From education to employment

Five top tips to make sure digital resources hit the mark

Anne Robertson is geodata project and services manager at EDINA

More and more organisations are going ‘digital by default’ – it underpins the UK government’s own digital strategy – and as a result there has been plenty of debate about how to meet the needs of the digitally excluded.

I think we will be missing an important opportunity if we don’t also use this groundswell to explore ways to build digital resources creatively and well, so that people are able to access them easily and will genuinely prefer them over more traditional ones.

There’s a lot of potential. Even when we’re talking about simple form-filling, content creators could be doing something more imaginative than simply digitising an existing document and putting it online.

When it comes to education resources and course delivery, it’s even more important to take a long, hard look at what you have and think about how to give it broad appeal.

These are the issues that I’ve been thinking about during the development of our free service Digimap for Colleges, which we are launching this month. Designed specifically for use in FE colleges, it offers students and staff the ability to use up to date Ordnance Survey (OS) digital maps of Great Britain as the starting point for a range of learning activities.

As we’ve been developing it, I’ve put together my five top tips for encouraging wide take-up and use in colleges of any such service:

Give your resources wings…

The resources (in this case, digital maps) may be world class, but to make them interesting and useful you’ll need to be imaginative about the kinds of uses people might want to put them to, and provide course-relevant ideas that encourage them to do so. Annotation tools will enable students add their own notes, text, images and shading, for example, so that they can customise what is provided and then save, print or export their work into other documents.

…and space to fly in

Digital mapping is an obvious fit for geographers, but it needn’t stop there. Town planning students might want to use the service to develop plans for sustainable transport networks, or leisure and tourism majors to see how tourist centres have changes over time. Outside of the classroom, orienteering enthusiasts might find it useful to have a range of current, accurate maps that they can tailor for their next exercise. In short, then, be open to the fact that your digital resources might be used in all kinds of ways that aren’t immediately obvious, and try to build in flexibility.

Offer a helping hand

Make it as easy as possible for your target group to find and re-use the resources you create, and to exploit the various tools. Better still, ensure that it is straight-forward and simple for others to get the most out of the service, by creating a series of ‘How to….’ video guides and hosting them on your own YouTube channel.

Add support for teachers

Augment the service for learners with a set of learning tools that will support educators in their delivery. Using a curriculum expert to develop these tools should help teachers develop their own ideas about ways to use the service with their students and enrich exploration of their chosen subject.

Engage with users to keep resources fresh

The best online services can grow and evolve as the needs of users change. So it’s worth including a facility for learning providers to contribute their own ideas and experiences, and help build a suite of learning resource ideas that can be shared with other colleges – possibly via a Twitter account, or within the service itself.

This crowdsourcing approach can keep resources fresh and relevant, build their usefulness over time, and help to ensure that opportunities for them to be re-used in different curriculum areas are not missed.

Anne Robertson is geodata project and services manager at EDINA, the Jisc-designated national data centre at the University of Edinburgh

Related Articles