Filtering Google custom searches on LRMI alignment values

As I said, Wilbert and I are building a Google custom search engine for LRMI-tagged pages. We got a basic search that finds pages that have an educational alignment and matches a search term. Next step is using the properties of the educational alignment to filter the search result based on things that teachers care about. Our friends at a11y showed us how to do the filtering based on properties with their search demo which uses the search modifier
to filter results that have markup showing that they contain captions.

We took our alignment object custom search search and under search features, added refinements along the lines of more:p:AlignmentObject-name:GCSE with the label GCSE (a school exam taken by 16 year olds).

The results page for our Declaration of Arbroath now has tabs, one of which says GCSE. Click on that tab and you see just the results that have been marked up to say that they are relevant to the that educational level.

Google search for declaration of Arbroath filtered for those resources that are useful for UK GCSE exams.

Google search for declaration of Arbroath filtered for those resources that are useful for UK GCSE exams.

Try some searches here. We could add more pre-set alignments, different grade levels and so on, but we’re just trying to do proof of concept here, not create a service, so we’ll stop at showing a few.


I’m really happy to see so many pages marked up with the properties, way more than I knew of. But so much of it is wrong. In the example above, the refinement more:p:AlignmentObject-name:GCSE is filtering for pages that say that the AlingmentObject has a name of “GCSE”. This is wrong. That’s not the name of the AlignmentObject, that’s the name of the target in the educational framework to which an alignment is being asserted. If it’s not clear what the difference is, I wrote a post explaining the alignment object at at some length.

Also, we’ve found our first alignment object spam! Well, let’s say that the alignment was tenuous, and probably this page getting found would be of more use to the publisher that the person finding it. [I'm not linking to it for obvious reasons.] This is the sort of thing that killed the idea of hiding metadata in elements in the header. How would a search engine deal with this sort of spamming of alignment assertions? Well, if the educational alignment you’re asserting isn’t worth showing as human readable text on a webpage then it probably isn’t a strong one. So, remember this advice if you’re hiding all your metadata away rather than marking up what the reader will see on the page.

Building a Google custom search engine for LRMI-tagged pages

Wilbert and I are spending the day trying to create a search engine for finding learning resources by searching LRMI-tagged web pages. A bit of code sprint if you like.

First attempt: standard custom search engine hosted by Google.
1. Go to set up new search engine. Choose option to “Restrict Pages using Types” to CreativeWork.

We’ll use “Declaration of Arbroath as a test search. By way of baseline, here’s the what we get just searching Google for that:

Google search for declaration of Arborath

Google search for declaration of Arborath

With the Custom Search Engine, limited to Creative works, we get:

Google search result page for "Declaration of Arbroath" limited to Creative works

Google search result page for “Declaration of Arbroath” limited to Creative works

OK, so there is some difference, but CreativeWorks aren’t all learning resources (or at least they’re not all tagged with LRMI), so change the schema type we filter on to AlignmentObject, one of the properties LRMI added to, and we get


Google search result page for “Declaration of Arbroath” limited to pages with an AligmentObject.

Which is showing six learning resources tagged with LRMI.

We’re winning. You can try it here. It’s a good way of finding who is already using LRMI (waves to BBC and Open University)

Open, Education

This is a longish summary of a presentation I gave recently, covering why I was talking, the spectrum of openness, the ways of being open, the range of activities involved in education and how open things might apply to those activities. You may want to skim through until something catches your eye :)

Why I did this

When Marieke asked me to give a “general introduction to open education” for the Open Knowledge Foundation / LinkedUp Project Open Education Handbook booksprint I admit I was somewhat nervous. More so when I saw the invite list. I mean, I’ve worked on OERs for a few years, mostly specializing in technologies for managing their dissemination and discovery; I’ve even helped write a book about that, (which incidentally was the output of a booksprint, about which I have also written), but that only covers a small part of the OER endeavour, and OERs are only a small element in the Open Education movement, and I saw the list of invitees to the booksprint and could see names of people who knew much more than me.

However Martin Poulter then asked this on Twitter

and I thought why not take inspiration from that approach. I can say stuff, and if it is wrong someone will put me right; it’ll be like learning about things. I like learning things, I like Open Education and I like booksprints. So this is what I said.

I wanted to emphasize that Open Education covers a wide range of activities. It has a long history, which we can see in the name of institutions like the Open University, but has recently taken on new impetus in a new direction, not disconnected with that history, but not entirely the same. Being a bit of a reductionist, the simple way to illustrate the range of Open Education was to reflect on the extent and range of meanings of Open and the range of activities that may be involved in education.

The spectrum of openness

Shows a range of

A “map” of IP rights and freedoms to show people use and view the different “permissions” (some legal, some illegal), BY DAVID EAVES, from

A couple of weeks ago this discussion on the spectrum of open passed through twitter. At one extreme you have “proprietary”, i.e. the commercially licensed use of other people’s resources covered by copyright or patents. Is this open? Well not in the sense of Open in OERs, but it is more open than material which is covered by non-disclosure agreements or trade secrets, and “fair use” or “fair dealing” may sometimes offer an exemption to needing a licence. So it makes sense to start the spectrum of openness here. Then you move to more liberal licences, say Creative Commons Licenses with ND or NC restrictions, through Share Alike to the most liberal attribution-only (CC:BY) and unrestricted (CC:0) licences. And then you pass into illegal use which ignores property rights, for personal use, for sharing (piracy) or claims that something is what it isn’t (counterfeiting).

When using, sharing and repurposing resources, teachers tend to work in the part of the spectrum spanning from proprietary through to the ignoring of property rights. It is interesting to reflect that much technical effort has been spent on facilitating the former (think Athens, Shibboleth Access Management Federation, and single sign-on solutions for identification, authentication and authorisation), political effort on legitimising some of the latter (e.g. use of orphan works, exemptions for text mining) and educational effort on avoiding what is not legitimate. One of the benefits of the OER/Open Access approach is in avoiding effort.

The ways of being open

That all focusses on open access to and use of resources, but there are other ways of being open, seen in terms such as “open development” “open practice” “open university” and even “open prison” which all have something to do with who you allow to participate in what. There is much gnashing of teeth when this sense of openness gets confused with openness of access and use; for example complaints that a standard isn’t open because it costs money or that an online course isn’t open because the resources used cannot be copied. Yes you could spend the rest of your life trying to distinguish between “open” “free” and “libre”, but in real life words don’t align with nice neat categories of meaning like that.

I don’t think participation has to be open to everyone for a process to be described as open. As with openness in access and use, openness in participation can happen to various extents: towards one end of the spectrum, participation in IMS specification development is open to anyone who pays to be a member, ISO standardization processes are open to any national standardization body; wikipedia is an obvious example of a more open approach.

This form of openness is really interesting to me because I think that through sharing the development of resources we may see an improvement in their quality. I think that the OER work to date has largely missed this. And incidentally, having a hand in the development of a resource makes someone more likely to use that resource.

Activities involved in education

I think this picture does a reasonable job of showing the range of activities that may be involved in education, and I’ll stress from the outset that they don’t all have to be, some forms of education will only involve one or two of these activities.

The range of activities related to education.

The range of activities related to education.

Running down the diagonal you have the core processes of formal education (but note well: this isn’t a waterfall project plan, I’m not saying each one happens when the other is complete): policy at a national through to institutional level on how institutions are run, for example who gets to learn what and how, and who pays for it; administration, dealing with recruitment, admissions, retention, progression, graduation, timetabling, reporting, and so on; teaching, to use an old-fashioned term to include mentoring and all non-instructivist activities around the deliberate nurturing of knowledge; learning, which may be the only necessary activity here; assessment, not just summative, but also formative and diagnostic–remember, this isn’t a waterfall; and accreditation, saying who learnt what. Around these you have academic and business topics that inform or influence these processes: politics, management studies, pedagogy, psychology, philosophy, library functions, and Human Resource functions such as recruitment and staff development.

Open Education

OER interest tends to focus on the teaching, learning, assessment nexus at the middle of this picture, but Open Education should be, and is, wider. Maybe it would be useful to try to map where some of the other open endeavours fit. Open Badges, for example sit squarely on accreditation. Open Educational Practice sits somewhere around teaching and pedagogy. Open Access to research outputs sits roughly where OER does, but also with added implications to pedagogy, psychology, management and philosophy as research fields. Open research in general sits with these research fields but is also a useful way of learning. Open data is a bit tricky since it depends what you do with it, but the linked-up veni challenge submissions showed interesting ideas around library functions such as resource discovery, and around policy and administration, and learning analytics kind of comes under teaching. Similarly with Open Source Software and Open Standards, they cover pretty much everything on the main diagonal from Admin to assessment (including library). And MOOCs? well, the openness is in admission policy, so I’ve put them there. I suspect there is a missing “open learning” that sits over learning and covers informal education and much of what the original cMOOC pioneers were interested in.

How various open endeavours relate to  education to give open education.

How various open endeavours relate to education to give open education.


Embed innovation or implant potential?

This thought on etextbooks is an overflow from a conversation I was having on skype with Li and Tore about a workshop aimed at scoping what we would like the etextbooks of the future to look like. We were talking about how the idea of a textbook–its role in teaching and learning and hence (perhaps) its nature–was different in different cultures (Europe, US, Asia) and educational settings (school, higher education), when Tore said something along the lines of “why are are discussing this, shouldn’t we be talking about educational requirements”. Of course we should be talking about educational requirements and how they might be met by technologies such as ebooks, but I think there is more than that. My immediate reply was that by defining an area of interest as “etextbooks” we were implying a continuity with textbooks. I don’t think continuity implies a simple like-for-like replacement because I think the potential for etextbooks is far greater than that for paper textbooks, so moving to etextbooks should radically shift the trajectory of change. But the implication seems to be that etextbooks will pick up where paper text books leave off. That, I think is different from 20 or so years ago when we were talking about how computer based learning (or more recently online courses and technology enhanced learning) marked a step change in how education was delivered. In that case much of the talk was about how technology will radically change education. Even if my characterisation of the two cases as opposing is a bit crude (as it is), it’s worth comparing the two approaches. I’ll do that here, just briefly.

The technology-will-revolutionise-education approach runs the risk of alienating the people who you most need on your side if that revolutionary change is to be an improvement, that is the teachers and students. I remember we used to talk about technology as a Trojan Horse for introducing pedagogic improvement in HE, something that I stopped doing when I went to a presentation where the speaker pointed out that the Trojan Horse was an act of war in the context of a bloody siege, and perhaps that isn’t the way learning technologists should approach teachers. More importantly, introducing technology probably isn’t the best way to approach improving education. Introducing technology is not straightforward, it will take attention away from other matters: whatever the initial intent, it will distract from thinking about teaching and learning. If you want to improve education you should focus on that and probably not do something else that is really difficult in it’s own right at the same time.

So the start-with-something-familiar approach has an advantage here in that it simply focuses on planting a technology with higher potential into existing practice. The risk is that substiution is seen as as all that needs to be done, or that requirements that arise from this objective are over prioritised. For example, I have seen requirements for page-faithful display (i.e. the ability to reproduce on the ebook reader exactly what would be on paper) and page numbers as requirements for etextbooks. They may be desirable for marketing purposes, and there are real functional requirements relating to how content is presented and how it may be referenced, but building-in these restrictions as requirements would, in my view, be a mistake. Let’s have a strategy where we aim to embed but with a view to enhancing.

A triangle of objectives for etextbook technology; from the bottom: cost, availability, portability, functionality, innovation.

The path forward suggested for the US by the Educause/Internet 2 pilot etextbook pilot. Start with a basis aimed at increasing adoption and move forward to improvements in functionality and transformation.
Image from Grajek, Susan, Understanding what higher education needs from e-textbooks: an EDUCAUSE/Internet2 pilot (Research Report), EDUCAUSE July 2013.

I think this is the approach which is suggested by the recent report on the Educause/Internet2 pilots Understanding what higher education needs from e-textbooks, summarised in the image on the right. I must admit that I find this somewhat depressing, I am interested in getting to the peak of that pyramid as quickly as possible, but I would rather get there with teachers and learners than to be touting some theoretical improvement that is divorced from real teaching and learning. And of course, it’s important to be thinking from the outset what functionality and innovation should be built once the technology is in people’s hands.

I am presenting a session at Alt-C 2013 entitled Into the Mainstream? New developments in eTextBooks next month where I hope to discuss ideas like this.

Heads up for HEDIIP

A while back I summarised the input about semantics and academic coding that Lorna and I had made on behalf of Cetis for a study on possible reforms to JACS, the Joint Academic Coding System. That study has now been published.

JACS is mainatained by HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) and UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) as a means of classifying UK University courses by subject; it is also used by a number of other organisations for classification of other resources, for example teaching and learning resources. The report (with appendices) considers the varying requirements and uses of subject coding in HE and sets out options for the development of a replacement for JACS.

Of course, this is all only of glancing interest, until you realise that stuff like Unistats and the Key Information Set (KIS) are powered by JACS.
- See more at Followers of the apocalypse

If you’re not sure why this should interest you (and yet for some reason have read this far) David Kernohan has written what I can only describe as an appreciation of the report, Hit the road JACS, from which the quote above is taken.

hediip_logoTo move forward from this and the other reports commissioned from the Redesigning the HE data landscape study, the Higher Education Data and Information Improvement Programme (HEDIIP) is being established to enhance the arrangements for the collection, sharing and dissemination of data and information about the HE system. Follow them on twitter.

Three levels of design and innovation

An electronics company has just won a patent claim against another electronics company. It’s not relevant to this post which companies and what patent were involved, it just served to remind me once again of the different types of innovation that are subject to these patent claims–where there is a patent there is at least a claim of innovation, and that is what interests me. Specifically, I find it interesting that some of these patent claims are for antenna design, others certain user interactions, and that links to an idea I heard presented by Adam Procter a year or so ago which has stuck with me,–that there are three levels to design and innovation:

level one: the base technology. In phones this would be the physical design of antennae, the compression algorithms used for audio and video, the physics of the various sensors, and so on.

level two: the product. That is putting all the base technologies to create features of a working unit that (if it is to be successful) fulfills a need.

level three: user experience. Making the use of those features a pleasure.

I’ve found this useful in thinking about what it is that Apple gets right compared to, say, Nokia. It’s my impression (and I think the various patent claims bear this out) that Apple are very good at innovating for user experience whereas Nokia and others did a lot of the work somewhere around technologies and product.

I’ve also found it enlightening to reflect on just how hard it is to work out from the technology alone what would be a set of features that make up a successful product. I was using CCD cameras for science experiments in the early 90s, when the technology had been around twenty-odd years, and never once did it occur to me that it would be a really good idea to put one in a phone. Light sensors so that your curtains would open and close automatically, sure they were certain to come, but a camera in your phone!–why would anyone want that?

Put those together, and I think what you get is a picture of some people who are good at spotting (or just prepared to experiment with) how technologies can do something useful, and others who are good at spotting what is required in order to make those features pleasant enough to use. So Diamond and Creative and others showed that really small MP3 players were devices that people might find useful (others before them had put together advances in audio compression and storage technology to show such devices were possible), Apple made something that people wanted to use. What was it that made the difference? The integration with iTunes maybe?

Sometimes identifying the useful feature comes before the technology that makes it usable, at least to a certain extent: Palm showed how touch screen devices could be useful but Apple waited until the technology (capacitive rather than resistive sensors) was available to give the user experience they wanted. Of course that area of human endeavour which puts creation of innovative products completely ahead of technology developments is called science fiction–how’s that flying car coming along?