Staffordshire University is taking part in a pilot study to explore the issues and benefits involved in making its ‘stock’ of learning content freely available. Professor Mark Stiles, the University’s Head of Learning Development and Innovation, and a member of the board of directors of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, explained: “We want to share our learning content with all of our partners in the UK and around the world. They include some 11 partner colleges – which are part of the Staffordshire Region Foundation.


“We’re keen to make exposing our content to as wide an audience as possible the norm rather than the exception,” Stiles continued. “After all, universities don’t sell ‘content’. Rather, they sell accreditation and access to expertise. So, even if they make their courses freely available on the internet, they should find students wanting to come to the university, for assessment and accreditation.


“After all, you can find all the information associated with an undergraduate course freely available in libraries,” he added. “But the key is the assessment and accreditation of your learning. If you work through the information without tutors, how do you know that you are any good at learning and applying that learning?”


This project has been made technically possible by the use of Giunti Labs’ HarvestRoad Hive digital repository (DR) allied to the Blackboard virtual learning environment (VLE). It has been made practically and politically possible by being one of seven such projects funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) – a Government-funded body which supports education and research by promoting innovation in new technologies and by the central support of information and communications technology (ICT) services.


The project involves making some 700 ‘credits’ of learning materials available in various forms, including video, ‘hardcopy’ notes and so on. These materials, originally kept within the Blackboard VLE, or learning management system, have been migrated to Giunti Labs’ DR; then federated to the JISC repository (known as JORAM Open) and made available to learners via RSS feed alerts.


Comment: While technology – via the internet among other things – makes ‘content’ widely (and often freely) available, thus providing challenges over the ownership of intellectual property rights (IPR) for educational publishers, technology also appears to be offering a solution to these challenges (albeit an unpalatable one to education’s ultra-traditionalists). Staffordshire University is taking the first steps towards a new, collaborative model of IPR ownership and use which could revolutionise the way we all think about education and qualifications.