What do we know about educational metadata requirements

We at CETIS are in the early stages of planning a meeting (pencilled in for October, date and venue tbc) to collect and compare evidence on what we know about user requirements for metadata to support the discovery, retrieval, use and management of educational resources. We would like to know who has what to contribute: so if you’re in the business of creating metadata for educational resources, please would you come and tell us what it is useful for.

One approach taken to developing metadata standards and application profiles is to start with use cases and derive requirements from them; the problem is that when standardizing a new domain these use cases are often aspirational. In other words, someone argues a case for describing some characteristic of a resource (shall we use “semantic density” as an example?) because they would like to those descriptions for some future application that they think would be valuable. Whether or not that application materialises, the metadata to describe the characteristic remains in the standard. Once the domain matures we can look back at what is actually useful practice. Educational metadata is now a mature domain, and some of this reviewing of what has been found to be useful is happening, it is this that we want to extend. We hope that in doing so we will help those involved in disseminating and managing educational resources make evidence-based decisions on what metadata they should provide.

I can think of three approaches for carrying out a review of what metadata really is useful. The first is to look at what metadata has been created, that is what fields have been used. This has been happening for some time now, for example back in 2004 Norm Friesen looked at LOM instances to see which elements were used, and Carol Jean Godby looked at application profiles to see which elements were recommended for use. More recent work associated with the IEEE LOM working group seems to confirm the findings of these early studies. The second approach is to survey users of educational resources to find out how they search for them. David Davies presented the results of a survey asking “what do people look for when they search online for learning resources?” at a recent CETIS meeting. Finally, we can look directly at the logs kept by repositories and catalogues of educational materials to ascertain the real search habits of users, e.g. what terms do they search for, what characteristics do they look for, what browse links do they click. I’m not sure that this final type of information is shared much, if at all, at present (though there have been some interesting ideas floated recently about sharing various types of analytic information for OERs, and there is the wider Collective Intelligence work of OLNet). If you have information from any of these approaches (or one I haven’t thought of) that you would be willing to share at the meeting I would like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or email phil.barker@hw.ac.uk .

3 thoughts on “What do we know about educational metadata requirements

  1. Dear Phil,

    I have a fairly heavy teaching commitment this coming semester so my attendance will depend upon where and when. Nevertheless, as I have an increasing interest in metadata (especially of images) I hope that the following might be of use. I am an educator and researcher in earth sciences but with retirement soon – during which I want to extend some e-learning interests and especially in Web 3.0 and what it has to offer.

    I have had some dealings with Jorum and hope to renew this as there is now Open Jorum (although I can see why some recipients to David Davies’ questions had not the faintest idea what Jorum is). More specifically, I have a lot of images taken over the years which I do not want to essentially throw away as I move away from formal teaching. Some of these are irreplaceable and of use to education as well as research and thus need archiving and placing in a suitable repository. (Some for use in an ‘Open textbook’ I am seriously thinking about – but that’s a slightly different story but you’ll get the gist.) So, at present, I’m thinking of the type of metadata required to make any such collection (and of colleagues) meaningful. So I am considering keywords plus DC and perhaps using Topic Maps or Basic Formal Ontology to hold these. This would do as a start but there lots of other things that could be of use via ontologies (which I’m just starting to explore for my area) and other items (academic papers referred to e.g.) that might be held in sidecar files.

    Sorry that’s a bit of a ramble but I hope there is something of use there.



  2. We’re interested at teaching resources metadata at Teachable, but we believe that too many of the current standards are far too complex for teachers to complete and search by. Most of them are too synthetic in their make up – teachers want to know how a resources actually relates to the A-level biology course they are teaching (for example) rather than the ‘semantic density’ or other abstract attribute.

    The key point is that many potential users of repositories bypass the metadata altogether by going via Google – so looking at the current usage of those that do wade through all those useless fields won’t give a full picture.

  3. Dear Phil,

    Before the OER project, I became involved with metadata four years ago when I tried to figure out the best way to tag our website pages and files so visitors could search for them. There are taxonomies inbuilt in the CMS but it occured to me that the most important thing was to find what search terms visitors actually used (not what we think they call things.)

    The website search function is provided by OpenObjects through which I can get monthly reports on what visitors have entered into the search box and how often. Using these I have been able to improve the tagging on the site.

    However, language changes and new terms appear; to reflect this I would have to go back and change all individual pages/files, which isn’t efficient. So my next step will be to embed a thesaurus within OpenObjects. This will provide a map between the terms that visitors search with and the terms I have used as tags. As new terms appear I can add them (once) to the thesaurus and visitors will find the appropriate page/files.

    There may be more elegant solutions than this but this is as far as my technical ability goes.

    Working on the OER project I was struck by the fact that we have the same problem: we don’t know how best to tag things because we don’t know what search terms OER users would use. In the end we let the academics who’s OER they were use their best judgement, asking them to imagine themselves looking for a resource like their own: how would they search for it?

    Retagging OER in JorumOpen would be a very tedious job as you would have to amend each OER individually, so it would very difficult to reflect changes in terminology. Also, there is no provision to see the most popular tags used/searched within JorumOpen (which might give a clue as to the most useful tags) or for users to add their own tags to the OER they find.

    I’m also aware that many visitors will find an OER in JorumOpen from a search in Google; it would be useful to know what search terms visitors used to reach JorumOpen.

    Apologies, I have also rambled!

    All the best,


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