abstract intro Archive Construction Some Goals Poking and Packing conclusion after-thoughts

Archives, Archivers and Achievement


The greater use of information technology has nudged distance and continuing education implementors towards slightly new ways of conducting courses.

The electronic interchange of information has led to coordination possibilities. Courseware developers and curriculum designers are not only focussed on facilitating independent learning but also on fostering the exchange between participants.

The same technology permits the easy creation and maintenance of an archive or repository of past work. Files (or only metadata associated with those files) can be mounted on a server. Course participants can exercise roles as curators, annotators and producers of content. Such "archiving" is a way of building in a "long view" and valuing collaborative work.

In this presentation, I will discuss a variety of criteria and decision-making mechanisms that can be employed to govern the depositing of files and the access to files in such an archiving system.

When participants assume they are leaving traces for other groups and other times, the educational experience can run the gamut from simple tour to infrastructure construction.

Introduction: scatter and gather

Portfolios and journals help individuals capture the history of their progress. These records also serve as repositories of questions, problems, sketches. They can act as scrapbooks filled with swatches and snippets for future projects.

Snopping in somebody else's cultural capital, we may find a mirror reflecting our own obsessions. Or a new pole star pointing to other undiscovered fields. Coming upon our own buried treasure, we may rediscover who we were such a short time ago or we may be amazed at the continuity of our intellectual interests manifested in our periodic productions over longer spans of time.

Curiousity is piqued when one comes across a box of recipes, a set of hockey or baseball cards, a stamp or coin collection, a homemade sampling of sound recordings, a diary, a bunch of letters, a news file. where does this come from? who assembled this? in what order?

The temptation is high, when one encounters duplicates, to lift an item; perhaps a bit less, when faced with one of a kind. The desire for appropriation fuels our collective efforts at documentation (describing what one has found), preservation (using the photocopier, the tape recorder, video camera, the digital versions of these devices to produce copies), and manipulation (sampling edging beyond data capture into repurposing and recycling). It is an appropriation bent on sharing. Descriptions serve to point others to a resource. Preservation, by way of the generation of copies, serves distribution. Manipulation is deliciously self-serving.

Pedagogically, to describe is like parsing and analysis, to copy is just that, copying, and to manipulate is like translation and composition. Rhetoric provides the framework for the educational use of archives, repositories, collections. The same techniques can be applied to one's personal archives as to collective resources. The same techniques can be applied regardless of the nature of the medium. One can talk or write about what is found. One can focus on the material support of the artefacts and deal with preservation issues. One can generate new work based on what is found. In all these types of rhetorical activity, one in is in dialogue with the traces of what was in order to shape what might be. The learning becomes transitive and transactional.

If online education is about broadcasting and its corollary, conferencing, it is also about laboratories and libraries. Libraries house instructions on how to build labs as well as the results of countless experiments and explorations. They also capture circulation statistics. Long long before electronic commerce coined the marketing terminology of push/pull to profile consumers and target sales pitches, educators have been in the scatter gather business.

Criteria for Archive Construction

The issue of archiving work hinges on the long term relationship between students and staff as creators and institutions as custodians. There are issues of copyright permission in housing student and instructor course work. It is possible to create arrangements where copyright holders grant an institution license to distribute and still retain copyright for themselves. The law in different jurisdictions influences the scope of possible arrangements. The imagination and foresight of the parties can do much to cement the relationship between creators and custodians.

Library and research staff are viewed as the custodians par excellence. The finding tools and resource they create are valuable assets. Teaching staff often operate at the nexus between creator and custodian. Their own personal files (or their informal ob servations and memories of feedback) do much to refurbish courses and exercises from one year to the next. Students are rarely seen as having a custodial role except in the pledge to act as good borrowers and not to damage or destroy holdings. The pedagogical power of an archive is activated by inviting the student to act as curator as well as a depositor of creations. To imagine students in the curator and borrower roles is to approach the archive from the access angle. From the acquisition angle, students can even act as custodians. Depending on the guidelines regulating the construction of the archive, they can act as gatekeepers. They can adjudicate what gets deposited. Furthermore, they can set the rules to decide which items are deposited. Those rules need not be directed at acquiring only "the best". There is much value in collecting "ordinary" examples.

The roles of curator, creator, custodian are congruent with the activities of describing, manipulating, and preserving information. Each participant in a pedagogical experience, be it teacher or student, is called upon to work an archive, be it a formal repository or one's own personal memory. Knowledge production does not occur in a vaccum. Even highly regimented drill requires a battery of exercises and tests. The basic questions apply to any materials: where will they be housed, for how long, who gets to play with them?


By authority, by lottery, by consensus. A teacher may select student work to retain. The operations of chance may determine which work will be selected. Students may exercise peer review. A two-stage approach may combine these methods. It may be a policy that every student submit at least one piece of work (authority) and peer review (consenus) would make a final selection. Again, the value accorded to the collecting "ordinary" examples, distinguishes the archive as showcase from the archive as storeroom.

The purpose of the archive determines not only acquisition but also access. The collectors are mindful of the gatekeepers. Decisions about who will have access to the collected material influences decisions about what to collect.


The limit case: everybody to everything, all the time. Total open access in the digital realm is feasible since users obtain copies of files. However for a variety of reasons time-limited partial access is likely to be adopted. Archives can be a resourc e used only by individuals conducting or enrolled in a course. Portions of an archive can become available as a course progresses. Sections can be available to non-course participants and other areas can be reserved. Over time, material can move between these sections and areas. Archive builders can adopt a storage and showcase model. Depending on the acquistion rules, archives can also a vaults and work room model where the holdings are not only to be displayed and stored but also to be replicated so as to serve as resource for further manipulation.

Not all the materials need to be immediately online. Storage capacity can be managed by granting access to the metadata -- descriptions of the contents of the archive -- so that users may submit requests for access to the resources in which they are interested. These resources can then be mounted on a server for a time-limited period. This service model need not only apply to individual users. A teacher can request that designated files be available for a fixed time only -- in certain situations, a useful tactic for motivating time management.

Records management can adopt a portfolio style. Items deposited by students remain in the archive until they graduate. The archive can be randomly culled leaving only the metadata relating to accession, circulation and discarding (or culled without the retention of metadata). Again, management of the archive depends upon the pedagogical goals associated with its construction.

Some Goals

An archive can

The existence of an archive can

The very idea of an archive does stretch the "anyplace, anytime" mantra to include "anyone". But not everyone can serve anyone all the time and so the goals associated with the construction of any archive will take on their own local colour.

Poking and Packing

I was curious. I found some 600 sites that matched the following search criteria

(archive NEAR student) AND (online NEAR course)

then pared down the number to 17 matches using

(archive NEAR student) NEAR (online NEAR course)

The archived notes to my review of the 17 sites can be consulted in a <!-- comment --> section in the HTML markup of this file (just an example that archives can travel).

The quick survey raised, for me, two issues. I found a course which used an open ftp site to house course-related software. I found WebCT archives that were inaccessible without accounts and passwords (None were actually open to public access). This does raise the issue of exporting material gathered through proprietary course-delivery suites in order to make it available to users not covered by license. An institution must weigh the ease of out-of-the-box interfaces along with investment in its own information management infrastructure.

Unlike general ftp sites, the course-related site didn't have a read.me file to guide users through the selection, an indication that the material was not deployed with the indepdent learner in mind or with a view to creating adequate redundancies (a read .me file can supplement instructions sent by email). Currently course-delivery suites such as HorizonLive do a good job of capturing all the interactions (text exchanges through a Java applet, slides, video and screen motion shots of software demos; polls) occuring during a session. Developers are working upon refining the search mechanisms available to, for example, cue directly to a video segment. We can expect improvements in search and retrieval tools for archives be they proprietary or open source.

The second issue raised by this quick survey is related to the use of web hosting services. I found sites where all the links to student material were dead. The student accounts had lapsed and the material vanished. The use of such services as Tripod, Angelfire or Geocities permits students to access their work once the course is complete, modify and augment their sites. However, even with these "free" web hosting services, long term access to other users may be a problem. Using the institution archive for a "frozen" sample and the web hosting provider for student evolution is perhaps the solution to adopt. Also course-specific web housing can circumvent this problem -- students then being free to mount versions of their material on other web-hosting sites if they wish to continue to develop their projects.


It is worth repeating. The roles of curator, creator, custodian are congruent with the activities of describing, manipulating, and preserving information. It worth inquiring what one can learn in any of these roles. Before teachers and students come to a pedagogical experience, they have been preservers, describers and shapers of information. After the experience, they do like wise. While engaged, students and teachers may communicate a description, collaborate on preservation, construct a transformation. The degree to which these interactions are formally captured reflects the value attached to those intractions or the extent to which the here-and-now is threaded to a there-then.


One rationale for archives has been given in terms of convenience for the single user "for student retrieval and study on their own time" (Maureen Bowman "What is Distributed Learning?" Tech Sheet: News and Advice from the Technology Collaborative at CSUM B (California State University Monterey Bay) Vol 2. No. 1 April 23, 1999 http://techcollab.csumb.edu/techsheet2.1/distributed.html). What happens when the user is not construed only as a consumer but as a customer?

In the restorative economy of the future, the fundamental principle to be honored is the covenant between company and customer. Businesses will become instruments of the customer; the consumer as the passive instrument of commerce will disappear. Business es large and small that comprehend this distincition and make the change will have a far better chance to succeed in the decades ahead.

The archive can serve to attract, retain and retrain.


Greetham, David . "Coda: Is it Morphin Time?" in Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory.. Kathryn Sutherland, editor. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Paul Hawken. The Ecology of Commerce: a Declaration of Sustainability. New York: Harper Collins: 1993

Stewart, Susan. On longing: narratives of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, the collection. Baltimore: John Hopkins University,1984.

Turner, Patricia A.. Ceramic Uncles and Celluloid Mammies: Black Images and Their Influence on Culture. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

abstract intro Archive Construction Some Goals Poking and Packing conclusion after-thoughts
Francois Lachance © 2001