Friday, 8 June 2007

DUMP2.0 is funded

(First, a title disclaimer; it may seem like every posting on this blog gets "2.0" triumphantly added to it. But in this case there's a good reason for the 2.0. Two, in fact.... )

DUMP2.0 has been funded by the HEA Physical Sciences Centre as a development project, building on last year's project in this area (called, wait for it DUMP - that is Database of Useful MCQs for Physics) I am sure that DUMP as a project acronym contravenes some rule of not having acronyms that contain acronyms.....

DUMP aimed to take a collection of ad hoc MCQs (and MRQs) that we have developed to support a first year Physics course over a number of years, and turn them into an online, browseable library for the HE community to be able to make use of. It did that and you can see the system for yourself (following a simple registration procedure on our e-learning site). It's got elements of well-known online shopping and auction sites that makes it easy to discover and browse materials.

So the first claim to appending a 2 (but perhaps not the ".0"?) to DUMP is that the new project builds on the development of the first. We have nearly 500 questions within the system, but the coverage is very heavily biased towards the syllabus of the first year mechanics course many of the resources grew out of. Having populated it with a reasonable volume of useful content, we are keen for the project to be developed further, not as “more of the same”, but as a unique opportunity to take something from cottage industry to more widespread adoption. The pedagogical spirit of the questions that are currently within DUMP is just as transferable to thermodynamics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics (all topics which students find challenging!) A related project to produce more content like this has been awarded to Bruce Sinclair and Antje Kohnle at the University of St. Andrews.

Previous experience has taught us that such projects require a critical mass of users and involvement to succeed; otherwise they are destined to become stale and stagnate. In the case of question banks or online repositories, a key issue (aside from technical concerns such as interoperability etc) is the bottleneck of content creation / provision. There are good examples of worthy systems or tools that lie sparsely populated, serving as a real disincentive to wider uptake amongst the academic community.

So here's the second "2.0"; we want to take the spirit of the wave of Web2.0 tools that are currently widely used to foster and build and online community to support and sustain the respository. We plan to use existing open source environments to develop a community around DUMP, to facilitate sharing of contact details, interests, best practice and use cases for questions. We also aim to use this to develop a ‘content ecosystem’ where users who download material from DUMP are encouraged to add-in a small amount of new content, thus ensuring the sustainability of the system and its value in the long term.

The project doesn't formally start until September 2007 and runs for one year, but we hope to have some time over the summer to start thinking (and maybe even doing). More to follow.

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