We are glad to share the summary report we put together for the National Park Service to mark the end of the grant for the Local Preservation School project. We hope to continue to hearing feedback from professional and volunteer preservationists about how we can expand and improve our tools and resources. We’ll try to incorporate small changes as best we can but we are taking a break from any major development for now. If you have any suggestions for future funding or partnership opportunities, please get in touch. Thank you to everyone who supported this effort over the past two years! ~ Eli Pousson (@elipousson)
The Local Preservation School is a collection of open educational resources for preservation advocates and volunteers. We created this collection to engage and support people interested in learning how to save and sustain historic places within their communities. Baltimore Heritage developed the Local Preservation School with support from the National Park Service and National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers. The name of the project, inspired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Field Guide to Local Preservationists, is intended to reflect our inclusive understanding of the people interested in learning about preservation online. We sought to build open educational resources that could be used by experienced educators and new learners, volunteers and professionals, people who want to learn online, and, even, people seeking to learn through in-person experiences.
This summary project report seeks to document the outcomes of this work over the past two years and the open-source approach we used to achieve these outcomes. The following sections include:
- A list of individual contributors and partners
- A description of the project outcomes
- A description of the project website and related online educational resources
- A project timeline
- A list of all educational resources created
- A summary of “lessons learned”
Contributors and partners
This project was the primary responsibility of Eli Pousson, Director of Preservation & Outreach for Baltimore Heritage, a citywide nonprofit preservation advocacy organization in Baltimore, Maryland. Eli undertook this project in collaboration with Baltimore Heritage staff and volunteers and partners from a variety of preservation organizations including:
- Johns Hopkins, Executive Director, Baltimore Heritage
- Patrick Grossi, Director of Advocacy, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia
- Molly Garfinkel, Place Matters Director, City Lore
- Priya Chhaya, Manager for Online Content and Products, Preservation Resources, National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Rhonda Sincavage, National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Samantha Hunter, Intern, DC Preservation League
- Rebecca Miller, Executive Director, DC Preservation League
- Nicole King University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
- Denise Meringolo, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
Participants in the courses and workshops created during this project included dozens of different organizations (including nonprofits, local government agencies, and state historic preservation officers); individuals including preservation graduate students and public history professors; community association leaders and neighborhood residents with an interest in history. Special thanks to individuals who provided support and feedback on Twitter and through informal in-person discussions including:
- Jenny Ferretti (@CityThatReads)
- Jolene Smith, Virginia Department of Historic Resources (@aejolene)
- Tod Robbins (@todrobbins)
- Albert Bowden (@jalbertbowdenii)
- Grant R. Stevens, National Trust for Historic Preservation (@GrantRStevens)
P.S. If you contributed to this project as a participant in a workshop, please let us know if you’d like to be recognized in our contributor list.
Finally, this project made substantial use of several different open-source projects and open resources. These projects and their creators include:
- Jekyll created by Tom Preston-Werner and Jekyll contributors
- Minimal Mistakes theme created by Michael Rose
- Reveal.js created by Hakim El Hattab
- Carol M. Highsmith Archive created by photographer Carol M. Highsmith and made available by the Library of Congress
- Learning Circles Facilitator’s Guide created by Peer 2 Peer University
Between July 2015 and February 2017, Baltimore Heritage staff and a collection of project partners worked together to:
- Learn how to take an open source approach to educational resources for preservation
- Identify existing educational resources and the audiences they sought to reach
- Seek feedback and promote collaboration through online and in-person outreach
- Develop a series of open educational resources using Google Sheets, Jekyll, and GitHub Pages
The project directly engaged approximately three hundred individual preservation professionals and volunteers through fourteen in-person classes and workshops, and reached over 2,600 individual web users through the main Local Preservation School website. Between October 2015 and February 2017, we sought to engage local preservation advocates in ways including:
- An email newsletter
- A project website
- Social media:
- Conferences and presentations:
- OpenLab Workshop, Crystal City, VA
- NCPH THATCamp unconference, Baltimore, MD
- Bmore Historic unconference, Baltimore, MD
- Local Preservation School Study Group workshops:
- New York City, NY
- Philadelphia, PA
- Washington, DC
Throughout this outreach effort, we used GitHub to share nearly all of the writing and visuals created during the project. Although it is a popular platform for web and software development, using GitHub and applying an open source approach to develop educational resources is relatively unusual and, as far as we know, previously unknown for any historic preservation related projects. In most cases, the people we sought to engage through the Local Preservation School were largely unfamiliar with GitHub and uncertain how to use the platform to collaborate. We recognized this as a potential barrier early in the process and focused on fostering collaboration through more traditional approaches as well including focused interviews with preservation professionals to solicit background on their approach to organizing and advocacy and collaborating through writing and lesson design activities during the workshops.
The Local Preservation School was most successful at revealing the learning communities that already exist within historic preservation and creating new supports for people who seek to join this community of learners and advocates. While the initial vision of a collaborative online learning community akin to learning communities that exist for open data, libraries, and digital history proved unrealistic, we believe the project has made a substantial contribution to the infrastructure for open preservation education and laid a foundation upon which Baltimore Heritage and our partners seek to build into the future.
The goal of the main project Local Preservation School website and related websites (such as the Place Matters Toolkit) is to share open educational resources with web users interested in learning more about historic preservation. The design of the project website was directly inspired by the Course-in-a-Box Jekyll template developed by Peer 2 Peer University in 2015. Although we experimented with using P2PU template (primarily for the prototype for the Explore Baltimore Heritage 101 course site), we ultimately decided to use the open-source Minimal Mistakes Jekyll theme. This theme was well-documented and easy to modify by Baltimore Heritage staff without requiring professional web design services.
We also followed the model of P2PU (and other online educational resources such as the Programming Historian, Library Carpentry, and Maptime) by creating a GitHub organization for the Local Preservation School and using Jekyll and GitHub Pages to publish nearly all of our educational resources. As with the listed examples, this approach avoids any recurring costs for web hosting and domain registration (if using a github.io domain). It also avoid the need to maintain the security and performance of a web application through regular updates. We anticipate the materials should be available in perpetuity even without any additional funding in the future. For our workshop presentations, we used Reveal.js which allowed us to keep the presentation slides and notes in a plain-text Markdown format. In some cases, we used Google Sheets and Google Slides to share materials but we plan to archive those materials as static PDF or CSV files to ensure their future accessibility. Nearly all these materials are available on GitHub for any person on the web to access and any GitHub users to modify.
The Local Preservation School website consists of three main components:
- A resource directory
- A tool library
- Additional information related to the project including:
The resource directory includes a variety of materials organized around six primary themes: history, community, advocacy, planning, design, and education. In assembling the resource directory, we focused on listing resources that use open licensing (resources using open Creative Commons license and resources in the public domain) but also included resources with non-open licensing (resources using the restricted noncommercial Creative Commons license). We assigned descriptive metadata to individual resources based on the approach suggested by the Learning Resources Metadata Initiative. Our general description of resources and the resource template offer additional information on how resources can be described and organized within the collection.
The resources in the directory take three different forms:
- External resources where the directory links to another website or PDF publication and encourages people to access the resource from the original publisher. Examples include:
- Single-page resources where the directory includes the full text of the resource on the main project website. Examples of these single-page resources include two classic National Park Service publications (redesigned for more effective and accessible presentation online):
- Stand-alone resources where the directory links to other Local Preservation School websites that use the same platform and theme to present a distinct collection of educational materials. These stand-alone were adapted from pre-existing printed publications that were republished under open Creative Commons Attribution licenses for this purpose. Examples of these stand-alone resources include:
The resource directory is designed to work in conjunction with the tool library which lists many of the same free or low-cost web applications and software we use at Baltimore Heritage to support our own preservation advocacy efforts and those of volunteers in our community. Highlights from the tool library include:
- TimelineJS: used to create the timeline history of preservation
- Zotero: used to create a shared bibliography for the pilot course
- CARTO: used to create a map of local history research guides
The tool library was a late addition to the project website but reflects our intent to make it easier for people to learn how we created those resources published directly by the Local Preservation School.
We sought out comments and feedback on the resources in the directory and the tool library through the “study group” workshop series and by reaching out to project contacts through the email newsletter, website, and social media. We received a variety of general comments and reflections that shaped the development of the completed site. We expect to continue making modifications and additions to both the resource directory and tool library based on our own use and feedback from local preservationists using the website. We also see significant potential in using the Hypothesis web annotation platform to encourage readers to annotate these and other online resources with relevant commentary and links to online resources on the topic.
We put together an interactive project timeline with a detailed list of teaching, outreach, and planning tasks related to the project. This is an adapted excerpt of that timeline focused on teaching and outreach. Links to presentation materials and additional information about each activity is included in the Google Sheet we are using to create the interactive timeline.
Overall, we created and published thirteen educational resources for the Local Preservation School and another six resources for Baltimore Heritage. These seven featured resources show the variety of approaches and technology we used in developing these materials.
|Syllabus Directory||A list of syllabi related to historic preservation assembled from existing resources from the Vernacular Architecture Forum, Urban History Association, H-Net, and other sources.|
|Local History Research Map||An interactive map of over 250 local history research guides published by libraries, universities, historical societies, and historic preservation offices across the United States and Canada.|
|Online Communities for Preservation||A list of online communities (including email listservs, Facebook groups, and others) organized around historic preservation and historic places for neighborhoods, cities, and states across the United States. This list includes both active and inactive groups.|
|Local Preservation School||A collection of open educational resources on historic preservation including a resource directory, tool library, and related information on teaching and learning about historic preservation.|
|Place Matters Toolkit||An open educational resource on preservation advocacy based on an existing toolkit created by Marci Reaven for the Place Matters program in New York City, NY.|
|Historic Neighborhoods 101||An open educational resource based on a 2011 publication “How to Look at Your Neighborhood” from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA.|
|Community Preservation Guide||An open educational resources on building coalitions, organizing advocacy networks, fundraising, and inclusive organizing based on a series of publications by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC.|
Additional resources are listed in this Google Sheet which includes links to the open-source repositories for each resource.
This report concludes with a series of “lessons learned” during the course of this project. These lessons include a brief list of what approaches worked well for the Local Preservation School project and how we’re continuing to use them in our continued work at Baltimore Heritage. They also include a list of approaches that were less successful whether due to outside factors or imperfect implementation.
What we think worked well
There are three main areas where this project worked well:
- Using open licensing and open source tools (e.g. Jekyll and GitHub) for digital publishing
- Taking an inclusive approach to engagement and participation
- Creating resources at the local and national level simultaneously
We are continuing to use the first two approaches at Baltimore Heritage in a few different ways. Examples include:
- In January 2017, we launched Baltimore Places: a new website built with Jekyll and GitHub Pages to share open data, writing, and related information about historic places. That same month, Baltimore Heritage switched from using an open Creative Commons Attribution license for our photographs on Flickr to a more liberal Creative Commons Zero Public Domain dedication. This change serves our interest in simplifying the process for image reuse for all people and our recognition that public domain resources (like the Carol Highsmith Archive) can be enormously helpful to open source projects. This shift to public domain licensing has also encouraged us to use Flickr more extensively for the photographic documentation of historic places with the creation of new albums to share growing collections of photographs related to modernism and vacant buildings.
- We are also continuing to experiment with inclusive programming that seeks to engage and empower a diverse range of people interested in preservation. Recent examples include our Vacant Buildings 101 workshop series designed for neighborhood advocates, a tour of Confederate Monuments designed for a group of eighth grade students, and a happy hour program intended to build a broader community of support for our annual Bmore Historic unconference.
For the third area of success, it is important to note that the overall concept for the Local Preservation School and the relationships we used to implement the project are based in our decades-long experience as a preservation advocacy nonprofit in Baltimore, Maryland. In contrast to projects where national nonprofits are developing resources for local organizations to use, we sought to convert resources created primarily for local audiences and find ways to make them more broadly accessible and relevant. We see this is as an unusual approach that may be a good model for other preservation education and training projects to consider.
What we would change
These are three of challenges we encountered during the development of the Local Preservation School:
- Infrequent communication on resource development
- Limited participation in the open review of published resources
- Shifting standards for evaluation and inconsistent data collection
While we offered regular project updates on Twitter, we had difficulty providing detailed updates on the process of collecting and developing educational resources. This irregular or infrequent communication may have been a barrier to potential volunteers who had expressed interest in contributing to the project. If we had created a communications plan at the beginning of the project, it may have been easier to prioritize essential project communications and make sure that effort on project outreach was matched to a specific intended audience and an anticipated outcome.
This challenge is likely related to what can be seen as limited participation in the open review of published resources. Some of the educational resources that served as models for this project engaged large groups of people as active contributors who helped to write, revise, or design the completed resource. Examples include The American Yawp which cites a group of 263 contributors and the National Register of Historic Places Wikiproject in which thousands of individual editors have participated. In contrast, the approaches we used for fostering remote collaboration were largely unsuccessful at engaging a significant community of collaborators. An open roadmap we made with Trello received few comments, our GitHub repositories received few pull requests or issue submissions, and very few people tried commenting with Hypothesis during our open peer review.
The greater difficulty than expected in attracting comments or contributions likely has a variety of causes. Some project contacts may have seen the published resources were “set in stone” (as most published online educational resources are) or “fine” in their current form (as they are broadly perceived to be by many existing preservation professionals). Our own relative inexperience with facilitating this form of collaborative resource development is another potential factor. A more structured approach to user research and testing, budgeting for incentives for participation, and establishing clear contributor guidelines earlier in the project are all strategies that might improve the level of participation in any future open source preservation projects.
Finally, we neglected to establish clear and consistent standards for evaluation and were somewhat inconsistent in our efforts to collect data to support that evaluation. For example, we deployed Google Analytics for the main project website and the Place Matters Toolkit but have no analytics available from the project period for the Community Preservation Guide and Historic Neighborhoods 101 prior to May 2017. In addition, the project website launched initially as a place to share background information about the Local Preservation School so the analytics available up until the launch of the resource directory provide very limited insight into the utility of the site for people who might use it in the future. For future projects, we’d recommend spending more time defining specific, measurable goals at the outset and directing any exploratory research or development to support those goals.