Semantic technologies: which way now?

Cast your mind back to the CETIS Conference 2007 and you may remember a session on Semantic Technologies for Teaching and Learning. This session sought to introduce current developments in semantic technologies, explore their potential application to the domain of teaching and learning and facilitate discussion between these two apparently disparate communities. The case for the relevance and potential of semantic technologies was ably presented by a range of international experts through a series of short position papers which formed the basis for a wide ranging discussion. Following this discussion there seemed to be general consensus that it would be valuable for JISC to facilitate further exploration of the affordances of semantic technologies to the domain of education.

JISC responded to this requirement by issuing an ITT for a scoping study to:

“…investigate how applications which use semantic technologies can add value to learning and teaching.”

This study was awarded to the SemTech Project at the University of Southampton and at the same time CETIS established the Semantic Technology Working Group. The remit of this group was firstly to act as an expert working group for the SemTech Project, and secondly to develop recommendations for potential future work based on the outputs of the project.

The SemTech project successfully concluded in July 2009 having undertaken an extensive survey of semantic technologies relevant to learning and teaching and an investigation of the use and uptake of related tools and services by UK HE institutions. In addition to producing a comprehensive report the SemTech Project has also drafted a roadmap for semantic technology adoption by the UK F/HE community.

Semantic technologies appeared again at this year’s CETIS Conference, this time in the guise of linked data which was discussed in both the Find and Seek and Giant Global Graph sessions. The latter session has already generated a number of blog posts by Adam Cooper, Paul Walk and Andy Powell.

In order to disseminate and discuss the SemTech roadmap, the outputs of the CETIS conference and potential future activities in the area of semantic technologies for teaching and learning CETIS are holding a public meeting of the Semantic Technologies Working Group on the 10th of December at the University of Strathclyde. This meeting will:

  • Review the outputs of the SemTech project.
  • Consider the roadmap and recommendations to JISC.
  • Respond to these recommendations and explore future directions.
  • Investigate ways that CETIS can raise awareness of the potential affordances of semantic technologies to the teaching and learning sector.
  • Discuss future activities in this areas that CETIS could potentially engage in.

The meeting is open to all those with an interest in semantic technologies and their potential application to the domain of teaching and learning. We will be actively seeking comments and feedback from the community and would encourage colleagues to join the discussion.

To register for this meeting and for further information please visit the CETIS events page.

Semantic Technology Working Group

Last Friday saw the first meeting of the new CETIS Semantic Technology Working Group. CETIS Working Groups are a little different from the Special Interest Groups you all know and love in that they have a much tighter focus, a finite lifespan and a remit to produce one or more deliverables. I was particularly interested to attend the launch of the Semantic Technologies Working Group as it is a direct offshoot of the Semantic Technologies for Teaching and Learning session that Phil and I ran at last year’s CETIS Conference. Sheila has already written a short blog post about this meeting but here’s a little more detail.

The working group has two primary aims, firstly to act as an expert working group for the new JISC SemTech project, also funded as a result of the conference session, and secondly to develop recommendations for potential future work based on the outputs of the project. The first meeting of the working group was closed to enable us to focus in detail on the scope of the SemTech project however future meetings are likely to be open to the wider JISC community and all those with an interest in the use of semantic technologies for teaching and learning.

Participants at this initial meeting included Robin Wylie of Learning and Teaching Scotland, Michael Gardner from Essex, Sue Manuel from Loughborough, Tony Linde from Leicester, Simon Buckingham Schum from the OU, Helen Beetham from JISC, Hugh Davis and Thanasis Tiropanis from Southampton and Sheila, Wilbert, Phil and I from CETIS. And not forgetting, as Wilbert tweeted at the time, “iSight, conference phone, projector, 3g modems, ipod, mobile phone herd and the odd mouse.”

Thanasis Tiropanis opened the meeting with an enthusiastic and engaging introduction to the SemTech project which is based at the University of Southampton and will run until February 2009. The aims and objectives of the project are:

  1. Survey of the relevance and use of semantic tools and services in HE/FE, informal and exploratory learning. The impact of current work on semantic enhancement of successful Web 2.0 services will be reported.
  2. A roadmap for further developments in semantic technology adoption in HE/FE, informal learning and exploratory learning.
  3. The HE/FE institutional perspective of tools, services, relevance and quantifiable benefits.

Much of the rest of the meeting was taken up by a discussion of what constitutes “semantic technology” for the purpose of the project. Unsurprisingly this discussion was not entirely conclusive but there seemed to be some agreement that there should be some level of reasoning involved at the machine level. “Inference” was another term that kept cropping up. There was also general agreement that to be relevant to the project the technology must be used with some pedagogic intent and not simply for recording or resource discovery. For example mindmapping tools may not be regarded as semantic technologies for the purpose of the project however an application such as Omnigator which consumes topic maps and merges them on the fly is very much in scope. There’s still a lot of discussion to be had on these issues and it’ll be very intriguing to see what kind of technologies Thanasis and the SemTech project turn up.

For further information on the SemTech project please visit the project website at or to learn more about the CETIS Semantic Technologies Working Group contact Sheila or I.