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DigiCULT 9
of interoperability standards-making and adoption. It
is now a truism to say that, for the majority of users,
if a resource cannot be discovered on the Internet, it
might as well not exist.
A Technological Imperative
The concept of developing digital resources, not in
a monolithic way, but as an aggregation of reusable
interoperable components, is a compelling one for
the heritage sector.We are all aware of heritage CD-
ROM publications that deliver a pre-defined
experience in a completely closed environment,
which have been developed at a cost of enormous
amounts of money, and which are now sitting on
someone's shelf, no longer used, because some of the
content is out of date or the treatment is no longer
fashionable or because of their reliance on obso-
lescent technology. If only the Learning Object
approach had been available when these products
were built, their individual components would still
be available for updating and re-use.
Learning is our Business
In considering digitisation projects in the cultural
heritage arena, the watchword is `sustainability'. It
may not currently be too difficult to obtain capital
grant aid for a good quality digitisation project, but
securing an income stream to support the maint-
enance of the resulting resource delivery service
into the future is an altogether different proposition.
Advertising and sponsorship are, with some high-
profile exceptions, unlikely to be available to fund
the majority of services, and the revenue from
commercial sales has been proved historically to be
much less than might have one time been expected.
The one market sector that continues to be both
fairly well funded and actively interested in resources
from the cultural and scientific heritage sector is
education. If cultural institutions define education as
the main source of their revenue, it does make sense
that they should work to ensure that their products
and services are compliant with the standard
expectations of their user community.
For example, in the UK the Department for
Education and Skills is developing a reasonably well-
defined set of specifications for learning objects, with
which any electronic learning publications hoping to
sell into the English schools sector will be expected
to comply. Compliant products will be `kite-marked'.
To ensure take-up, DfES are actually providing
electronic credits to each school, totalling millions of
pounds sterling, which can only be spent on learning
objects kite-marked according to this set of standards.
Cultural institutions and organisations are being
actively encouraged to participate in this initiative.
Even if a cultural institution does not rely on
subscription or other income from the educational
sector for its future survival, it is likely that education
and learning will be part of its core mission. Such an
institution would benefit from a framework within
which both to discover and procure useful digital
resources for its own purposes and to disclose its
resources for re-use in external learning
environments.
Finally, cultural institutions, in particular museums,
see themselves as learning institutions and some of
the products that they are currently building in that
role could well benefit from the standards and
frameworks of the educational technology
community. In the final analysis, a virtual cultural
environment is not so very different from a virtual
learning environment.
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