At the JISCCETIS08 conference session on Open Educational Content/Resources (OEC/OER), we had a really useful discussion about what “minimal tagging” might mean in terms of OEC today. It was part of my presentation on technical infrastructure for the JISC/HEA OEC Programme. By infrastructure, I think I mean Paul Walk’s soft definition of infrastructure
The discussion made me reflect on all the assumptions that surrounds the term “metadata”, and the history that got us to where we are now, primarily around digital learning materials.
For the purposes of description, let’s abstract workflows down to two: creation to curation (authors), and discovery to delivery (finders). Metadata standardisation has always been about supporting the flow of content between people and systems, both for C2C and D2D. We’ve always known that if information about content is useful (and used) we should expect to find it somewhere in the workflow already. The vision has never been for users to have to fill in forms: that is just a step on the way to embedded interoperability, “metadata under the bonnet”.
One of the use cases which drove the adoption of schemas such as UK LOM was the assumption of complex objects in expert systems (VLEs) being transferred to other expert systems, with even search/browse services offering complex presentation options, displaying information on “semantic density” for the finders delectation. I think I would argue that now that is only a niche use case as far as open educational resources are concerned.
So when we’re talking about a “discovery to delivery infrastructure” for OEC, from granular assets such as word documents, slide presentations, through to packaged learning objects (with capital Ls and Os!), to online courseware, perhaps the place to start is: what information is already used in creation to curation tools/systems/platforms that could usefully flow through to help find and use content. This has always been the aim of standardised metadata for interoperability: embedding it into the system and making it invisible to the user.
Now there are so many C2C tools to consider, and even more D2D options, that its not effective to concentrate on any particular suite of tools. Thats why so many developers are interested in APIs, widgets and “eduglue” to stitch together what people are using, in an almost infinite combination.
And yet there’s also a renewed interest in community metadata particular for describing the contents of the content: tagging , folksonomies, linking resources together in the web2.0 world. Metadata may not be cool, but “tags” can be, and the network effect of community tagging is enabling navigation between content. As many people have commented, bottom-up or top-down, its still metadata. We don’t have to call it that, but we do count it as part of the infrastructure.
And thats where we always hoped to get to, isn’t it? We need to keep reviewing our primary use cases so that development effort is directed at the most useful interactions between tools/systems/platforms.
It goes without saying that there are huge parallels with thinking in other areas: resource discovery, open access repositories … but whilst we should aim for a common language, we still need to champion the use cases that are central to each endeavour. For OEC, I recommend joining the CETIS Educational Content SIG.