New approaches to describing and discovering open educational resources

Link: New Approaches to Describing and Discovering Open Educational Resources (OER13 Conference paper)(PDF)
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This paper reports and reflects on the innovative technical approaches adopted by UKOER projects to resource description, search engine optimisation and resource discovery. The HEFCE UKOER programmes ran for three years from 2009 to 2012 and funded a large number and variety of projects focused on releasing open educational resources (OERs) and embedding open practice. The Cetis Innovation Support Centre was tasked by JISC with providing strategic advice, technical support and direction throughout the programme. One constant across the diverse UKOER projects was their desire to ensure the resources they released could be discovered by people who might benefit from them; if no one can find an OER no one will use it. This paper will focus on three specific approaches with potential to achieve this aim: search engine optimisation, embedding metadata in the form of microdata, and sharing “paradata” information about how resources are used.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of resources in search engine results in order to make the resource more discoverable. Discoverability also relates to the ability to find resources in appropriate places, for example, in curated collections, institutional repositories and through web services. In terms of open educational resources, SEO interventions can be made at the level of the individual OER, e.g. as described by projects such as OpenSpires and SCOOTER; or at the collection management level, e.g. Triton’s use of WordPress to optimise SEO.

While SEO focuses on human readable, textual descriptions of resources, presented in a structured or semi-structured format; an alternative approach to resource description is structured, machine-readable metadata. The two can be combined in approaches such as microformats, RDFa, and microdata which bridge the gap between human-oriented resource description and machine readable metadata. This paper will report on activities undertaken throughout the UKOER programmes to identify what metadata is really required for OERs, challenges in formalising metadata to describe educational characteristics of OERs, and efforts to address some of these issues through the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI).

It has long been acknowledged that publisher-created resource descriptions and formal metadata records are not the only useful sources of information about learning resources, particularly OERs. Often more useful, contextually sensitive and extensive information can be created by users, both incidentally as they interact with resources, and through the conscious actions of reviewing, tagging, discussing and recommending OERs. “Paradata” offers a new approach to gathering, surfacing and sharing this information, which may offer potential solutions to some of the more intractable problems around describing the educational characteristics of resources. We will report briefly on the activities of the Learning Registry and other projects that are exploring the use of “paradata”.

We hope this paper will highlight the importance of effective resource description to the discoverability of OERs, explore innovative approaches to old problems and provide pointers to where future efforts might be directed to maximise the benefits of open educational resources.