Following Dan Rehak’s guest post on The Learning Registry: Social Networking for Metadata, Pat Lockley of the University of Oxford reports back from the Learning Registry Plugfest, which he attended in Wasington DC at the end of June.
So, what is a plugfest? How is it not a hackday, or a sprint? Well, never one to shy from a taxonomy (but i’ve never seen a taxonomy shy, poor old coconuts) it would seem a plugfest is based around a system, in this case – the learning registry. The learning registry is hard to describe as it deliberately doesn’t have an obvious front end or website to point people at. The key thing that the learning registry provides, is best alluded to with a plumbing analogy. The learning registry is the pipes that make the system, what you choose to put through the pipes (water, ass’s milk, educational content) and what you’d like at the end of the pipes (gold taps, fountains, search boxes) is very much up to you.
So that’s an odd sell, and it is even harder to think about what you can develop around it. At least with a hackday you start with something to hack. There is something to develop from, however, with the learning registry; there is the scope to build almost anything that could be fit around its existing infrastructure.
There was certainly a struggle to get past this initial idea phase. Almost certainly for the same reason i’ve struggled for coherency in my opening two paragraphs. How do you demonstrate the scope of something that you cannot see? Dark Matter for astrophysics, the invisible hand for economists. Analogies are good, but had to be surmounted to create something with a demonstrable “concrete” quality. Now whether it was a lightbulb moment, or perhaps a large hadron collider moment, the idea did come.
Now we’ve all been involved in conversations about finding educational resources, and much as we’d like to think google wasn’t the answer, inevitably for the vast majority of people and their searches google is the answer. So short of moving mountains in the hope of cultural change, why not take the learning registry to google. Google.com is probably one of the most accessed pages on the internet, if you need to demonstrate something, where better to demonstrate it?
But how? Well the google search results page is full of links. Those links may well reflect the links to educational resources in the repository. So using some of the learning registry’s tools I can check the links google returns and see if the learning registry has any information on them. So your google search can be augmented by records the learning registry holds on that site. This is (at present) based around a chrome extension that runs in your browser without you having to do anything about it – it just installs and runs everytime a page loads. So it won’t just do google results, but any link on any webpage.
It’s still early days, and so this plugin is perhaps, at present, not suitable for everyone to use. Hopefully there will be a data set and public system than can easily be tested against.
Pat Lockley works in the field of E-learning and Open Educational Resources. Whilst at Nottingham, Pat helped to develop the Xpert and Xpert Attributor. Now at Oxford, Pat is working on Politics In Spires.