RDFa Rich snippets for educational content

Prompted by a comment from Andy Powell that

It would be interesting to think about how much of required resource description for UKOER can be carried in the RDFa vocabularies currently understood by Google. Probably quite a lot.

I had a look at Googles webmaster advice on Marking up products for rich snippets.

My straw man mapping from the UKOER description requirements to Rich Snippets was:

Mandated Metadata
Programme tag = Brand?
Project tag = Brand?
Title = name
Author / owner / contributor = seller?
Date =
URL = offerURL (but not on OER page itself)
Licence information [Use CC code] price=0

Suggested Metadata
Language =
Subject = category
Keywords = category?
Additonal tags = category?
Comments = a review
Description = description

I put this into a quick example, and you can see what Google makes of it using the rich snippet testing tool. [I’m not sure I’ve got the nesting of a Person as the seller right.]

So, interesting? I’m not sure that this example shows much that is interesting. Trying to shoe-horn information about an OER into a schema that was basically designed for adverts isn’t ideal, but they already done recipes as well, once they’ve got the important stuff like that done they might have a go at educational resources. But it is kind-of interesting that Google are using RDFa; there seems to be a slow increase in the number of tools/sites that are parsing and using RDFa.

Self description and licences

One of the things that I noticed when I was looking for sources of UKOERs was that when I got to a resource there was often no indication on it that it was open: no UKOER tag, no CC-license information or logo. There may have been some indication of this somewhere on the way, e.g. on a repository’s information page about that resource, but that’s no good if someone arrives from a Google search, a direct link to the resource, or once someone has downloaded the file and put it on their own VLE.

Naomi Korn, has written a very useful briefing paper on embedding metadata about creative commons licences into digital resources as part of the OER IPR Support project starter pack. All the advice in that is worth following, but please, also make sure that licence and attribution information is visible on the resource as well. John has written about this in general terms in his excellent post on OERs, metadata, and self-description where he points out that this type of self description “is just good practice” which is complemented not supplanted by technical metadata.

So, OER resources, when viewed on their own, as if someone had found them through Google or a direct link, should display enough information about authorship, provenance, etc. for the viewer to know that they are open without needing an application to extract the metadata. The cut and paste legal text and technical code generated by the licence selection form on the Creative Commons website is good for this. (Incidentally, for HTML resources this code also includes technical markup so that the displayed text works as encoded metadata, which has been exploited recently by the OpenAttribute browser addon. I know the OpenAttribute team are working on embedding tools for licence selection and code generation into web content management systems and blogs).

Images, videos and sounds present their own specific problem for including human-readable licence text. Following practice from the publishing industry would suggest that small amounts of text discreetly tucked away on the bottom or side of an image can be enough to help. That example was generate by the Xpert attribution tool from an image of a bridge found on flickr. The Xpert tool will also does useful work for sounds and videos; but for sounds it is also possible to follow the example of the BBC podcasts and provide spoken information at the beginning or end of the audio, and for videos of course one can have scrolling credits at the end.

UKOER Sources

I have been compiling a directory of how people can get at the resources released by the UKOER pilot phase projects: that is the websites for human users and the “interoperability end points” for machines–ie the RSS and ATOM feed URLs, SRU targets, OAI-PMH base URLs and API documentation. This wasn’t nearly as easy as it should have been: I would have hoped that just listing the main URL for each project would have been enough for anyone to get at the resources they wanted or the interoperability end point in a click or two, but that often wasn’t the case.

So here are some questions I would like OER providers to answer by way of self assessment, which will hopefully simplify this in the future.

Does your project website have a very prominent link to where the OERs you have released may be found?

The technical requirements for phase 1 for delivery platforms said:

Projects are free to use any system or application as long as it is capable of delivering content freely on the open web. … In addition projects should use platforms that are capable of generating RSS/Atom feeds, particularly for collections of resources

So: what RSS feeds do you provide for collections of resources and where do you describe these? Have you thought about how many items you have in each feed and how well described they are?

Are your RSS feed URLs and other interoperability endpoints easy to find?

Do your interoperability end points work? I mean, have you tested them? Have you spoken to people who might use them?

While you’re thinking about interoperability end points: have you ever thought of your URI scheme as one? If for example you have a coherent scheme that puts all your OERs under a base URI, and better, provides URIs with some easily identifiable pattern for those OERs that form some coherent collection, then building simple applications such as Google Custom Search Engines becomes a whole lot easier. A good example is how MIT OCW is arranged: all most of the URIs have a pattern http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/[department]/[courseName]/[resourceType]/[filename].[ext] (the exceptions are things like video recordings where the actual media file is held elsewhere).

Call for Papers: Semantic Technologies for Learning and Teaching Support in Higher Education

Our friends at the University of Southampton, Hugh Davis, David Millard and Thanassis Tiropanis (with whom we worked on the SemTech project and who organised a subsequent workshop) are guest editing a Special Section of IEEE Transactions on Learning Technology on Semantic Technologies for Learning and Teaching Support in Higher Education.

Call for papers (pdf) from the IEEE Computer Society. Deadline for submission 1 April 2011.

JISC CETIS OER Technical Mini Projects Call

JISC has provided CETIS with funding to commission a series of OER Technical Mini Projects to explore specific technical issues that have been identified by the community during CETIS events such as #cetisrow and #cetiswmd and which have arisen from the JISC / HEA OER Programmes.

Mini project grants will be awarded as a fixed fee of £10,000 payable on receipt of agreed deliverables. Funding is not restricted to UK Higher and Further Education Institutions. This call is open to all OER Technical Interest Group members, including those outwith the UK. Membership of the OER TIG is defined as those members of oer-discuss@jiscmail.ac.uk who engage with the JISC CETIS technical discussions.

The CETIS OER Mini Projects are building on rapid innovation funding models already employed by the JISC. In addition to exploring specific technical issues these Mini Projects will aim to make effective use of technical expertise, build capacity, create focussed pre-defined outputs, and accelerate sharing of knowledge and practice. Open innovation is encouraged: projects are expected to build on existing knowledge and share their work openly.

It is expected that three projects will be funded in the first instance. If this model proves successful, additional funding may be made available for further projects.

Technical Mini Project Topics
Project 1: Analysis of Learning Resource Metadata Records

The aim of this mini project is to identify those descriptive characteristics of learning resources that are frequently recorded / associated with learning resources and that collection managers deem to be important.

The project will undertake a semantic analysis of a large corpus of educational metadata records to identify what properties and characteristics of the resources are being described. Analysis of textual descriptions within these records will be of particular interest e.g. free text used to describe licence conditions, educational levels and approaches.

The data set selected for analysis must include multiple metadata formats (e.g. LOM and DC) and be drawn from at least ten collections. The data set should include metadata from a number of open educational resource collections but it is not necessary for all records to be from oer collections.

For further background information on this topic and for a list of potential metadata sources please see Lorna’s blog post on #cetiswmd activities

Funding: £10,000 payable on receipt of agreed deliverables.

Project 2: Search Log Analysis

Many sites hosting collections of educational materials keep logs of the search terms used by visitors to the site when searching for resources. The aim for this mini project is to develop a simple tool that facilitates the analysis of these logs to classify the search terms used with reference to the characteristics of a resource that may be described in the metadata. Such information should assist a collection manager in building their collection (e.g. by showing what resources were in demand) and in describing their resources in such a way that helps users find them.

The analysis tool should be shown to work with search logs from a number of sites (we have identified some who are willing to share their data) and should produce reports in a format that are readily understood, for example a breakdown of how many searches were for “subjects” and which were the most popular subjects searched for. It is expected that a degree of manual classification will be required, but we would expect that the system is capable of learning how to handle certain terms and that this learning would be shared between users: a user should not have to tell the system that “Biology” is a subject once they or any other user has done so. The analysis tool should be free to use or install without restriction and should be developed as Open Source Software.

Further information on the sort of data that is available and what it might mean is outlined in my blog post Metadata Requirements from the Analysis of Search Logs

Funding: £10,000 payable on receipt of agreed deliverables.

Project 3: Open Call

Proposals are invited for one short technical project or demonstrator in any area relevant to the management, distribution, discovery, use, reuse and tracking of open educational resources. Topics that applicants may wish to explore include, but are not restricted to: resource aggregations, presentation / visualisation of aggregations, embedded licences, “activity data”, sustainable approaches to RSS endpoint registries, common formats for sharing search logs, analysis of use of advanced search facilities, use of OAI ORE.

Funding: £10,000 payable on receipt of agreed deliverables.


Proposals must be no more than 1500 words long and must include the following information:

  1. The name of the mini project.
  2. The name and affiliation and full contact details of the person or team undertaking the work plus a statement of their experience in the relevant area.
  3. A brief analysis of the issues the project will be addressing.
  4. The aims and objectives of the project.
  5. An outline of the project methodology and the technical approaches the project will explore.
  6. Identification of proposed outputs and deliverables.

Proposals are not required to include a budget breakdown, as projects will be awarded a fixed fee on completion.

All projects must be completed within six months of date of approval.

Submission Dates

In order to encourage open working practices project proposals must be submitted to the oer-discuss mailing list at oer-discuss@jicmail.ac.uk by 17.00 on Friday 8th April. List members will then have until the 17th of April to discuss the proposals and to provide constructive comments. Proposals will be selected by a panel of JISC and CETIS representatives who will take into consideration comments put forward by OER TIG members. Successful bidders will be notified by the 21st of April and projects are expected to start in May and end by 31st October 2011.

Successful bidders will be required to disseminate all project outputs under a relevant open licence, such as CC-BY. Projects must post regular short progress updates and all deliverables including a final report to the oer-discuss list and to JISC CETIS.

We encourage all list members to engage with the Mini Projects and to input comments suggestions and feedback through the list.

If you have any queries about this call please contact Phil Barker at phil.barker@hw.ac.uk