Penn State Teams Use Metadata to Get Digital Resources in Order
Digital technology has taken learning resources from the static confines of
the old overhead projector to easily accessible, interactive experiences that
include sound and motion. But despite the dramatic evolution in the quality
of learning resources, there has been little progress towards a system of classification
that allows educators to efficiently identify, locate, and reuse these materials.
Now, two teams, whose members include researchers and information technology
experts from Penn State, are participating in projects designed to bring order
to a bourgeoning but chaotic collection of digital educational resources.
At the heart of their projects is a common, indispensable ingredient: metadata.
The term may evoke philosophical abstraction, but metadata, or data about data,
have many practical uses. Libraries use metadata to help people find books,
programmers use metadata to store information, and scientists use metadata to
Several years ago, Instructional Management Systems Global Learning Consortium,
Inc., (IMS), a group of educational, corporate, and government entities dedicated
to making advances in distributed learning, began working on defining metadata
to include in electronic learning materials to help educators more easily identify
and share resources.
An IMS technical board has developed recommendations for the types of metadata
that producers of educational material should include in the resources they
create, and how they should be included. The metadata defined by IMS includes
hundreds of pieces of information from the basic, such as "author,"
to items that communicate a much greater level of pedagogical detail, like "time
spent on the activity," and "semantic density."
The Center for Institutional Cooperation (CIC), an educational consortium of
twelve major research and teaching universities including Penn State and charter
member of the IMS specification project, hopes to demonstrate the value of the
IMS specifications through the development of a prototype repository for metadata.
The CIC Educational Resource Repository (CICERO) project, whose team includes
members from a number of CIC institutions, is led by Mike Halm from Penn State’s
Center for Education Technology Services. "One of the biggest problems
we have with first generation digital resources," says Halm, "is that
there is no descriptive data associated with the objects." This makes them
hard to find.
The CICERO repository is designed to allow users to add IMS specified metadata
to materials to clearly identify them, to store the metadata, and to provide
a way to search for resources using the metadata that will yield highly specific
and accurate results. Users testing the prototype will perform these functions
using a Web-based interface.
"There are a number of benefits to users of such a repository," Halm
observes. "It exposes their digital resource to a community which might
potentially find it useful; there is the potential of revenue from its sale
or licensing; it gives developers recognition for their contribution to their
field of study; and it may encourage the development of communities in different
disciplines to review and discuss such materials."
If the prototype provides the hoped for functionality, it will have helped
to lay the groundwork for future repositories scalable to larger groups of users,
such as the twelve universities that make up the CIC.
The Penn State Visual Image User Study (VIUS), a project funded by the Mellon
Foundation, shares CICERO’s goal of helping users more efficiently identify,
store, and locate learning resources. VIUS (pronounced "views") however,
focuses specifically on the use, storage, and retrieval of digital images.
The VIUS team, which also includes Halm, will first conduct a detailed assessment
of the ways Penn State faculty and students use digital images. It will then
use the findings of the study to design a system that will hold both the metadata
that describe digital images, and the images themselves.
"Users will be able to search and find digital images using metadata,"
explains Halm. "Once the search has been narrowed, they will be able to
view thumbnails of the images, then select those they want and build collections
for a variety of academic or research purposes."
The system will be designed to provide access to digital images created by
local faculty and students, as well as those available through Penn State collections.
But the team also intends to design the system so that it may be integrated
with digital image retrieval systems at other educational institutions, museums,
and public and private collections.
"Accommodating the use of these types of collections into a single educational
experience," as Halm describes the ultimate goal of the project, will be
possible in large part due to the implementation of IMS specifications for metadata
by institutions with digital image holdings. Halm also notes that the use of
IMS specifications will make it possible in the future to integrate the repository
with Penn State’s Course Management System, ANGEL.
To learn more about IMS and its specifications, visit its Web site: http://www.imsproject.org/