CETIS Gathering

At the end of June we ran an event about technical approaches to gathering open educational resources. Our intent was that we would provide space and facilities for people to some and talk about these issues, but we would not prescribe anything like a schedule of presentations or discussion topics. So, people came but what did they talk about?

In the morning we had a large group discussing approaches to aggregating resources and information about them through feeds such RSS or ATOM, and another smaller group discussing tracking what happens to OER resources once they are released.

I wasn’t part of the larger discussion, but I gather than they were interested in the limits of what can be brought in by RSS and difficulties due to the (shall we say) flexible semantics of the elements typically used in RSS even when extended in the typical way with Dublin Core. They would like to bring in information which was more tightly defined and also information from a broader range of sources relating to the actual use of the resource. They would also like to identify the contents of resources at a finer granularity (e.g. an image or movie rather than a lesson) while retaining the context of the larger resource. These are perennial issues, and bring to my mind technologies such as OAI-PMH with metadata richer than the default Dublin Core, Dublin Core Terms (in contrast to Dublin Core Element Set), OAI-ORE, and projects such as PerX and TicToCs (see JournalToCs) (just to mention two which happened to be based in the same office as me). At CETIS we will continue to explore these issues, but I think it is recognised that the solution is not as simple as using a new metadata standard that is in some way better than what we have now.

The discussion on tracking resources (summarized here by Michelle Bachler) was prompted by some work from the Open University’s OLNet on Collective Intelligence, and also some CETIS work on tracking OERs. For me the big “take-home” idea was that many individual OER providers and services must have information about the use of their resources which, while interesting in themselves, would become really useful if made available more widely. So how about, for example, open usage information about open resources? That could really give us some data to analyse.

There were some interesting overlaps between the two discussions: for example how to make sure that a resource is identified in such a way that you can track it and gather information about it from many sources, and what role can usage information play in the full description of a resources.

After lunch we had a demo of a search service built by cross-searching web 2 resource hosts via their APIs, which has been used by the Engineering Subject Centre’s OER pilot project. This lead on to a discussion of the strengths and limitations of this approach: essentially it is relatively simple to implement and can be used to provide a tailored search for an specialised OER collection so long as the number of targets being searched is reasonably low and their APIs stable reliable. The general approach of pulling in information via APIs could be useful in pulling in some of the richer information discussed in the morning. The diversity of APIs lead on to another well-rehearsed discussion mentioning SRU and OpenSearch as standard alternatives.

We also had a demonstration of the iCOPER search / metadata enrichment tool which uses REST, Atom and SPI to allow annotation of metadata records–very interesting as a follow-on from the discussions above which were beginning to see metadata not as a static record but as an evolving body of information associated with a resource.

Throughout the day, but especially after these demos, people were talking in twos and threes, finding out about QTI, Xerte, cohere, and anything else that one person knew about and others wanted to. I hope people who came found it useful, but it’s very difficult as an organiser of such and event to provide a single definitive summary!