UMSI faculty members launch virtual education lab

UMSI faculty members David Wallace and Elizabeth Yakel are at the forefront of revolutionizing how graduate archival programs utilize access and preservation software to educate a new generation of digital archivists. 

With the launch of their Preservation and Access Virtual Education Lab (PAVEL) at the beginning of September, Wallace and Yakel are seeking to give students at any institution a more hands-on experience managing humanities-related content and teach them about using established and emerging digital access and preservation tools in the management of digital collections.

PAVEL was born of a two-year grant awarded to UMSI from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Preservation and Access Education and Training program. The project implements a virtual education laboratory featuring public domain IT tools that have been integrated into five master’s courses for students enrolled in UMSI’s Preservation of Information and Archives and Records Management specializations. 

The website’s content is available to other universities and programs looking to incorporate digital access tools into their curricula and is also accessible to professionals in archival and access fields. In addition to offering access and preservation tools, the PAVEL site includes information about the technical specifications needed for using the tools, the classes that the tools have been incorporated into and the assignments generated around them, as well as data sets to interface with the tools in order to use them correctly.

Elizabeth Yakel

Wallace said that many archival institutions were exploring the idea of creating labs, but were working independently of one another while doing it. The key to the UMSI program receiving the grant from the NEH was its ability to bring all the tools, information and analysis together and present them in a virtual setting, making access available to all users, not just those who had the software installed on their computer.

“The idea was, instead of different programs doing different things in isolation, the NEH was interested in funding our integration of tools into five classes and generating public domain materials,” Wallace said. “The goal is to lower the barrier for other archival education programs that want to be more aggressive about integrating technology into their courses.”

Wallace said that UMSI began incorporating tools and technology into the curricula of a handful of its courses about three years ago. This was the result of many archivists recognizing that a number of students who graduated from archival programs weren’t getting practical experience with necessary software tools through their classes. In light of rapidly evolving software and technology applications, PAVEL aims to teach students more than how to use a specific program, but to give them the skills and ability to transfer that knowledge to multiple kinds of software. 

In only its first week, PAVEL has seen roughly 100 users register for the site from across Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. Wallace said the goal for PAVEL now that the site has been launched is for other archival programs to pick it up and replicate and expand upon what he and his team did without having to go through the trials and challenges to get there. He also sees professional archivists using the site to expose themselves to many of the developments around archival and digital access technology and some of its strengths and weaknesses.

posted on thursday, September 19, 2013