PROWE cluster summary

From DigiRepWiki



New online, accessible and cost-effective networking tools, such as wikis and blogs, encourage the open exchange of ideas. They also offer the possibility of collaborative authoring and other shared endeavours such as informal repository development that contribute to building and sustaining a community of practice. Part-time distance education tutors, without the security of a single or permanent institutional 'home', often lack the opportunity to participate in collaborative activity and community building interaction. The PROWE project seeks to explore the potential of new networking tools to foster community and realise part-time tutor professional development.


The Personal Repositories Online Wiki Environment project, PROWE for short, focuses on the potential of repositories at the informal and individual levels. The project's overall aim is to develop an understanding of how current technologies can, and are, being used to support communities of part time distance tutors. In particular, the project seeks to establish the role that individual and group repositories play in informing professional practice and facilitating (part-time) staff development. The project has a central research question: "In what ways could wiki and wiki-type environments be useful and useable as personal and informal repositories to support professional development within part-time tutor communities of practice?" Two institutions, The Open University (OU) and University of Leicester (UoL), are involved in the project. Both institutions make extensive use of part-time tutors although tutor duties, and thus associated professional development needs, vary quite widely.


The project began with consultation with tutors and academic staff from both institutions, by means of face-to-face focus groups. Simultaneously an analysis was undertaken of wiki/blog/bliki solutions currently available. Assessing possible tool options, the project had to take account of the requirement that any environment developed must potentially be widely applicable across a variety of institutional contexts within the higher education sector. It must also be compatible across different VLE platforms and accessible via different internet browsers. It quickly became clear that the needs of tutors in the two partner institutions were both similar in focus (need for community, etc.) but also very different (different recruitment practices, different technical capabilities, etc.) and that the project should not look to find a single solution but to map and test a variety of options and possibilities for meeting common needs across diverse contexts. Presently UoL are implementing testing of a pure wiki environment 'seeded' with core materials which tutors can use and develop whilst the OU is testing a blog type environment with file storage capabilities.


The part time distance tutor is a very diverse species inhabiting equally diverse working habitats! There is no simple solution to assisting their professional development or supporting their resource management needs. Software solutions already exist for most of the activities that tutors would wish to undertake. However, not all are available in any one particular wiki or wiki-type environment. Or, where they are there are overriding issues to be considered – such as security, authentication or storage. Most wikis are completely open, accessible to any one, and thus are liable to interference or spam attack. This vulnerability makes them unsuitable for stable, long term repository type use. Wiki technology also makes it difficult to store multiple versions of documents which would be required to ensure that contributors do not lose control of their original contributions. One major challenge for PROWE is to propose options which will offer enough security (i.e. which respect access and the integrity of inputs) to inspire the trust and confidence of users in order to ensure that they contribute. Options must also be flexible enough to encourage the widespread uptake needed to, in turn, ensure that solutions endure as stable, secure and supportive resources over time. Another challenge for the project is to link the development of repository deposited resources to individuals and not just to the institutions in which they are presently teaching. This will be essential to ensure sustainability. It will also offer users the incentive to contribute by providing long term personal satisfaction and continued professional development over a career which may span multiple institutional affiliations.

Anne Hewling, The Open University (