CanCore Guidelines for the "Access for All" Digital Resource Description Metadata Elements
Dr. Norm Friesen & Anthony Roberts
March 24, 2006
Interoperability is a key concept in e-learning standardization. To quote one frequently-cited definition, "interoperability" refers to the ability of "two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged." Thus, computer platforms of different kinds can all exchange email, Webpages and more, usually without significant compatibility issues. In the arena of e-learning, interoperability suggests the storing, processing and exchanging of instructional content, student records and other kinds of information by different and often divers systems.
Interoperability is also central to understanding the Access4All specifications. These specifications, available from IMS and currently being updated as ISO standards, enable a similar "interoperation" between computer systems. Simultaneously, they also support a different kind of inter-operation, namely between these systems and their end-users or learners. These standards address and ensure matches between the learner's needs and computer systems; they consider every learner, in a sense, as a potential system, that an external system (e.g. WebCT, a Java applet, a discussion forum) needs to interoperate. Mismatches, interruptions and other issues in the operation between the learner and these systems become more common as computing and Internet access becomes more portable, flexible and ubiquitous: robbing our vision of the screen in direct sunlight or while driving; depriving us of hearing while working on a flight. Ensuring these barriers to access can be adequately addresses is the focus of the Access4All specifications. Whether short term or permanent, addressing these barriers can make the difference between full access or none at all. In this sense, these Access4All specifications "do not address personal traits, but artifacts of a relationship between the learner and the learning environment or [system of] educational delivery; and "accessibility" becomes the ability of these environments, systems and content to adapt to the needs of all learners.
In considering this adaptability and interoperation there are two "systems" that need to be accounted for and whose successful inter-operation needs to be supported: the learner, on the one hand, and the system or the content that the learner is using, on the other. As a result, Access4All provides one specification for the learner (the "Personal Needs and Preferences Statement" --PNPS; previously the Learner Information Profile) and a second for the content (as a part of the Learning Object Metadata standard or the LOM). In matching these specifications, the users needs can be met and, consequently, has access to the content they seek.
The second of these, the LOM standard for educational content, specifies how this content (or "learning objects") are to be described, classified: which age groups and contexts they may be appropriate for, etc. It is in connection with the LOM, of course, that CanCore enters the picture. CanCore's main goal has been to support the implementation of the LOM standard for educational content. CanCore has done this by indicating which elements are important under different circumstances, and by explaining precisely what each element means, and how it is to be implemented technically.
There are 76 of these items or elements in the LOM in total, and CanCore provides guidelines or support for each of these. However, these elements do not describe this learning content in such a way that it can be used with the user's needs or circumstances --in such a way as to support adaptability or interoperability between the learner and the system. The Access4All specification outlines these elements, and defines them in such a way that they can be matched with corresponding information, elements, in the PNPS. (The Access4All specification for the LOM is known as "Digital Resource Description (or DRD, formerly the ACCMD or Accessibility Meta-Data.) Having supported the elements of the LOM, and having the provision of access to learning resources as its primary goal, CanCore is consequently also supporting --developing guidelines, examples, implementation advice, etc.-- for Access4All Digital Resource Description.
This guidelines document provides the same element-by-element support that is provided by CanCore in its guidelines documentation for the IEEE LOM. For each DRD element, this documentation provides, as appropriate:
For more information about the Access4All DRD generally, and its development from the earlier IMS ACCMD, see CanCore's interview with Jutta Treviranus, one of the principal architects of the Access4All standards: http://www.cancore.ca/access.html .
For the original Access4All standards in their current version are available as follows:
Finally, CanCore wishes to thank those who have contributed to the development of these Access4All DRD guidelines. These include: