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A Cautionary Tale about Online Repositories

When I first pondered what I would share in the HAPS blog, I considered my prior forays into online resources. I’d like to tell you about my first, not only so you can make use of it, but also for the lessons learned from it. For many years now, I’ve maintained a website with photos of microscope images, dissected specimens, and anatomical models. You can check it out at http://science.tjc.edu but I need to warn you, it’s seriously out of date and not long for this world.

Actually, the site is not as out-of-date as it was about a month ago, when I was musing about what to say about my website. I decided I really ought to look it over. Coincidentally, about that same time, I received 2 emails from colleagues, telling me my website was down. That meant I had to contact the webmaster at my college and ask what the problem was. It seems they had forgotten they had arranged to ‘park’ my materials on a small server, and when they needed to shut that server down, my stuff went with it. When I inquired, the IT staff agreed to reactivate the server until we could come up with a plan to move the content, as the server was running on an old operating system and needed to go. As of now, no actionable plan has been developed, but the clock is still ticking.

My web guru at the College was concerned not only with outdated material and broken links, but also with complying with college standards for online materials. I have some time-consuming work ahead of me, if I wish to maintain my space on the College’s server. I also have to change my work habits to include getting approval of material from the web gate-keeper, I’m sure.

So, what I’ve done so far is delete extraneous material (outdated faculty directories, expired schedules, out-of-date degree plans) and leave up only the biological images that are popular with faculty and students around the world. Unfortunately, the software I used to build the site (FrontPage) is no longer available. And, some of my fanciest ‘footwork,’ such as hotspots in images, don’t work anymore.

Here’s the moral of my story – Keep up with your online resources! I should have kept better archival files, so that I can’t inadvertently delete the only high-res file of irreplaceable images, such as the aortic aneurism we found when dissecting a cat. I should have learned to use a more modern program than FrontPage before losing access to my own site. I should have migrated to the cloud by now!

In a happier vein, my web resources have led to interesting contacts with people requesting permission to use, or to publish, some of our images. My colleagues and I (primarily Pam Gregory, who is a whiz at graphics) have had images published in a textbook in France and a professor’s notes in Ireland. We’ve also discovered unauthorized versions with English labels replaced by other languages, or posted without attribution on other people’s websites. I have mixed feelings about that last – we do give free permission to use for educational purposes. I’m not sure what proper etiquette is on using someone else’s work online, but it was disconcerting to see our images posted on someone else’s page, with no mention of our ownership.

Here are some questions I’d love to hear answers to:

What are other Hapsters doing online?

What do you think is the proper way to acknowledge when you are using someone else’s images?

How do you keep track of your online materials?

How can HAPS help us share, and keep current, our treasury of resources?

And, finally, for those who wish to use our images, our request is that you let us know (so we can justify keeping our website as ‘marketing’ for the College), and attribute to “Betsy Ott and Pam Gregory, Tyler Junior College, Tyler, Texas.”

4 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale about Online Repositories

  1. Boy, those are big questions!
    I have lots of tutorials on my Patho site, so I face some of the same issues. So far the school hasn’t tried to regulate my content. My bigger issue has been page size. I stupidly changed most of the pages to flexible sizing, thinking it would make them work better on various devices, but discovered I couldn’t do that with the drag and drop quizzes. So now I have the laborious task of changing them all back… I now understand why css has become popular!

    I only use my own images, but when my students use other people’s images I require them to get permission and to indicate from whom they got it on the slide with the image.

    Keeping track of the material hasn’t been an issue; everything on the site (and a lot of old stuff) is in a folder on my desktop, backed up to an external hard drive.

    I also wonder about what role HAPS wants to take in curating such stuff. What happens when my site, or GetBodySmart, or WebAnatomy, go away because their creators have retired or died? And can HAPS benefit from these sites? Right now my site gets about 15% as many hits per month as our school site. That might add up to some real advertising.

    • Pat, I won’t even begin to relate my horror story of deleting, changing, or renaming pages. Suffice it to say, be sure to backup your website before changing anything.

      You bring up a scenario I hadn’t even considered; what to do when we are gone? I’m open to suggestions on how HAPS can help.

  2. What a behemoth of a problem. We get so excited to offer students these super-cool TOOLS to help them master our challenging courses…and then we’re left with the FULL TIME JOB that is keeping it updated and accessible using the most MODERN technology.
    What a giant challenge!
    Maybe HAPSters could leverage existing archives, like the Life Science Teaching Resource Community (www.lifescitrc.org). But that doesn’t address the problem of keeping our OWN personal resources updated and organized.
    I look forward to following your posts—maybe HAPS will come up with something fantastic!

  3. Betsy,

    Starting about the beginning of the century, I created a couple image databases (see http://www.spcollege.edu/spg/science/lancraft/bsc2085/labcontent/ for one example) and have been maintaining them ever since. As you know, taking the digital photos, labeling and then placing them in a working webpage takes a lot of work. Additionally, they have taken several webpage structures, with the last structure including frames. This was pretty hot stuff a long while back and it still works, mostly, now.

    I integrated the images into my online lab courses at the very beginning and have moved the courses, with images, through several LMS’s. Even more work.

    However, In the near future, I will be retiring from my full time position. Many of my colleagues have also linked to the images in their courses and many more refer to the resource in their classroom. I think many of them just “assumed’ that the resource would be there forever. Furthermore, I get a few emails every month with comments on the resource from outside the college.

    I have not contacted the college webmaster but I suspect that when I leave, so do my resources as I take up a rather large volume of memory. I suspect that I can shoehorn my material into a hard drive but that will be the end of a resource upon which many rely.

    I am hoping to negotiate a deal with my college to leave the site up but am not confident. I am also thinking of going to another server but don’t want to incur a financial debt to do so.

    wish me luck, tom

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