CanCore at Seneca College (October 5, 2005)
Norm Friesen recently met with Jennifer Peters-Lise and and Dawn Mercer from Seneca college. Their discussion took place at the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. Jennifer is a Metadata & E-Reserves Technician, and Dawn is a Faculty Development Coordinator and the principal investigator for the learning object repository project they describe.
Norm: Thanks very much for taking the time to meet with me.
Jenn & Dawn: It's a pleasure.
Norm: Let me begin by asking you about the general character and aims of your learning object repository project.
Dawn: The project, funded by the Ontario provincial government, is creating the technical infrastructure required for the sharing and re-use of learning objects by teaching staff at Seneca. Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology is a community college with campuses located throughout Toronto. It offers students career-related, full-time and part-time studies. The idea behind our repository project is to create a collection that is interoperable with other repositories or collections, and that is a user-friendly way to find resources for teaching. One of the ways that we are doing this is by emphasizing the user interface --making it as well-designed and easy-to-use as possible.
Jenn: Early in the project, we surveyed or looked at a number of possible technical and metadata solutions. As a part of this survey, we came up with a "metadata wish list:" We wrote down the kinds of tags, elements or characteristics that we would like to be able to use to describe and classify a number of different kinds of resources (e.g. audio, multimedia, hypertext, etc.). We then compared the elements in this list to those available in the IEEE LOM, CanCore, and also at GEM's application profile of Dublin Core (http://www.thegateway.org/about/documentation/schemas). Through this process, we settled on CanCore/LOM as our preferred metadata solution.
Dawn: We did something similar in selecting the type of software that we would use for our repository: we tried out a number of software solutions for metadata tagging, and for searchable repository, including those developed under the eduSource project
The repository solution that we decided to go with for now "D-Space" available via MIT (http://www.dspace.org/). As you know, it is based on the Dublin Core metadata standard, and therefore has to be adapted in order to be used for CanCore/LOM metadata. Despite the fact that this adaptation is challenging, we believe that D-Space still provides one of the best open source solutions available right now. One important feature of this repository is its interoperability: it uses the Open Archives Initiative's metadata harvesting protocol to share XML-formatted records with other repositories --whether they are also D-Space repositories or not. This will be very important for working with CLOE, a repository project being undertaken by universities in Ontario. Finally, D-Space is also open source and widely used in other contexts.
Norm: Yes, the popularity and interoperability of D-space are important advantages.
Dawn: Have you heard of other, easy-to-implement repository software solutions?
Norm: Unfortunately, that is a tough question. We're currently working on a listing of such projects in CanCore, and a different listing is already available through EduTools (http://www.edutools.info/lor/).
Curiously, it has turned out to be very challenging to either adapt or work with a relational database to accommodate LOM data structures. In fact, in the context of a couple of very recent projects, I've been encouraging implementers to NOT try to accommodate the full complexity of the LOM in their database structures, but instead, to work with a much more constrained and simplified set of LOM elements. Naturally, this set will differ slightly from project to project, based on the type of resources being collected, and the purposes that the projects serve. But the essential thing is that the contents of any one database can be exported in a form that can be understood by other, LOM-based repositories. This last requirement is important, but relatively easy to accomplish. The reason for making this recommendation is that I've seen too many repository projects get "hung up" on investing great time and energy in developing a database structure that is 100% compliant with the LOM and its structures, and then ending up with insufficient time and resources to develop high-quality metadata, and a significant user base.
Jenn: Yes, and we have been working hard to ensure that our metadata is of good quality, and that it is related to the needs and contexts of our users. We've been working on a number of vocabularies to achieve this --specifically for Technical.Format and for the "Educational" category of elements. As a part of the CLOE project, a list of "educational rationale" has been developed and has been widely discussed in the Ontario context.
Norm: I believe that these "educational rationale" terms are listed in Appendix A of the current CanCore guidelines document.
Dawn: Yes, and they seem to capture very well the perspective of an instructional designer or educational expert, but it seems less certain that their significance will be crystal clear to instructional staff, for example, at a community college. And we have been working with many of our instructional staff, asking them to use CLOE, MERLOT and more than a dozen other repositories. MERLOT and CLOE are popular, but there are general usability problems with many of the repositories. The search interfaces aren't easy to use, and in many cases, the collections are too small to produce a sizable set of search results in a specific subject area. Also, people are not necessarily finding some of the best stuff that's out there. For example, I had a couple of folks in a recent workshop who were interested in early childhood; and I knew that their searches were not coming up with some of the best early childhood resources that are currently available.
Norm: Yes, I had a similar experience in developing a course that I am now teaching here at the U of T. It's on "Information Technology Applications," and I was surprised at the difficult time I had trying to track down good, multimedial resources on things like computer ports and Internet governance.
Dawn: Yes, it would be great if someday resources recommended specifically for education could automatically appear at the top of something like a set of Google search results.
Norm: Yes. But that's much easier said than done of course. At the same time, that's something we're all working towards! Thanks for all the information about your project, and for taking the time to meet me here.
Dawn and Jennifer: You're welcome. The pleasure was ours.