A draft report to the elected members of West Sussex County Council

Interactive medieval palaeography: a co-operative venture
West Sussex Record Office and the University of Leicester (Department of English Local History)

The primary aim of the project is to enable the learning of medieval palaeography at various levels through the delivery of web-based materials which are interactive and participative. The core of the project consists of high quality images of documents which are 'image-mapped'. Basically, the result is that the user can run the mouse pointer over the image of the document, word by word, and a typescript rendition and additional details of the word appear in the status bar at the foot of the web page screen. In the case of a high proportion of words, moreover, there are hypertext links to other explanatory pages by clicking on the image of the word. The whole project is thus designed to be interactive, to work at various levels of learning, to be used at a distance, and by independent learning. Please note, however, that it is not intended as a distance-learning package in the financial and commercial sense, but is, in complete contrast, designed to be free, in terms of no cost and in terms of access, and it is not part of a formal distance-learning course.

The general educational context of this project is a combination of several issues:
  • the impending broad development of lifelong learning (not quite here yet, perhaps);
  • the rôle within general learning processes of what is now called, in some circles, ICT, but in others still CAL (computer-assisted learning), to assist independent learning;
  • and the involvement within these two processes of post-16 educational institutions and local authorities.
Accordingly, a project on medieval palaeography is a desirable point of departure, for it is a skill which academic historians, local historians and genealogists are enthusiastic to acquire, combining the interests then of an institution of higher education and a local record office.

The specific (and immediate) context, nevertheless, is the delivery of a module (10 hours) on the M.A. course in English Local History at the University of Leicester, with the following objectives:
  • to encourage independent learning;
  • to relate to different learning styles -- not everyone learns in the same way and there are very diverse learning styles; to some extent, the diversity of those styles is being reinforced by new technology and the expectation that new technology will be one form of the learning experience;
  • related to the last point, to recognise that learning, particularly of a subject like palaeography, for some people will be better achieved through a more participative experience;
  • following from this last point, that independent learning have some form of self-assessment and feedback, which needs to be integrated into the learning experience, and which new technology can deliver in an improved way;
  • and finally to allow the full delivery of materials in a constricted timetable.

From the perspective of the institution of higher education, the involvement of the West Sussex Record Office has produced three major benefits: (a) a wider constituency and an opening of perceptions rather than a closure; (b) a high technical and technological input; and (c) motivation and encouragement. In terms of hard technical skills and effectiveness, without the record office's provision of high quality digital images of documents, the impact of the project would have been much diminished, because interactive, electronic delivery of the learning of palaeography demands images of the highest quality.