The Digital Skills GitBook project: creating an open-source online guide for researchers and the broader academic community

By Dr Sara King, Training and Engagement Lead, AARNet (Australia’s Academic & Research Network); and members of the GitBook project group

It is of critical importance that publicly funded institutions create open knowledge that is available to everyone. So we’re embarking on an adventure to create the Digital Skills GitBook. It will be a living, open-source online guide to ‘modern not-quite-technical computer skills’ for researchers, library staff, and academics, ideally written in a way that will be accessible for everyone. In the spirit of Open Science, the contents of the book are being created so that they will be accessible to all levels of an inquiring society; amateur or professional.  

A figurine of an oktokat in the center, in the background a laptop with the main page of the GitHub open.
Photo by Roman Synkevych on Unsplash

CAUL’s Digital Dexterity Champions and their communities have set out to create an online book using static web technology on the GitBook platform. Utilising the connected GitHub notification system, creators and users can submit content, flag issues, and ask questions related to the format and the content via GitHub. The continuing maintenance of the book, to adapt to the ever-changing requirements for updates, is designed to encourage participation as an essential part of the process of creating a truly community-created resource.   

Our progress so far:

  • We submitted a proposal to CAUL with the help of their new Director of Strategy & Analytics, Kate Davis. They approved our project brief and we were launched.  
  • We attended ARDC GitHub training – on Zoom! This was a 3.5-hour workshop where our patient instructors, Matthias and Liz, showed us how to create a repository, how to edit our GitBook ‘from the back end’ in GitHub, and how to make sure that we shared all of our adventures with each other in one space.  
  • We created a test private GitHub repository and GitBook – sharing recipes, recording our steps as we went. This is a place where we could experiment and fail, and help each other.  We learned some important lessons here without damaging our main project! For example – don’t delete branches …  

How we are collaborating:

  • Members from WA all the way to NZ attend fortnightly meetings over Zoom to discuss our progress, barriers, workarounds, and how we can spread the word to our wider communities. 
  • We are making the most of a wide variety of systems and channels to keep track of our progress – Slack, Teams, CloudStor, GitHub issues log, and email.  This is extending our capabilities in digital communication, collaboration and participation – together with stretching our brains! 

Still to come:

  • We have SO MANY new concepts to learn – slugs, merges, pull requests, static web technology… it’s exciting!  
  • We are creating our strategy and content plan, and developing a chapter outline (one idea is to use CAUL’s Digital Dexterity Framework categories as chapter headings to make it relevant for our library communities). 
  • We’re even planning to present at VALA 2022! 
  • We want to extend the project beyond the Digital Dexterity Champions network, to others in our library and university communities. 

This project is part of our own push towards Digital Dexterity and using some of the attributes outlined in the framework, such as agility, collaboration and creativity, in order to produce a useful resource for our broader communities and their own Digital Dexterity. If we get it right, it’ll be a win-win! 

If you are interested in learning more about the Digital Skills GitBook project, please contact sara.king@aarnet.edu.au

Day 4 of Championing the Digital Dexterity Framework Virtual Festival – Using collaboration to understand engagement with OERs

by Susan Vickery, Associate University Librarian, Macquarie University

Day 4 of the CAUL Digital Dexterity Virtual Festival explored the concept of Open Education Resources in Higher Education with Sarah Lambert sharing some of the findings from the research related to Australia Open textbooks as Social Justice, a study funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE).

Whilst the affordability benefits and accessibility options are easily identified as incentives for the use of Open Education Resources, Sarah’s presentation explored the opportunity of OER practice to incorporate diverse perspectives and collaboratively create/curate more inclusive range of learning resources. Sarah also reported that the research identified that some Australian academics may be more ready than we realise with frustration over dated content and limited access conditions associated with commercially produced texts. OER offers a solution to deliver current content that can easily be updated to grow with the knowledge of that field.

So how do we translate that understanding back to our own institutions where some of us may already be worried about the feasibility of convincing our administration that whilst using OER makes perfect sense, are they equally supportive of our academics also “giving it away” for free?

The second part of the Day 4 Digital Dexterity program gave us the opportunity to workshop this together. In teams we explored what we could do in reality to help bring our teaching and learning partners along in the understanding of the wider benefits of collaborating in the practice of Open Education. Led enthusiastically by Kristy Newton (Digital Literacies Coordinator, University of Wollongong) the groups employed a design thinking methodology (on speed) to step through the first few phases: Empathise – Define – Ideate – Prototype – Test.  

persona: Melanie Chang (Undergraduate Student)
●	Summary of Studies:
Melanie worked really hard during her VCE to get a high ATAR in order to study dentistry. Melanie has a family history in dentistry, her father and uncle are both practicing dentists. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, Melanie was only able to buy a couple of her textbooks (in print), as the cost of her textbooks range from $200-$500.

During the lockdown Melanie returned home to Melbourne, this meant her study relied on her teachers making sure all necessary resources were available online.  Chapters from textbooks were uploaded to the LMS by teachers for students to access. Certain textbooks were not able to be provided online as this breached copyright, this led to students sharing PDF copies of chapters through email. All the PDF scans were in black and white, which made it difficult for students to identify symptoms relating to gum disease, infected teeth, etc. Melanie raised this issue with her teacher and the PDFs were uploaded again in colour, this resulted in a delay in vital information required for Melanie's studies.

Melanie’s demanding course schedule means she has no spare time for causal work, thus her parents are supporting her financially. Melanie finds it difficult to ask her parents to buy textbooks on top of paying her rent. Melanie feels it is especially hard to justify the purchase of textbooks that are only going to be used for one semester and as the curriculum is changing next year, there is no option to sell the textbooks to next year’s dentistry students.

●	Icon Info:
○	Lives in Bendigo on campus in a single room with shared amenities with 11 other students
○	Basic Digital Skills, can navigate social media really well and use basic Microsoft software.
○	Collaborative Learner – Able and willing to try new things with friends.
○	Spends most of their time studying
○	Likes catching up with friends outside of class, running, yoga, reading books on her Kindle.

●	Key Factors(Quotes):
○	“I missed the initial library sessions about how to search to find materials, but have picked up some skills using the pre-recorded content and additional resources added to the help guides. It took me awhile to get the basics and I am sure I am still missing heaps of online resources, but you don’t know what you are missing out on I suppose”.
○	“It is really hard not having all your resources in folders waiting for you to use like we did in high school, it is so time consuming searching through databases and library search for good quality items we can use.”

With the help of personas, each team collaborated to brainstorm and identify the needs of academic and students and then define how OERs might meet those needs. At the end of the two hour session we had collectively developed a range of practical ideas and strategies including potential assessment tasks that facilitated students to co-create lists of OERs to complement assigned readings.  

The beauty of this exercise was a enthusiastic high-energy demonstration that through collaboration – surely one of the lynch pins of Open Education – the groups were able to collectively understand and unpack the pain points and related clients’ needs, and creatively identify possible solutions that might influence engagement and uptake of OERs.    


DigiDex – Championing the CAUL Digital Dexterity Framework – Day 4, Thursday 11 February 2021

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