Learning Technology

Don’t shoot the cartographer

February 11th, 2011 at 04:02

Can the world be flat and round at the same time? On the grandest scale of knowledge, of course the world is round (or spherical), but in localised contexts, could it still be seen as flat? If we take the case of OER, then although it is without doubt an international movement, there are distinct sites of production and knowledge. On ye olde maps of the world, with Jerusalem at the centre, then MIT’s OCW is the metaphorical equivalent. Across la mere atlantique is the Open University (surrounded by unknown lands – “here be concrete cows”) and to the north, via Watling Street, is U-now, and it’s infamous sheriff. OER Africa covers the southern lands of mystery.

In olden times, navigators would seek to fill in the gaps between these cultures, but in doing so would claim lands and wealth on behalf of sponsors. When we know that learning resources exist at every university, if we take steps to fill in the gaps, it’s less navigation, and more Commodore Perry landing in Japan. Filling in the OER map is not so much a discovery, but more an ending of isolationist attitudes. Doesn’t that sound much more intelligent than silos?

With Xpert, we have a sizeable collection, and within that collection are no doubt resources we could use to create something akin to an OER map. However, althought with Xpert we could work as an OER cartographer, the map seller – guide would still be google. Xpert could take steps to create pages to make OER pages more discoverable, but these pages would be within Xpert, and not on the hosting site. So resources would be found, but they would be found via us, with Xpert’s tools acting as a proxy. People may then see Nottingham / Xpert as having created these pieces, and this attribution would be both unjust, and perhaps confusing.

Does scope exist though for us to increase discovery without directly? We can present data to search engines without visible appearing any different to our site’s users. HTML in results pages can be extended invisibly by using microformats and RDFa, or by smarter HTML modifications such as COinS. You even create a linked data resource, allowing for queries done in this method that humans would never need see. As such with data sets like these we can inform the guide (google et al), without changing the author of the piece, or seeming to claim ownership of it ourselves. After all, Xpert is part silo and part sponge (spilo? silonge?) and it absorbs metadata left, right and centre. We hold the data, and if we can make it available, then to not do so would seem hypocritical. However, can we make this data available and not seem to be claiming ownership? And should we even worry about this? Xpert’s harvester has taken blocks of metadata from sites, often cleaned and improved it, and could so if it presented this data to search engines – make this OER more discoverable – but it would be discovered on Xpert, not on the site Xpert found it. If this was to be done, it would no doubt be beneficial, but would it be moral. So please, don’t shoot the cartographer.

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