Last week I was at the first face to face meeting of the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative technical working group, here are my reflections on it. In short, what I said in previous post was about right, and the discussion went the way I hoped. One addition, though, that I didn’t cover in that post, was some discussion of accessibility conditions. That was one of a number of issues that was set aside as being of more general importance than learning resources and best dealt with that wider scope in mind; the resources of the LRMI project being better spent on those issues that are specific to learning materials.
An interesting take on the scope of the project that someone (I forget who) raised during the meeting concerns working within the constraints of the search engine interface and results page. Yes, Google, Bing and Yahoo have advanced search interfaces that allow check-box selection of conditions such as licence requirements, they also provide and support for specialist search e.g. Google Scholar and custom search engines; however real success will come if the information that can be marked up as a result of LRMI is effective for people using the default search engine. What this means is that the actions that result from a use case or scenario should be condensed down to a few key words typed into a search box,
and the information displayed as an outcome should fit into an inch or two of screen space on a search engine results page.
That’s quite useful in terms of focussing on what is really important, but of course it won’t meet everyone’s ambitions for learning resource metadata. The question this raises is to what extent should the schema.org vocabulary attempt to meet these requirements? That, I think, is still an open question, but I am sure that embedded metadata markup such as schema.org has limitations and external metadata such as is provided by the IEEE LOM, Dublin Core and ISO MLR is a complemetary approach that may be necessary in meeting some of the more extensive use cases for learning resource metadata. Indeed, one requirement of LRMI which was raised during the meeting is to provide a means of linking to external metadata. One more observation on this line: at least from the basis of this meeting, it seems that the penetration of standards for educational metadata into the commercial educational publishing world (both online and more conventional) is not great.
A final issue concerning the scope of LRMI, and schema.org more generally, with respect to the use of other approaches to handling metadata is relevant to the idea of linking to external metadata, but is better illustrated by the issue of how to convey licence information. At the moment there is no schema.org term for indicating licence terms, however there is a perfectly good approach advocated by Creative Commons and recognised by Google and many other search and content providers (i.e. a link or anchor with attributes rel=”license” href=”licenceURL” optionally spanning a textual description of the licence–no prizes for guessing how I think this could be extended to links to external metadata). Is it helpful to reproduce this in schema.org? On the one hand, one of the aims of schema.org is to offer web masters a unified approach and a single coherent set of recommendations for embedding metadata; on the other hand this approach seems to be in accord with HTML in general and is aready widespread, so perhaps any clarification or coherence in terms of the schema.org offering would be at the expense of muddying and fragmentation of practice with respect to how to embed licence information in HTML more generally.