With the advent of MOOCS, Open University Australia and the growing trend for online, external enrolments, the traditional workbased assessment is becoming harder and harder to enable. I’m currently teaching students about preservation and conservation of information materials, both analogue and hardcopy, and archival description. I’ve also taught a unit in heritage assessment. Each of these has a practical component, which requires the students to engage with the theory and the practice of the discipline they are studying, but also to come face to face with the objects they are studying and analysing (both in digital and analogue format).
Short of digitising collections or buildings and putting them all in Secondlife, there seems to be a risk of lack of engagement with the materials that are the subject of description or study. In digitising the material or site, I will inevitably describe them, simply to make them findable, which in some ways provides the student with the first clues (and sometimes second and third clues) to the way they approach a project. How do I capture the viscerality of the heritage site or original object; the surprise and consternation when a student is first taken to a site, opens a box, tries to save a digital object? Who supervises the work, and how can that be done?
In a recent blog, T.J. Owens has proposed a way of documenting the individual pieces of an archive file using a shared library like Zotero – http://www.trevorowens.org/2014/09/linked-open-crowdsourced-description-a-sketch/#comments. As you will see from the comments, I have some concerns about how that will work in practice in an archival institution, but are there elements of his idea which can be taken for use in the sort of project I’ve just described? Push or pull? Where will the description be hosted, how will it be accessed, how long will it last and who will sustain it? Does it need sustaining? Are we simply talking institutionalised crowdsourcing?