselves principle producers of content.

1. Services for Researchers: Many field disciplines, especially archaeology, rely on the collaboration of multidisciplinary teams of researchers, each producing large analytic and multimedia datasets. For a large project, integrating and synthesizing such diverse research is a tremendous challenge and a major bottleneck in the publication process. In addition, project directors not only have to justify the value of their work in terms of research outputs, but also in terms of public outreach, instruction, and historical preservation (both physical and digital). To meet these needs, we have successfully developed and demonstrated key data integration and dissemination technologies. We employ global data schemas developed by the University of Chicago XSTAR project to integrate disparate multidisciplinary datasets into a searchable online resource. We have successfully applied these schemas with the Çatalhöyük Project, and in the process we have created a large openly licensed resource that not only provides students and researchers with rich multimedia content, but also provides the essential analytic data that makes this media meaningful.

2. Consulting Services for Universities: The same recursive and highly generalized data structures that are of such value to field researchers can see wider application. We have entered into a partnership with the Microcosms project, an initiative sponsored by the University of California Office of the President. The Microcosms Project is a system-wide research project comprehensively examining the material collections of the University of California. On the basis of our initial survey, we currently estimate the formal collections of the university to contain more than 150,000,000 objects and specimens, equivalent in scale to the Smithsonian Institution, and to have an approximate replacement value in excess of $40 billion. These collections are central to university research, teaching, public outreach and history. They are also substantial contributors to the state and national economies, important repositories of cultural history, and provide an excellent resource for introducing the general public to the important services being performed by research universities. The publicly accessible Microcosms Database will provide an openly licensed sample of this rich array of multidisciplinary content.

3. Professional Services: We are seeing increasing interest from both individual researchers and professional societies for digital services to enhance the research and networking value of conferences. A serendipitous confluence of events lead to the development of “ AnthroCommons,” an online open content conference abstract and paper dissemination service that we built on behalf of the American Anthropological Association, a 9000 member professional society. Following AnthroCommons, two more professional societies as well as individual researchers have sought online conference services from us on a contract basis.

4. Student Apprenticeship and Media Instruction: Through our partnerships with the Presidio Archaeology Lab and UC Berkeley, we are successfully demonstrating the value of building open content into instruction and apprenticeship programs (students helping produce the content they use). Hands-on student digital documentation projects not only capture content and are important for research and historical preservation, but they also provide student apprentices with invaluable skills in problem solving, peer-collaboration, and research design. Students themselves see both the costs (in the form of tuition and fees) and the benefits (in the form of enhanced learning and creative expression) of open content. Continued high enrollment levels and enthusiastic course reviews illustrate that students value this approach and are willing to bear its costs.

Sustaining open digital resources is a challenge that few institutions or projects have yet answered. For our own case, the issue of sustainability cannot be divorced from the larger context of how research and education takes place. Unless the immediate needs of researchers and institutions are met, open content initiatives will fail to garner sustainable support. Thus, we hope to support the commons by building tools and services around open content that meet the information management challenges faced by individual scholars and institutions. Only time will tell if this is a viable path toward sustainability, or if an open cultural heritage commons will always depend on the same mix of charitable donations, philanthropic granting, and government subsidy that supports most of the humanities and social sciences today.


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