The Submission, Examination and Storage
of On-line Projects at RMIT
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(CC) reserved Simon Pockley
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Universities have a prime responsibility to record and archive their student's postgraduate submissions. Many are now making digitised versions of traditional (print) theses available on-line. Today, most theses are produced electronically and it is more efficient to allow them to remain in digital formats to facilitate ease of access and handling. In some universities it is now mandatory to submit academic work electronically. Digital formats are often non-textual (in the traditional sense) as scholarship begins to take advantage of the effective use of hypertext and hypermedia. Such works, though exceeding the accessible outcomes of paper based scholarship, now require adjustments to the procedures of supervision, submission, examination, and archiving, if they are to sit comfortably within the University Guidelines for Higher Degrees. The Flight of Ducks is an example of internationally recognised work of scholarship produced entirely on-line at RMIT. Similar works are in progress. This paper proposes a working set of protocols for the submission and examination of such works.
VenueThe most appropriate venue for the examination of an on-line project with research report is the Internet. The benefits are:
- Immediate access for international examiners.
- No postal delays.
- Time zones irrelevant.
- Ease of communication between panel and candidate.
- Direct access to supporting material.
- Reduced costs.
- Ease of access by peers.
- Fast updates and corrections.
TimeThe examination will take place over a 4-6 week period during which a two week period is set aside for questions.
The Chair of the panel
- co-ordinates the panel and the time frame of the examination.
- submits instructions to each member of the panel as to the procedures for examination.
- submits to each member of the panel the names and email addresses of the other panel members.
- submits to each member of the panel a list of other relevant email addresses (Chair, candidate).
- submits to each member of the panel the relevant URLs to be examined.
- is responsible for the mediation of email communication between the panel and the candidate and between members of the panel.
- co-ordinates the individual reports of each examiner's evaluation of the project and facilitate their submission to the Higher Degrees Committee.
- Prior to examination the candidate shall submit to the University Library for cataloguing and management:
- uncompressed copies of all files which make up the project and resesearch report by File Transfer Protocol (FTP) or suitable temporary storage media such as CD-ROM, ZIP drive, or diskette.
- a written research report of 20,000 - 40,000 words defining the purpose and theoretical base of the work and the factors taken into account in its conception, development and resolution. This hard copy shall include:
- Publication access instructions (restricted or public access)
- Title page
- Declaration of authenticity
- Main texts
N.B. If the written document is also an on-line hypertext this should be clearly stated on the title page along with the appropriate URL. An appropriate permanent URL [root] will need to be issued by the University Library so that the title page can refer to its archived location.
- Temporary off-line storage media such as CD-ROM may be useful if any of the following difficulties are encountered.
- examiners in remote locations
- slow or unreliable connections
- large file down-loads are required
- System requirements - hardware and software dependence
One of the most attractive benefits of the World Wide Web is that a on-line project or research report can be accessable using most computers with Internet capability. However, because of variations in software and hardware viewing devices, examiners of the on-line project or research report may not see exactly the same work.
To ensure examiners see exactly the same work, the author of the on-line project or research report must strictly adhere to an agreed set of standards. These standards should be sourced from the W3C group, and can take one of the following forms:
- Compatibility with current W3C standards and compatibility with most common hardware/software browsers (e.g Netscape 2 or better).
- Compatibility with a nominated, agreed-to set of W3 standards and compatibility with a nominated set of hardware/software viewing devices.
For a draft of recommendations for library use see: Scholarly Communications Project, University Libraries, Virginia Tech Server Requirements for Electronic Theses and Dissertations December 12, 1997.
Some students may create work that is software and platform dependent. One approach to managing this has been to require that the student provide copies of fully licensed third party software with the work.
(See: Purdue University: Submitting Your Dissertation or Master's Theses in Electronic Format
- Durable visual record
In the past, libraries have had to continually balance the preservation of manuscripts, books, recordings, film and video against their availability for public access. Digital material - on-line, is easily duplicated and distributed without loss of quality. Long term access and preservation are now inseparable.
This means that a durable record of digital material should now been seen as the infrastructure that supports long term access rather than as a physical object.
For an examination of the issues and a case study of how an evolving site such as `The Flight of Ducks' was captured and preserved by the National Library of Australia, see `Killing the Duck to Keep the Quack'
For a description of an infrastructure which might support long-term access to digital resources, see draft: Seven Pillars of Infrastructure Development
Authentication of on-line projects and research reports is still important. One of the prime requirements for examination is that the work have a cut off date. Such a date can be the date of submission or capture - beyond which the work is frozen in time.
`Many publishers want to be the first to disseminate original research and will not accept such work if it has already been distributed electronically. Although almost no master's theses and only a few dissertations are published in scholarly journals each year, graduate student work is frequently done in tandem with a professor who later hopes to include the research in a scholarly publication. But a number of publishers will not accept research that has appeared on the Internet. See
Ian Zach, Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Submission: N.Y. Times News Service, August 2, 1997
Virginia Tech provides three options for electronic access to E-theses. The Virginia Tech Electronic Submission Approval Form, must be signed by the candidate and Higher Degrees Committee when submitting final work:
- The first option, is to make the work freely available worldwide.
- The second option, is to make the ETD freely available to the University community but at the same time disallow access from others. So that these others will gain access as soon as appropriate, this restriction on access is only for a period of one year. To protect the candidate, the University will allow the period to be extended, a year at a time, as long as necessary, and will not release the work until the candidate or supervisor provide written authorisation.
- The third option is to restrict access for a period of a year, even disallowing access by the University community. This option addresses situations such as when a patent application is planned, or when proprietary interests are at stake.
See: Letter to Virginia Tech Students Preparing an ETD Feb 5 1998
According to Gail McMillan at Virginia Tech, E-theses authors will be asked to give permission to the university for the library to provide electronic access. E-theses are considered published documents once they become available on the Internet. The university does not intend to do as most publishers do and require that all copyrights be assigned to it. It simply requries that non-exclusive electronic rights be shared with it for the purpose of the library providing electronic access.
While copyright legislation is still being reconsidered in the light of electronic publication, this could pose problems for students economic rights to their work.
Further, how will electronic publication of theses and dissertations affect students' ability to procure traditional publication? Often, dissertations are a student's first major book-length venture. Many of these are submitted for publication as scholarly monographs. But how (and why) would a publisher consider this if the dissertation is already widely available (for free)online?
Universities in other countries are looking at issues of copyright and publication as they move to put theses and dissertations in electronic formats and publish them online. Kerstin Olofsson, the Head of Teacher Education Library at UMU in Sweden, writes,
[T]he copyright issues are the most complicated part of the project. I guess you have the same problem in the States, that the author of the thesis or dissertation also sells the rights to it to a commercial publisher as well. So you would have to negotiate with every publisher for each commercially published thesis. Then you have the problem with the other type of dissertations, mostly in science and medicine, which usually are made up of articles already given to scholarly journals. Articles in journals that the university libraries BUY back! (Olofsson, 24 Jan. 1997).See: Christian Weisser, John Baker, and Janice R. Walker Problems and Possibilities of Electronic Theses and Dissertations November 1997
- McMillan, Gail Electronic Theses and Dissertations: Merging Perspectives Draft - Nov. 10, 1995. [Online]. Available:
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/Gails(CC) reserved Qarticle.html
- McMillan, Gail Archiving Electronic Theses and Dissertations The Virginia Tech Experience. April 13, 1998. [Online]. Available:
- Purdue University (Indiana U.S.A.), Submitting Your Dissertation or Master's Theses in Electronic Format November 17, 1997. [Online]. Available:
- Zach, Ian Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Submission: N.Y. Times News Service, August 2, 1997. [Online]. Available:
- Scholarly Communications Project, University Libraries, Virginia Tech. Server Requirements for Electronic Theses and Dissertations December 12, 1997. [Online]. Available:
- Virginia Tech, Letter to Virginia Tech Students Preparing an ETD Feb 5 1998. [Online]. Available:
- Weisser, Christian. Baker, John and Walker, Janice R. Problems and Possibilities of Electronic Theses and Dissertations November 1997. [Online]. Available:
- Pockley, Simon Killing the Duck to Keep the Quack. April 1998. [Online]. Available:
- Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Directory of ETDs Currently in Progress. [Online]. Available:
- Kerlin, Bobbi Theses and Dissertations on the Web. [Online]. Available: