Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Archive for August, 2011

Archiving in a digital world

Bookshelf imageI was interested to read this article yesterday morning about an archivist seeking to collect one of every book written. The bibliophile in me loves the idea; imagine a copy of every single book ever printed! The digital side of me questions the value of collecting a physical copy of information that could be held in a much more compact and enduring format, while the online educator wonders at the enormity of the task. How can he possibly do it? Is he seriously going to obtain and catalogue a copy of every soppy Mills & Boon or sickly teenage fiction title along with all the literary greats? The task is as admirable as it is epic.

I’m sure he will uncover many treasures during his quest and ‘rescue’ many wonderful artefacts that might have otherwise been lost. I also wonder what he will discover that he wishes in hindsight he hadn’t bothered with?

Digital repository

We are in the process of creating a digital repository for all our resources. It is a huge project and one I have embarked on in other institutions. After much discussion around platforms, functionality, formats and compatibility, the underlying questions remain remarkably similar:

  • What will we store? Photos, text, images, animations, graphics, videos, whole courses and programmes?
  • Why will we store it? What purpose or need might the item fulfil? (Is there one?)
  • How will we find what we have stored? How can we future-proof our systems and metadata?
  • How will we use what we have found? Or are we keeping it ‘just in case’ it might be useful in the future?

Nostalgia is a fine thing, but do we really need to keep every resource from a course or programme simply because we spent a lot of time working on it? Just because I think I have developed something worthwhile, that does not mean someone else will find it equally valuable. There is even less likelihood that they will be astounded by my act of brilliance which has, naturally, resulted in a reusable learning object of such high quality that it can be repurposed for any learning experience … yes, nostalgia certainly is a fine thing. As much as we can learn from what others before us might have already grappled with, it doesn’t mean we should hoard everything ‘just in case’.

So where is the fine line between babies and bath water? Other questions to consider when setting up a repository could include:

  • What is a reusable learning object? What is a reusable information object? Can the same item be both?
  • How do we measure quality? What criteria determines whether an item qualifies for archiving in the repository? Should value be measured by the number of times an object is used/reused or some other metrics?
  • When do we begin archiving materials from? Five years ago? Ten? Last year? From here on in, or from some point in the future?
  • Should we archive everything we create from now on or just some things? What would we include in these two categories? Why?
  • Who approves objects for archiving? Is this an automatic process, a job for one designated person or is a committee required? What policies and guidelines should they follow when making their decisions (and what measures are in place to support these decisions if challenged)?
  • When and how will we reassess the value of archived items to ensure they still meet our requirements in the future?

Backing up in the cloud

If there’s one thing the Christchurch earthquakes have taught us, it’s the importance of current backups for all digital data. When was the last time you backed up your desktop computer, laptop or phone? I recently bought a 1TB external hard drive for my laptop at home but am the first to admit that, other than serving as a really large holding space for my music files, I have little faith in its ability to restore everything up in a disaster. Firstly, I’m not as organised at systematically backing up files as I’d like to be and, secondly, there’s no guarantee that a falling object will crush my laptop but miraculously miss my external hard drive located somewhere else in the house.

Derek Wenmoth’s post earlier this year about clouds and silver linings highlighted the value of storing digital data offsite. There are a plethora of cloud-based synchronising services available, many with a substantial amount of free storage as well as options for professional subscriptions. The concept is great: back up important content by sending it into the cloud, or synchronise various digital devices (computers, laptops, mobiles) in one central location. It can also be a good way to share folders and files with others. But what about security and bandwidth issues? Is cloud syncing more of a short or long term solution?

I have been playing with a couple of online synching tools recently. I have long had a partially utilised Dropbox account and have recently come across SugarSync. Here are my general impressions of both.


Dropbox logoDropbox has been around since 2007 and this review gives you a quick glance at its services. The basic plan gives you 2GB of free storage with options to upgrade to pro versions. It works well for Windows, Mac and Linux but has limited mobile functionality, even though it has applications for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. The web interface is simple to use although it only allows you to sync one folder of content. Be aware that their privacy policy was modified in April 2011 to read: “We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith believe that disclose is reasonably necessary.” That’s not to say that everything you store is automatically shared with the masses, but I’d take a cautious approach, as I would with any cloud-based storage system.


SugarSync logoI have only recently ‘discovered’ SugarSync. So far, it’s looking pretty good to me. The basic, personal service is free and allows around 5GB of storage but with a 25MB limit for public file sharing. That’s important if you’re wanting to share videos. It offers services across a range of platforms and its mobile applications seem more stable than Dropbox. There are multiple ways to increase the free storage limit, including various types of referrals allowing another 500MB each, but I found many of them to be quite gimmicky. It is easy to synchronise multiple folders and files via the Magic Briefcase icon on your desktop (which takes you to the web interface). Security appears to be similar to Dropbox; nothing in the cloud is ever 100% secure.

A more comprehensive comparison between Dropbox and SugarSync can be found here.