On 17th-18th June, in Bolton, Cetis had their more-or-less annual conference. One of the sessions was Lorna and me, with some help from our friends, discussing LRMI addressing the question “What on Earth Could Justify Another Attempt at Educational Metadata?”
Lorna started with an overview of our involvement in educational metadata, from EEVL and FAILTE, through IMS Learning Resource Meta-data, RLLOMAP and the UK LOMCore to Dublin Core Education, up to ISO-MLR. She then described the origin of LRMI.
So, yes, we really love metadata, but reached a point where making ever-more elegantly complex iterations on the same idea kind of lost its appeal. So what is it that makes LRMI so different so appealing? I gave a technical overview (basically a summary of the recent Cetis paper What is schema.org? and my blog post on explaining the LRMI alignment object.
So, the difference is that LRMI/schema.org metadata is deeply embedded in the web to the extent that it is right in the pointy brackets of the HTML code of web pages, marking up what humans can see, which crucially is where Google and other search engines want it. (That is not to say that it cannot be useful elsewhere.) Which is great, but what about implementation, at what stage can we show that some tangible benefits are on the way? That needs webpages that carry LRMI mark-up and a means of searching for them. I presented a summary of the work that Wilbert and I did on building a Google Custom Search Engine and filtering Google custom searches on LRMI properties, it also pointed to some work in schema-labs on a custom search for education.
Those are first steps, proofs of concept, there seemed to be agreement that they showed potential but obviously there needs to be more coherence if they are to work as a useful discovery service in real life. What about the other first step that needs to be taken, getting those who disseminate resource to use LRMI in their resource description pages? Well, first Lorna presented on her discussions with organizations who received a little funding to implement LRMU as part of phase 2 of the initiative.
Then Ben Ryan of Jorum discussed his work in implementing schema.org / LRMI in DSpace. The integration of LRMI into repository platforms and content management systems is key to getting it used widely across the web. I’m pleased to report back that Ben didn’t report problems with the spec itself, though as always there are questions around workflow and metadata quality.
Finally I gave a short over view of some of the sites that we have found to be using LRMI because they show up in the Custom Search Engine results.
The general feeling I had from the session was that most of the people involved thought that LRMI was a sane approach: useful, realistic and manageable. One of my favourate comments during that presentation was from Jenny Gray who tweeted
Have apparently been doing #lrmi in openlearn since before it was a thing. Cant work out how!
— Jenny Gray (@jennymgray) June 17, 2014
and commented that she wasn’t sure whether what was in the OpenLearn pages was LRMI. Well, it is schema.org with properties that came from phase one of the initiative (seems someone has been extending on the work Jenny did), embedded as RDFa which was an approach for structuring data in webpages that predated schema.org. And I think it is really promising for adoption of LRMI that you don’t need any specialist knowledge of educational metadata standards in order to find yourself using it. With this widespread almost accidental adoption comes a challenge: this work isn’t happening in the highly controlled world of information experts (librarians, or semantic experts used to working with descriptive ontologies) it’s happening web-wide, where web developers / web masters will take liberties in order to say what they want to say. Martin Hepp describes the significant changes of approach involved in this move from ontologies to web ontologies in a video presentation that I cannot recommend highly enough. Thinking about the minimalism of simple Dublin Core and the EduProg of LOM and ISO MLR, I see this as the challenge of having freedom of expression but keeping coherence, is this the shape of metadata to come?