Saturday, 26 February 2005

Meta Meta Meta Data Draft 0.3

Previous drafts are 0.1, 0.1b and 0.2.

A theory of metadata

Say we have a collection of learning resources. Let call it S with elements s1, s2, s3, ... sn.

S = { s1, s2, s3, ... sn} --- (1)

Now, apply a "meta" operation, μj on each of the element in S which will produce a set M with elements m1j, m2j, m3j, ... mnj where m1j is the metadata of s1. These elements (m1j, m2j, m3j, ... mnj) are the metadata of the learning resources.

M = { m1j, m2j, m3j, ... mnj } where mijj(sj) μ sj ∈ S --- (2)

Note that elements of mij are data as well. These resources may themselves be learning resources and hence we can apply "meta" operation on these as well to produce another set of metadata. This is infinitely recursive.

What is interesting, and perhaps confusing, is that there exist more than one meta operation. In fact, there are infinite numbers of meta operations.

∃ j for μj where j ∈ {0,1,..,n,..} --- (3)

Explanation: Up to here, each element of any metadata schema (e.g. LOM or DC) is a meta operation because the result of the operation of each of the element is a specific characteristic of the underlying resource. For example, DC-creator extracts the "creator property" of the learning resource.

An agreed set of meta operations is a metadata schema, ∏.

∏ = { μ1, μ2,.., μn}

Applying all or some of the operations in ∏ on a learning resource produce a metadata record for the learning resource.

Since metadata record may be learning resources, applying all or some of the operations in ∏ is allowed. This is infinitely recursive. [Note: this concept goes beyond just a single reification, e.g. when the metadata operation is the DC creator. A second application of DC creator on the metadata is the creator of the metadata (not the original learning resource). Hence we can also describe the creator of the creator of the metadata of the learning resource.]

A subset of elements Si in a set of learning resources may have an easily identified common characteristic or property. We further define an operation, Λ, as an operation on a set Si which will extract the common characteristics/properties among all elements in the set Si to produce ζ.

Λ( Si)=ζ --- (4)

Explanation:A subset of learning resources, e.g. thesis, will have common characteristics such as "degree awarded", "Institute granting the award" or even some characteristics of the content structure. By applying an Λ operation on a set of learning resources, some learning resources will fail the Λ operation (i.e. ζ = null) while some will produce a valid value (e.g. thesis). Here we are only interested in the cases where ζ ≠ ∅ by looking at more general characteristic that applies to all learning resources or a subset of the learning resources.

Each meta operation will also produce a set of metadata carrying the implicit characteristics of the meta operation. We can

Λ( Mi)=ζ --- (5)

If all possible value of ζ is finite, we say that the meta operation μ is listable and can be constrained by a finite set of value. This set of value can be defined by a set of controlled vocabulary. In other situation, ζ may have been well defined in other community, we can leverage on the work of these communities and create better inter-operability.

Explanation: The remark on this note "In education, some resources are inter-related (e.g., academic papers may be related by citations; a PhD thesis may be related by some commonly accepted formats). In other situations, there may be dependency among resources (e.g., a lesson plan may include dependent resources such as reading material, testing items, examples)" is an application of equation 5 above.

Wednesday, 23 February 2005


In my post yesterday, I jokingly predicted that video-casting may be coming soon. This was shared by Robin Goods (OK, his was published on 18th Feb, that's 19th Australian time - so he made the prediction before me).

We like to activate all our senses, audio, video and others. This driving force of video-casting is part of our human nature.

As Robin pointed out, the production side of video-casting is becoming ubiquitous - mobile phones increasing come with built-in video camera. He quoted his collection of images and videos released to the public free soon after the tsunami on Boxing day last year. (BTW, the first photo on the page WAS not a tsunami photo, as correctly labelled, it is the backward flow of Qian Tang Jiang River in China.)

At the receiving end, there are, again, a range of devices. There is even a blog focussed on portable video player news. There are flash-memory based players, with 2.2 inches screen; or cheap ones (it said it would cost under USD100 and available in the 2003 Holiday Shopping season. I think it may be a vaporware!) There are hard-disk based video player with screen up to 8 inches.

Video-casting has advantages and limitations over podcasting. With images and video, some content/context can be explained/reviewed better. I don't think I will use a video-casting a lot myself because my motion sickness problem which will limit my use of video-casting during travelling which would be the best use of the technology.

Podcasting and video-casting is a big step forward in delivering content, but again is a step backward in pedagogy sense. This is a broadcasting mode (hence casting, I suppose!). But again, every device and technique will have its value when properly utilized.

Tuesday, 22 February 2005


Derek Morrison has a series of posts on "Recording online audio interactions - the easy way?" Part 1, part 2 and part 3. Amy Gahran has a post on How to Receive and Listen to Podcasts. Now, we can quite easily create Podcast (see Podcast defined for what is a Podcast) and subscript to them and listen whenever we want to.

I have motion sickness. I cannot read while on a moving vehicle. That would be the best time to listen to this interesting edutainment. The intro music (usually there is one), the voice of the author and the background sound gave you an audio context seems to be better than just reading. This is also a great way to use up your excess bandwidth.

Reading is about 10 times faster than speaking. So, listening to a medium (which if it is available in text) in order to grasp the same amount of information, podcast is 10 times less efficient time wise. Text is much cheaper to deliver - both computationally and communicationally (ok, we have excess computational and communication bandwidth!). So, why we still prefer listening to podcast?

I believe that it is basic human nature that we constantly seek new information, new stimulation and enlightenment. We like to "experience" new things. So there is a "novel" factor here for the podcast. But more fundamentally, podcast gives us an experience which is unique. Not just reading dull text. It is easier to connect to the author via the voice (may be we shall see video-casting soon). Information delivery alone cannot explain the uptake of podcast. The additional value of podcast over the same written text, while inferior in efficiency for the recipients to gather the information, is superior in terms of delivering an experience - the feeling of a more intimate relationship with the author.

That brings me back to my notion of advancing e-learning as an experience industry, rather than a content-creation, content-delivery and distribution. It is the delivery of experience.

Thursday, 17 February 2005

what it means to be literate in the digital age

I especially like the notion that digital divide is not just technology.

Given all the best technology, if a student cannot effectively manage and process information through the technology, there is not much help here.

Do we have "proficiency divide" among the students? Sure!

Is testing the best method to measure the divide? If yes, how the scale is designed? What are measured? When should it be measured? How long will the scale be valid?

How can we bridge any proficiency gap, if any?

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

The Hybrid Challenge: Activities, Approaches, Pitfalls

E-learning Queen, aka Susan Smith Nash, posted a fairly comprehensive administrative guide for teachers and lecturers to plan and structure a teacher-centred blended learning situation.

Most universities, if not all, have some sort of LMS for teachers and lecturers to use. Some even may mandate that the LMS must be used in their courses. This is a real challenge to really use the face to face and online environment effectively.

Online environment offers so much flexibilities to the students that it is compelling - anytime anywhere. Comparatively, face to face is an expensive meeting and it is very important to make sure that the additional value (paid both by the students and instructors) has good return. In order to understand that, I would start by looking at the things which the online environment cannot provide or is inadequate. I would make use of the rare and expensive face to face opportunities to provide such things.

Take online role play simulation as an example. We run pre-briefing*. During pre-briefing, we aim to achieve two things:

1. The students are introduced to the system, ensure that they can log on, they know how to navigate and generally overcome their technical anxiety. We make sure that each and everyone is able to get onto the simulation, can log in using their own user name and password and can interact via the environment. (Hence there is great value to do this face to face in a computer laboratory environment.)

2. Orientation to the new form of learning. Some students may have anxiety when they are taught in a non-traditional way, especially if this online role play simulation activity is part of their assessment. Proper orientation, telling them in clear terms what is expected of them, which and how activities within the simulation will be assessed and most important of all, give the student a "face" that there is human moderator behind the system who will monitor the simulation as well as give them help.

The simulation is then conducted online. The online simulation leverages on several key advantages of the online environment. Being asynchronous, the students can think through, research, plan and formulate best strategy to tackle problems and issues presented to them in the simulation. They can look at the textbook, they can discuss with their team members (online or face to face). Learning is now happening.

As role play simulation is a mentally intensive. After playing a role for a couple of weeks, it is very important to de-role and de-brief. A lot of emotions may have built up and this is best released in a face to face environment. In most cases, we ask the students to dress up as their role and come to a meeting (which is planned within the online simulation environment). This is kind of the finale of the role play simulation. The last stages are acted out and the emotions released. This also signals an official end of the role play AND the end of the role the student is playing.

Other necessary debriefing steps may be continued online, e.g. writing up a reflective account of what has happened in the simulation, how the player has applied the theory he has learnt, how effective is the strategy and so on. However, these activities no long take place as roles, but as a learner.

Students appreciate our arrangement. We recognised that their time are valuable and meeting face to face is an expensive exercise. The first face to face meeting is obviously full of expectation and anticipation. The last face to face meeting is fun, engaging and rewarding.

I believe it is the way blended learning should be - recognise the extra effort the learners have to put in in order to meet face to face. We should design the face to face meeting around the learning in the online world. Make use of the characteristics of these different situations and do high value activities in face to face meetings.

*See our procedure in conducting online role play simulation at a previous post here.

JSON and its implementation gotcha

Douglas Crockford stopped by and leave a comment to my post of JSON and its implementation gotcha. Woo Hoo!

That's what I wrote:

1. Internet Explorer generally fails to initialise an object in JSON notation. However, it loads an array of objects correctly. So if you want to initialise a JSON object in cross browser application, use this pattern:
i.e. transfer using an array instead of an object, or add the square brackets at the client side before conversion.

2. There are other even lighter weight mechanism for transferring a set of data of the same object. (by not repeating the membersName many times..., but require some software support at the receiving end.)

3. the evaluated object does not have any methods. It is data only. This can proved to be quite difficult to use the object effectively.

4. Eval is a depreciated Javascript method. :-(

and this is his comment:

1. I have not found this to be a problem.

2. By light-weight, we are talking about programmer efficiency, not payload size.

3. This is not a problem. Think of a JSON object as a sort of hash table. Uncoupling from a brittle class structure can be more efficient in many applications, particularly in class-free languages like JavaScript.

4. The object.eval() method is deprecated, but the global eval function is not. :-)

By the way, his JavaScript Lint "is a JavaScript program that looks for problems in JavaScript programs." I used it together with HTMLKit and have healed a lot of my headaches. Instruction to install of JS Lint with HTMLKit can be found here.

Monday, 14 February 2005

Interoperability state of play at IMS Melbourne meeting

Here is another blog entry related to Melbourne's !dea workshop. But it did not cover the metadata workshop I participated which is covered here.

Saturday, 12 February 2005


Finally, I have a bit of time to read George Siemens article and posted a comment or two in Learning for 2020.

Where do you publish your research output?

I was asked this question by a librarian during the !dea Metadata workshop.

I asked her back, "Where did you see any of my research output?".

She said, "your blog".

I said, "my blog".

That aside, I do believe that publishing one's research output in blog has several advantages if you do not need the academic points for your promotion (and I don't):
1. timely
2. at least you know someone will have read it (unlike paper based publishing, other than the reviewer and editor, no one may have read your paper)
3. cut down from the "academic" fillers (I know a number of word-crafts who are so skilled in recycling fillers that if you read one of their papers, you have read ALL of their papers!)
4. conversational

Friday, 11 February 2005

Metadata framework

I attended the Melbourne !dea metadata workshop chaired by Jon Mason yesterday. The workshop is covered by Derek's Blog. See here and here.

The first part of the workshop, we heard from leaders of current DEST funded projects on their metadata implementation issues and experience. It was eye-opening.

The second part of the workshop, we brainstormed, trying to start the process of developing a "generation-2" metadata framework in response to the ISO SC36 initiatives. The e-learning Australian Standards Committee (IT19-1) will be drafting our Australian response in the next few months.

Being a framework, I believe we should not get bolted down by the details. We should examine the overall metadata requirements of all educational institutions. We should then "dice and slice" the requirements and identify those which should be deal with by the "education community" and those which may overlap with other communities of practice. I further believe that we should concentrate our effort on those educational specific requirements and collaborate with others on the common parts.

Several different ways of dice and slice were suggested. At this point, I still prefer my own version which may change when I think it through again.

Here are my board grouping of the functional requirements of metadata in order to support the metadata needs of any educational institutions.

  • Support Resource Discovery

  • Intellectual Property & Digital Right Management

  • Learning Objectives & Competency

  • Context Descriptions

  • Trust-related Descriptions

  • People1

  • Preservation requirements

  • Resource dependence

  • Annotation/management of metadata

  • Linkages and aggregations2

  • 1By people, I meant both the intended audience and the role of the creator when the resource is generated. Let consider the role of the creator when digital data is generated. What I am trying to say here is that we should not narrowly define educational resources to those generated by institutes and "teachers". Students generated data, during their learning process, may have re-use value that some sort of metadata attachment may be appropriate (especially when the cost of generating and storing these metadata are near zero).

    1. as a record of student's work for subsequent verification (may be for qualification or for later skill matching)

    2. for researchers to analysis the learning process

    3. for researchers to analysis the related content. For example, for item analysis in item bank in formative evaluation.

    4. The output of Master/PhD level (strictly speaking is student's work) is of high value to the global "knowledge pool"

    2may somehow expose citations/bibliography within the resource in order to trace development history of the subject domain (e.g.)

    There are significant overlapping of elements which may serve more than one functions in the above scheme. In order to ensure orthogonality of elements, some significant decisions and discussions need to take place.

    One of the thing I like to do in the near future is to apply my meta-meta-meta data model and see what I can get out of this in the education context. Please keep watching this space.

    Tuesday, 8 February 2005

    Kung Hei Fat Choy

    Wednesday is Chinese New Year. May I take this opportunity to say "Kung Hei Fat Choy" to you.

    The single character above is the word "luck". It is upside down. Some of us do this deliberately because "inverted" in Chinese sounds like "arrive". Hence, it means "luck arrive". Since we don't have tense, so it applies to all possible combination of is, will be, was, has etc.

    The Fai-Chun on the left literally is "one sail wind smooth" meaning smooth sailing. The one on the right is "heart/mind think thing success" meaning whatever you wish will come true.

    On the left: "out in safely (last two characters combined"
    On the right: "business (first two characters) prosperous (last two characters)

    n the left: "as you wish (first two characters) lucky and in harmony(last two characters combined"
    On the right: "body (as in health)(first two characters) healthy(last two characters)

    On the left: "peace (first two characters) make money(last two characters combined"
    On the right: "everything (first two characters) better than you wish for (last two characters)

    On the left: "luck longevity health calm"
    On the right: "study(first two characters) improve (last two characters)

    On the left: "dragon horse spirited(last two characters)"
    On the right: "your whole family(first two characters) safe (last two characters)

    Wishing you all a happy and wealthy Chinese New Year of the Rooster.

    Saturday, 5 February 2005

    What will her future be - 2?

    Couple of months ago, I asked What will her future be? as a way to try to look into the future and hope to find a direction to educate my daughter.

    Starting from an economical view, I have concluded our future in the developed world is

    a future where
  • repetitive tasks will be replaced by computer and machinery,

  • creativity and innovation are critical,

  • communication skill, team work and problem solving skill are important,

  • productivity must be so high that an average people will support the needs of parents who had inadequately funded their retirement and children of their own

  • Today, I am not any wiser. However an article in McKinseyQuarterly Don't blame trade for US job losses points out that in USA (as an example of developed countries), the manufacturing job market share has been falling for at least half a century - and I believe it will continue to fall. Godfrey Parkin also shared my concern and noted that

    To some, this was going to be The American Century with the US as the hub of a booming knowledge economy. Lower-paid menial jobs would go, and Americans would upgrade to higher-paid knowledge jobs. George Bush, when asked what he would say to someone who had just lost his job to someone in India, said he’d give that poor worker some money to get a better education in a community college. But many of those losing jobs to offshore companies don’t need community college educations, because they are already graduate engineers or PhDs in computer science. The White House has become an Ivory Tower.

    and further worries that instead of "The American Century", it may become "The Chinese Century":

    A very high percentage of everything that US consumers buy comes from a factory in China. What happens when Chinese entrepreneurs wake up to e-commerce and disintermediate the entire US retail sector? Why would you pay $500 for a designer suit at Macy's when you can get the same suit from the same factory online for $50? $35 for a blender at Target, or $5 for the same thing online? A couple of Chinese Amazon.coms and a Chinese FedEx could cripple one of the few sectors in the US where employment is currently growing. And it could happen overnight.

    I am delighted to heard Richard Florida from ITconversation talking about The Rise of the Creative Class. A light seems to shine through. This century is a new century where the economy is no longer driven by manufacturing. How important creativity will be in the future economy is anybody's guess. If Richard Florida is right, at least we should start cultivating creativity, diversity, communication skills and in dependent learning ability in our next generation.

    Tuesday, 1 February 2005

    Game and Learning

    Michael Feldstein did a book recommendation on "A Theory of Fun for Game Design". He wrote:

    Most interesting of all, though, is that the book is really about teaching and learning as much as it is about games.

    Couple of days ago, I have pointed to another article published by Gamasutra Educational Games Don't Have to Stink! which have suggestions to create educational games.

    These are writing from experienced game designers.

    On the other hand, we have also writing from educators interested in using games in teaching and learning, such as: What Video Games Have to Tell Us About Learning and Literacy: A Brief Look.

    A new study is forming, see LUDOLOGY and its website

    I also found the following interesting websites:
    Game Research with a collection of good articles on games, edutainment and education.
    Tom's Phd website which is
    A blog documenting my work on the rise of the global computer game 'audience'.

    And, of course, my own work on understanding how game can be used to drive interesting role play simulations at