As one of the pioneers in the use of podcasts for English language teaching, I was among the first to become aware of the potential for material that I had produced to be reused around the world – and naturally rather pleased that others were so convinced of its quality, or at least usefulness. I was, however, keen to maintain some sense of authorship of the material. 

I had been made mindful for the potential for reuse to become open abuse after submitting a definitive list of useful websites for common English language coursebook subject areas to a global forum in my organisation. The list was very extensive and had taken some weeks and a great deal of effort to compile. It seemed a positive move to share this around the network so that the maximum number of people could benefit from it, especially as its production had been financed by the organisation in the first place. I did not, however, make loud noises about respecting authorship and crediting my efforts, as I didn’t think it would be an issue. Imagine my surprise when the list began to reappear on this and other forums over a period of months and years, without my name on it at first and eventually with somebody else’s. Indeed, some two years later it was represented on the same forum by somebody completely different, who was then showered with accolades about it being a job well done etc. I pointed this blatant abuse out to someone else, who suggested that I should just regard this as flattery, though I must admit I was also tempted to see it as infringment of intellectual copyright. I considered pointing this out to the forum but decided that there was little to gain by doing so. As I hadn’t built the web sites in question, it was merely a question of the recognition of the effort involved in compiling it.

The reuse of learning objects that you have created yourself, is another matter, and one that needs careful consideration if we are to create useful, understandable and workable guidelines to follow. Within my organisation a department recently repurposed a whole online course as self-study materials for learner support. Naturally, this is not to be made available to our competitors and so is only available online to paying customers. Nobody has complained about this policy as it seems to be in line with people’s expectations. On the other hand, I made a conscious decision when setting up our podcast site to make it open to all – it didn’t seem to be creating any problems to do this, our student were getting the benefit of it and it helped to foster a spirit of sharing resources. My suggested activities – essentially a learning comprehension task – might not suit others’ purposes and so they should be allowed to use it as they saw fit to meet their own particular learning objectives. So that was how it was; the podcasts were made open and freely available (you can access them here and so they soon started to reappear in other parts of the web. I received requests for their resuse, which I agreed to, and sometimes they appeared without permission. The only factor that would interest me in this situation is that noone else takes the credit for my work, and perhaps where possible that they reference and link it.

At the beginning of this piece of writing, I suggested that there might be some correlation between that popularity of podcasts and their supposed quality. Obviously there can be no quality assurance implied in this, and it is interesting to note that at times I received suggestions about how the quality could be improved. Upon reflection, it would have been better to have included some mechnism for rating the podcasts and more openly encouraged comments on their quality that could be helpful to those seeking to use them as learning objects. The inclusion of the site itself on various directories of podcasts recommended for use in English teaching helps to reassure the potential user of its usefullness and potential quality, but the last word ought to rest with the learning practioners and educators that will be responsible for integrating the material in their teaching. Of course, if you hope to derive advertising revenue from the site, quality assurances can help to build traffic as well.

The availability of the resource will also depend on how easily searchable its content is. When I created the podcasts site, there was little talk of tagging as a means of searching for content, as well as users making sense of it themselves. In the higher education sector the availability of resources and learning objects for sharing, both within and without organisations make this issue and that of quality assurance critical to selling courses and maintaing standards of excellence. In my own context, English language teaching, where the use of resources is on an as-needed and often more ad hoc basis, (see Fox, 2008 for a description of such a process in my teaching centre ) the need for a standardised classification system is not great, as the resources needed to develop them would be difficult to argue for. Over-regulation would be another factor in the poor uptake of a resource sharing system in this context. The most logical system would be a user-based tagging system in my context; users are those that understand the integration of resources with learning objectives in mind and would be well-placed to signpost to others.

Finally, to consider barriers to sharing in an English teaching context, the key factor in getting people to co-operate is nearly always a financial one. People typically resent resources being assimilated by the organisation without any material reward being offered. This is particularly the case when resources have been created in one’s own free time and dates back to the days when resources where typically paper-based and for use in a face-to-face setting. There has been a sizeable shift towards digital resources in recent years with interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and internet links in all classrooms. Equally, the rise of blended learning, particularly in the area of learner support means that this issue has become much less clear. The sharing of digital resources for IWBs on an ad hoc basis is widespread and most teachers now have paid time when they are not teaching when resource production takes place. The time would seem to be right to look at a system of classifying resources where users can tag them and thus reference their potential as learning objects with learning objectives in mind.