Gerry Barnard (Edexcel), Irena Bosworth (BECTa), John Brown (BECTa), Clive Church (North Lincolnshire College), Mike Collett (Education Online), Roger Davies (QCA), David Dawson (re:source), Kevin Donovan (FEDA), Eleanor Emberson (Scottish Executive), Elaine Fulton (SLIC), Alice Grant (Alice Grant Consulting), Rachel Heery (UKOLN), Peter Hunter (SOCITM), Steve Jeyes (North Lincolnshire College), Terry Keefe (UfI), Paul Lefrere (CETIS), Paul Miller (UKOLN), Kevin Riley (Fretwell Downing Education), Bruce Royan - Chair (SCRAN), Alan Slevin (NGfL Scotland), Matthew Stiff (mda), Patrick Towell (Simulacra), Robin Wilson (DeCoslo), Susi Woodhouse (re:source), Cris Woolston (University of Hull).
This meeting was arranged under the auspices of Interoperability Focus, and was Chaired by Bruce Royan of SCRAN. A venue was generously provided by Resource: the Council for Museums Archives and Libraries.
In an age of increasing mobility, and with Governments' agendas emphasising choice, inclusion, and Learning for Life, it is becoming increasingly likely that the Learner will routinely interact with learning resources and descriptions of such resources offered to them by more than one of the resource banks currently operating in the UK educational market. Under such a model, it becomes important for these resource creators, providers, describers and aggregators to seek compatible solutions to a set of problems associated with the description and delivery of the resources themselves, and the description of the educational markets to which the resources apply.
This meeting aimed to build bridges between a number of the current players in the field, drawn from primary, secondary, tertiary and continuing education, as well as from relevant standards initiatives and a number of related content providers. It resulted in the identification of an ongoing programme of work, and an agreement from the key communities present to actively work together on common solutions within a framework of established and emerging international standards. The meeting itself was also formalized, with an agreement that its function continue through the formation of an open Metadata for Education Group (MEG) to address the common needs of the UK's diverse educational communities in this area.
Given the broad cross-sectoral nature of the attendees, time was spent on introductions. These introductions encompassed the educational sectors within which attendees were active, the standards that they were using, developing or considering, and any particular problems that they were facing. Further information will be available from the Register of Participating Organisations [ACTION: ALL] and the Standards & Practices Bibliography [ACTION: ALL].
Key themes which recurred throughout the introductions included:
During discussion, there was a great deal of emphasis upon the need for practical examples and pragmatic solutions. Although, for example, all present were keen upon supporting the evolution of emerging international standards, there was also a clear feeling that the need for solutions was urgent, and that there might therefore be the need to adopt less than perfect pragmatic solutions in the short term, whilst working towards international, 'official', solutions in the longer term. Where international standards do not exist, the group might work to define standards of its own, and progress these through BSI into the international arena.
Given the differing remits of the bodies represented, there is often no clear source of authoritative advice for users and creators of content. In many cases, organisations are happy to be guided by others and often adopt the inadequate solutions they do due to poor or non-existent guidance from above. It was felt that an unambiguous source of such authoritative advice was urgently required, and that such a source would act on its own where no other body existed, or assist to ensure common approaches where existing organisations were already in a position to set policy and direction.
In discussing conformance, it was suggested that the grant-giving bodies present have an important role to play, given their ability to make allocation of funds dependent upon compliance with an agreed set of standards. It was recognised, though, that adherence to a large set of standards or application of descriptive standards at extremely fine levels of granularity can be prohibitively expensive, and work is needed to develop guidelines on the most useful detail with which to describe learning objects.
There was widespread agreement amongst those present as to the need for some continuing activity along the lines of this meeting, although it was stressed that the work should be well defined [ACTION: PM, with suggestions sought from ALL], that funding may be required from one or more sources to do the job properly, and that we should avoid duplicating the efforts of other bodies such as BSI's IST/43, Learning Technology.
In advance of this scoping exercise, it was agreed to formalise the group, now called the Metadata for Education Group (MEG), to schedule further meetings, and to embark upon a number of clearly identifiable early deliverables. The first of these deliverables include setting up an electronic mailing list for anyone interested in this topic [ACTION: PM], and setting up a website for the ongoing work of the group [ACTION: PM].
In the longer term, work is to begin on drafting a Concord which captures our agreement on a set of fundamental tenets for working together [ACTION: PM]. This Concord, to which it is hoped that all stakeholders will visibly sign up, will be made available on the group web site and actively publicised throughout the relevant stakeholder communities, Government, etc.
Work is also to begin on an introductory paper, laying out the main issues surrounding the description of learning resources, and examining the standards-based solutions available to do this [ACTION: PM].
Finally, clear consensus emerged as to the need for a single point to which practitioners from across UK education could turn for information on the standards in existence, issues related to their use, and examples of best practice and implementation. It was proposed that the new MEG site might serve as this location, but information will be needed in order to populate the relevant pages [ACTION: ALL].
The next full meeting is scheduled for Monday 11 September 2000. The meeting will be held in Manchester, in association with the ALT-C conference, and a venue will be selected nearer the time.
In addition, a smaller, more focussed, meeting has been suggested for Tuesday 25 July. This meeting is intended to review progress on deliverables such as the Concord document. Details will be clarified nearer the time, but it is hoped to hold this meeting in Edinburgh. Anyone interested in attending this meeting should contact Paul Miller [ACTION: ALL].