Monday, 6 June 2011

Splashes and Ripples: Synthesizing the Evidence on the Impacts of Digital Resources, Oxford University, 20 May 2011

I recently attended the conference focusing on Digital Impacts and how to measure and understand the usage of digital resources. As is always the case, we hear things we’ve heard before about the difficulties of measuring something which is relatively new and open. The report was issued on the same day as the conference, and I don’t intend to go through that with any detail, but rather focus on some key points highlighted in the talks:

It was no surprise that there have been some big splashes and there are some ripples; the task now is to understand both, and not denigrate one over the other; next task: try to make the ripples bigger. That said, it is integral to emphasise that these projects are undertaken by people passionate about digital resources, and there is an importance in embracing the small and the large and seeing the value in both in the development and dissemination of these kinds of learning materials.

As a community, regardless of the project being discussed, there is always the need to help people collaborate.This echoes what many are saying with regard to creating OERs and getting people to deposit them in repositories like Jorum; however, it is always important to be seen to be facilitating good practice, but not leading it and taking over.

Significantly, the projects developed for the report and the study had multi-tiered end-goals. For example, the first project featured, “Siobhan Davies Re-Play” created a digital database for dance with moving and still images, as well as text. It was originally for researchers in dance; however, it also became a means whereby professionals could model good practice to students with the project’s reflexive emphases, allowing the students and the professionals alike to reflect on what they were doing, all of which fed directly into some form of PDP.

Although most projects do not focus on generating any kind of money, it was shown that even some small income generation can be important and directly, as well as indirectly contributes to the overall success and impact of the project. “British History Online” allows for adverts, which brings in about £1200 per month – it isn’t a lot of money, but even that amount could keep the project going over time. In addition, keeping track of revenue over time is another way of measuring how effectively the site is used and ostensibly what its impact has been.

Project manager Eric Meyer, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “The question of impact is on everyone’s minds ... we argue that 'impact' is more than crude measures of number of visitors, or numbers of links … We recommend using a variety of qualitative and quantitative measures to understand the types of impacts resources have on research, teaching, learning, and for the wider public ... high-traffic sites and more specialized collections can demonstrate and enhance their impacts.”

In addition, and something very integral to Jorum’s evolution, was the ensuring that searches could be conducted even more straightforwardly and clearly; it is clear that impact is linked to understanding how people do research and what they will want to look for -- tasks important to every developer of any project, as well as any service developed to store and enhance discoverability.

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