The title of this post is a question, and I’m actually interested to hear a few different things from people out there:
- not only what you think the difference between ‘digital repository’ software (e.g. DSpace) and ‘learning object repository’ software (e.g. CAREO) actually is, but also
- are any differences you think exist there because these types of systems really are trying to accomplish different functions, or are dealing with heterogeneous resource types, or are they different simply because they originated in different camps within educational institutions (libraries and archivists versus educators or educational technologists)? Other reasons?
- should institutions adopt a single institutional repository system for both archiving research publications and their learning objects? Do you work at, or do you know of, an institution that is adopting a single repository software solution for all of there needs?
There are a few reasons I’m asking these questions. One is that I’m currently working on a project to compare various software (and hosted services) that educational institutions can use to store, manage and deliver ‘learning objects’ (leaving aside for a second what those actually are) – systems like CAREO, Intrallect intraLibrary, Connexions and the Basic E-Learning Tool Set to name a few on what is not that huge list of things currently known as ‘learning object repositories.’
Someone suggested we include DSpace on the list, and there have been other mentions of Fedora as another possibility. I was at first pretty sceptical – while on the surface both types of systems ostensibly provide a searchable archive for digital materials from an institution, not only are the materials typically quite different (e.g. scholarly research papers versus teaching-focused content and applications; PDF files versus zipped SCORM objects, Java applets, etc.), but ‘digital repositories,’ with their heritage in the library and archives world, typically support different metadata schemas, and are focused on interoperating with different kinds of systems (library catalogues instead of, say, course management systems), and, I think, embody a different business logic. Sure, people work on metadata crosswalks, and things like the IMS DRI spec seem like maybe they bring the two types of systems closer together, but still, they seem to be different tool for different needs for at least a few good reasons.
And yet… go to DSpace’s very own FAQ page, and there you will find listed ‘Learning Objects” as one of the digital content types DSpace can support. Is this just overreaching on the part of DSpace, or are the business logic and needs that are often addressed by two different applications similar enough that they could be served by an individual application?
My sense is that, no, these are two different (if related) types of applications for good reason, and that the folks who work on crosswalks and interoperability have the right idea – there needs to be different schema to reflect different domain concerns, and different applications to embody the different business logics needed to address distinct problems, but that working towards standards is a good thing in enabling cross-application/cross-domain functionality for end users who may not particularly share your domain’s particular context, constraints or concerns. But I’m interested to hear what other’s think – is there value in these two functions converging in one application (albeit one that would still likely need to support different schemas, and different skins for the different user bases); are you pursuing a strategy that seeks to bring these two repository approaches together?