The best interoperability is interoperability between standards. I mean it’s one thing for you and I to agree to use the same standard in the same way to do the same thing, but what if we are doing slightly different things? What if Dublin Core is right for you, but schema.org is right for me–does that mean we can’t exchange data? That would be a shame, as one standard to rule them all isn’t a viable solution. This has been exercising me through a couple of projects that I have worked on recently, and what I’ll show here is demo based on the ideas from one of these (The T3 Data Ecosystem Mapping Project) applied to another where learning resource metadata is available in many formats and desired in others. In this post I focus on metadata available as IEEE Learning Object Metadata (LOM) but wanted in either schema.org or DCAT.
IEEE are standing up a working group for Learning Metadata, to build on IEEE Std 1484.12.1 Standard for Learning Object Metadata while exploring new paradigms and technology practices in education. I submitted the following as a suggestion for a starting point. It’s heavily based on the presentaion I did at the start of the LRMI Metadata in Use panel session for DCMI Virtual. I think it is a reasonable introduction to, and reflection on the strengths of LRMI (we can do the weaknesses some other day). Many thanks to colleagues in the DCMI LRMI Task Group who commented on it, and especially Staurt Sutton for the 10 principles enumerated at the end.
Some personal reflections on relating educational content to curriculum frameworks prompted by some conversation about the Oak National Academy (a broad curriculum of online material available to schools, based on the English national curriculum), and OEH-Linked-Frameworks (an RDF tool for visualizing German educational frameworks). It draws heavily on the BBC curriculum ontology (by Zoe Rose, I think). I’m thinking about these with respect to work I have been involved in such as K12-OCX and LRMI.
If you want to know why you would do this, you might want to skip ahead and read the “so what?” section first. But in brief: representing curriculum frameworks in a standard, machine-readable way, and mapping curriculum materials to that, would help when sharing learning resources.
I am somewhat late in writing this, but back in May some new properties developed by LRMI were added to schema.org that simplify and expand how schema.org can be used to describe learning resources and educational events.
The new properties are:
teaches: The item being described is intended to help a person learn the competency or learning outcome defined by the referenced term.
assesses: The item being described is intended to assess the competency or learning outcome defined by the referenced term.
In a related change, the domain of educationalLevel, (“the level in terms of progression through an educational or training context”), which was added last year for EducationalOccupationalCredentials was expanded so that it can also be used with CreativeWork and EducationEvent. It also can have DefinedTerms, text or URL as a value.
XCRI-CAP (eXchanging Course Related Information, Course Advertising Profile) is the UK standard for course marketing information in Higher Education. It is compatible with the European Standard Metadata for Learning Opportunities. The W3C schema course extension community group has developed terms for describing educational courses that are now part of schema.org. Here I look at translating the data from an XCRI-CAP xml feed to schema.org json-ld. Continue reading
I have a new publication: “Analysing and Improving Embedded Markup of Learning Resources on the Web,” which Stefan Dietze and Davide Taibi have presented at the 2017 International World Wide Web Conference in Perth Australia. I played a minor role in the “analysing” part of this work, the heavy lifting was done by my co-authors. They analysed data from the Common Crawl to identify sites that were using LRMI terms in their schema.org markup. The analysis provides answers to important questions such as: who is using LRMI metadata and which terms are they using? How many resources have been marked up with LRMI metadata? Are the numbers of users growing? What mistakes are being made in implementing LRMI? Continue reading
I summarised the presentations given at the LRMI workshop “Building on Schema.org to describe learning resources” at the Dublin Core conference in my previous post, this post is about the discussion part of the workshop. The discussion was organised along the lines of a balloon debate:
A balloon debate is a debate in which a number of speakers attempt to win the approval of an audience. The audience is invited to imagine that the speakers are flying in a hot-air balloon which is sinking and that someone must be thrown out if everyone is not to die. Each speaker has to make the case why they should not be thrown out of the balloon to save the remainder.
Our “balloon” is a metaphorical one, it stands for the volunteer effort that maintains LRMI (LRMI seeming somewhat like a balloon in that it is kept going by hot air), and instead of carrying people it is trying to carry out work that will help people describe learning resources. While it is by no means sinking, like a real balloon LRMI can only sustain a certain (work-)load, and so we need to be selective in the work which is taken on. This exercise was intended to provide LRMI with ideas about which work to prioritize, while providing those who take part with information about the future directions that are open to LRMI.
The debate proceeded through three rounds, the first round was about choosing candidate ideas for future work, the second eliminated those which seemed least feasible, and the third was to select the highest priority ideas. On the day we didn’t really get to the third round, but the results were nonetheless interesting.
We started with the following ideas, seeded by myself with help from other members of the LRMI task group (especially Stuart Sutton who provided several of the descriptions).
- 1. Structured, controlled vocabularies for LRMI properties.
- Several key LRMI properties take text for their expected value type. The use of free text for properties such as learningResourceType makes it difficult to compare data from different providers. Where there are suggested values mentioned in the LRMI spec for these, the LRMI Task Group is already working to provide definitions of terms in RDF (as SKOS Concepts). This suggestion is a continuation of this work, to try as far as possible to provide controlled vocabularies for relevant LRMI properties.
- 2. Drop the Alignment Object for the most common alignment types
- The mechanism of indicating how a resource relates to an educational framework involves a level of indirection which is both arcane and potentially powerful, however it’s full power is not fully developed. The suggestion here is that the indirection be removed by creating properties for those alignment types which are clearly important. So, for example, it is often important to state the educational level of a resource (e.g. in terms of Grade Level). Currently this would be an educationalAlignment with an AlignmentObject having alignmentType of educationalLevel. The indirection of the AlignmentObject could be removed if there were a property of a learning resource called educationalLevel referencing directly a point in a grade level framework.
Figure 1a: representing an educational alignment with an alignment object.
The alignment type property of the alignment object can set to specify the nature of the relationship, e.g. that this represents the educational level of the resource.
Figure 1b: a possible way of representing an alignment such as educational level of the resource more simply. Note: the value provided could be text or a URI; representing the relationship of the node to an educational framework is not yet solved in Schema.org.
- 3. Develop the Alignment Object to be more expressive
- The mechanism of indicating how a resource relates to an educational framework involves a level of indirection which is both arcane and potentially powerful, however it’s full power is not fully developed. The suggestion here is that properties be added to the AlignmentObject to allow additional information about the alignment between a resource and a point in an educational framework. This additional information may include factors such as: who asserts that the alignment holds, what evidence they have for this alignment, how good is the alignment.
- 4. Recommendations for referring to educational frameworks
- From the point of view of facilitating resource discovery the relationship between a resource and an educational framework is key. Showing how a resource relates to a framework which is understood by educators and learners allows them to find resource suitable for their needs. This may be manifest in discovery interfaces as faceted search or browse categories. One problem is identifying the relevant frameworks for different types of educational alignment in different educational contexts (e.g. what is the Scottish equivalent of K-12 for educational level?). Another problem is that variation in how these frameworks are expressed in LRMI metadata makes creation of such services more difficult than it need be (what is the framework name for K-12? What URIs are best to use?). We could help by creating an inventory of frequently used educational frameworks and recommendations on how to refer to them.
- 5. Declare a “Learning Resource” type
- Currently, a Learning Resource is not formally declared in the schema.org schema as a subtype of CreativeWork. Instead, it is inferred that a Learning Resource is a kind of CreativeWork since the LRMI properties were included as part of the CreativeWork type. The lack of an explicit LearningResource subtype to CreativeWork makes it difficult for some doing markup or implementing systems using schema.org to recognize that schema.org in fact supports description of learning resources. They see EducationEvent as a subtype of Event, but no LearningResource as a subtype of CreativeWork.
- 6. Define a minimal subset of schema.org for describing learning materials
- The schema.org schema is quite large and can be intimidating for some wanting to define minimally viable learning resource descriptions–e.g., where to begin, what properties are most important, how should they be used. Publishing a suggested profile of schema.org that defines a minimaly viable learning resource description while leaving open the addition of other properties needed with a particular use, might assist implementers needing a means to jumpstart development of their own profile based in schema.org.
- 7. Create support materials explaining LRMI properties
- Recently, examples of how to use the AlignmentObject as well as the LRMI properties of CreativeWork have been added as ‘footers’ to the relevant schema pages at schema.org. While an excellent beginning, these additions are not enough. Other types of support materials for describing learning resources using the LRMI properties and classes need to be defined, developed, and published. Such materials might include a one-stop “primer” that combines narrative with examples and covers the inevitable points in usage where subjective decisions must be made where there are alternative legitimate paths forward.
- 8. Collate information about existing LRMI implementations
- Specifications always need to be interpreted in order to be used in specific contexts, and however much normative and informative material is provided, we cannot hope to cover all contexts. One way that people implementing a specification can make choices that do not lead to unnecessary divergence is by referring to other implementations from similar contexts. LRMI could facilitate this by collating information about where these implementations can be found. This may also be useful in monitoring the uptake of the specification, identifying problems commonly encountered and providing examples of good practice.
- 9. Create an editor for LRMI metadata
- Several tools exist that can create LRMI metadata within the scope of a single project or service’s needs. What is suggested here is that LRMI create, assist or promote the creation of an editor that can serve as a reference implementation: independent of the choices that would need to be made for any use in practice but flexible enough to be tailored practical use and, importantly, illustrating good practice in the implementation of LRMI.
In the end we discussed and voted on the issues of which ideas seemed most appealing and then, after eliminating those ideas which were not popular, we discussed and voted on the ideas that seemed least feasible, then had a short discussion about the results. We kept a tally of the votes on a flip chart: green ticks for ideas we thought attractive, red ticks for those we thought least feasible.
The ideas most liked were:
- Structured, controlled vocabularies for LRMI properties,
- Define a minimal subset of schema.org for describing learning materials, and
- Collate information about existing LRMI implementations.
As was pointed out in the discussion, there are relationships between the ideas which mean that some other ideas become easier if these are achieved first (e.g. a general purpose editor becomes easier if you have agreed a general purpose subset of schema for it to edit).
Those ideas which we thought most difficult to achieve were
- Structured, controlled vocabularies for LRMI properties and
- Declare a “Learning Resource” type.
The specific issues with both of these centred around achieving agreement or consensus on terms and definitions.
I’m pretty sure that everyone involved in LRMI will see something in these results that they think a sensible outcome and something which raises an eyebrow or two. I’m also fairly sure that it won’t be the same things for everyone.. which is to say, the discussions will continue.
So what now?
Some of the ideas discussed are based on work that individuals or groups involved in LRMI are already scoping out. As a group we have made a start on formally describing some values for use with LRMI terms as SKOS concepts (see the DCMI/LRMI Github repository). I have had a masters student work on creating a subset of schema.org for learning resources. There is an editor for LRMI in the works, which looks like it could meet the sort of requirements described above. And as I described in the presentation I gave at the workshop, there is work describing how LRMI is used. So hopefully we will be able to make progress on some of these ideas.
As I said during the workshop, LRMI is a volunteer effort. People work on whichever aspects of it interests them. If you are interested in any of the ideas described above, or have some other ideas that you think would be valuable, please join us and I hope will be able to achieve more together.
I was in Copenhagen last week, at the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative 2016 conference, where I ran a workshop about LRMI entitled “Building on Schema.org to describe learning resources” (as one of my colleagues pointed out, thinking of the snappy title never quite happened). Here’s a quick overview of it.
There were three broad parts to the workshop: presentations on the background organisations and technology; presentations on how LRMI is being used; and a debate where attendees got to think about what could be next for LRMI.
This progress update on the work to extend schema.org to support the discovery of any type of educational course is cross-posted from the Schema Course Extension W3C Community Group. If you are interested in this work please head over there.
What aspects of a course can we now describe?
As a result of work so far addressing the use cases that we outlined, we now have answers to the following questions about how to describe courses using schema.org:
- How to define something as being about a course or being about an instance of that course
- How to mark up the identifier used by providers to identify their courses
- How to identify a course by provider and name
- How to mark up the subject of a course
- How to identify the location where a course is offered
- How to identify the start and end of an instance of a course, and the times of events that are part of it
- Related to start and end dates of a course, how to specify the duration and amount of time typically required to complete a course
- How to identify the organizations providing and offering courses (and how these two roles may differ).
- How to identify the teacher / instructor of a course (who may or nay not be the creator of the course).
- How to mark up the mode of study or delivery.
- How to identify a course which is a prerequisite of the course being described or to link to or describe other prerequisites.
As with anything in schema.org, many of the answers proposed are not the final word on all the detail required in every case, but they form a solid basis that I think will be adequate in many instances.
What new properties are we proposing?
In short, remarkably few. Many of the aspects of a course can be described in the same way as for other creative works or events. However we did find that we needed to create two new types Course and CourseInstance to identify whether the description related to a course that could be offered at various times or a specific offering or section of that course. We also found the need for three new properties for Course: courseCode, coursePrerequisites and hasCourseInstance; and two new properties for CourseInstance: courseMode and instructor.
There are others under discussion, but I highlight these as proposed because they are being put forward for inclusion in the next release of the schema.org core vocabulary.
I am chair of the Schema Course Extension W3C Community Group, which aims to develop an extension for schema.org concerning the discovery of any type of educational course. This progress update is cross-posted from there.
If the forming-storming-norming-performing model of group development still has any currency, then I am pretty sure that February was the “storming” phase. There was a lot of discussion, much of it around the modelling of the basic entities for describing courses and how they relate to core types in schema (the Modelling Course and CourseOffering & Course, a new dawn? threads). Pleased to say that the discussion did its job, and we achieved some sort of consensus (norming) around modelling courses in two parts
Course, a subtype of CreativeWork: A description of an educational course which may be offered as distinct instances at different times and places, or through different media or modes of study. An educational course is a sequence of one or more educational events and/or creative works which aims to build knowledge, competence or ability of learners.
CourseInstance, a subtype of Event: An instance of a Course offered at a specific time and place or through specific media or mode of study or to a specific section of students.
hasCourseInstance, a property of Course with expected range CourseInstance: An offering of the course at a specific time and place or through specific media or mode of study or to a specific section of students.
(see Modelling Course and CourseInstance on the group wiki)
This modelling, especially the subtyping from existing schema.org types allows us to meet many of the requirements arising from the use cases quite simply. For example, the cost of a course instance can be provided using the offers property of schema.org/Event.
The wiki is working to a reasonable extent as a place to record the outcomes of the discussion. Working from the outline use cases page you can see which requirements have pages, and those pages that exist point to the relevant discussion threads in the mail list and, where we have got this far, describe the current solution. The wiki is also the place to find examples for testing whether the proposed solution can be used to mark up real course information.
The next phase of the work should see us performing, working through the requirements from the use cases and showing how they can be me. I think we should focus first on those that look easy to do with existing properties of schema.org/Event and schema.org/CreativeWork.