Resource profiles for learning materials

Stephen Downes has written a position paper which builds on his idea of Resource Profiles from 2003. The abstract runs:

Existing learning object metadata describing learning resources postulates descriptions contained in a single document. This document, typically authored in IEEE-LOM, is intended to be descriptively complete, that is, it is intended to contain all relevant metadata related to the resource. Based on my 2003 paper, Resource Profiles, an alternative approach is proposed. Any given resource may be described in any number of documents, each conforming to a specification relevant to the resource. A workflow is suggested whereby a resource profiles engine manages and combines this data, producing various views of the resource, or in other words, a set of resource profiles.

I’ve been interested in the idea of resource profiles since I first read about them, but more recently had them in mind while doing the Learning Materials Application Profile Scoping Study. Throughout that work we found heterogeneity to be a big theme: different metadata requirements and standards for different resource types, different requirements for supporting different activities, and information (potentially) available from a diverse range of systems. These all align well with what Downes’ says about resource profiles (and I wish I had said more along those lines in the report).

One thing I’ld like to see demonstrated is how you link all the information together. The same resource is going to be identified differently in different systems, and sometimes not at all. So if you have a video of a lecture you might want to pull in technical metadata from one system (and remember the same video may be available in different technical formats), licence metadata from another system which uses a different identifier, and link it to information about the course for which the lecture was delivered held in a system that doesn’t know about the video at all. How do you make and maintain these links? Some of the semantic web ideas will help here (e.g. providing ways of saying that the resource identified here and the resource identified there are the same as each other; or providing typed relations, “this resource was used in that course”). One of the positive things I’ve seen in the DC-Ed Application Profile and ISO-MLR Education work is that they are both building domain models that make these relationships explicit (see the DC-Ed model and ISO MLR model).

This work also reminds us that much of the educational information that we would like to gather relates not so much to the resource per se as to the use (intended or actual) or the resource in an educational setting. Maybe some of the work on tracking OER use could be helpful here: one of the challenges with tracking OERS is to discover when an OER has been by someone and what they used it for. If (and it is a very big if, it won’t happen accidentally) that leads you on to metadata about their use, then perhaps you could start to gather meaningful information about what education level the resource relates to, etc.