Why is it Happening?
The promotion of online learning systems within a University is geared towards making it as easy as possible for staff to put their course materials ‘online’, even if they are not already web pages. The staff members have logins that let them easily add material to their own courses, the students have logins that take them straight to that material and the courses themselves are the perfect means of structuring, linking to and presenting it. Creating a new page is simply a matter of typing (or copy/pasting) in its content and adjusting a few straightforward settings. It can be put up immediately by the staff member themselves and they can make all their students immediately aware of it by posting an announcement displayed at login.
Compare that with having to prepare a set of linked HTML pages, complete with images and style sheets. Adding them to a zipped archive and emailing or FTPing that to a systems administrator so that they can unzip it into a suitable directory on the webserver. Having the webmaster or even a web-committee review the new pages to ensure they are suitable for public access. Obtaining the public URL of the pages from the systems administrator or having them add a link to it in a global index page and, finally, making sure that each student knows what that URL is so that they can access it.
It’s pretty obvious which route most material development is likely to take. The consequence of which is the material being hidden from search engines and inaccessible to the public. Moreover, staff from one institution can’t see what staff at any others are doing, so there is a great deal of duplication of effort and the normal rules of institutional jealousy and competitiveness do not apply so the overall level of material development does not get any better over time.
The reason I’m commenting on this is that I have spent most of the recent break updating our online building performance analysis notes for use in the Square One Wiki. I was surprised that so much of the material I original referenced at the end of each topic has now disappeared without trace from the web. If this results from a URL change you can usually find it pretty quickly by copy/pasting an entire title or some characteristic text block into a search engine. But no, entire research projects and great swathes of useful material have simply vanished.
The only explanation I can posit is that most of it has been moved behind a login prompt and into a University’s online learning system.
23 April, 2010 - 13:02Steve King
You are absolutely right, of course, Andrew.
To a small extent, the growth of wikis is compensating. But even the energetic editing like wikipedia is not going to resurrect the disappearing material of higher quality.