Minutes of 28 November 2000


John Bell (UfI), Irena Bosworth (BECTa), Eddie Boyle (University of Edinburgh), Sandy Buchanan (SCRAN), Lorna Campbell (University of Strathclyde), Sarah Currier (HILT Project), Charles Duncan (University of Edinburgh), Geoff Goolnik (Aberdeen College), Milton Grimleigh (QCA), Rachel Heery [RH] (UKOLN), Neil McFarlane [NM] (Scottish Executive), Paul Miller [PM] (UKOLN), Anup Pradhan (EDINA), Kirk Ramsay (SUfI), Bruce Royan – Chair [BR] (SCRAN), Paul Sandford (SBU), Aida Slavic (SBU), Alan Slevin (Learning & Teaching Scotland), Matthew Stiff (mda), Cate Thomas (Open University), Patrick Towell (Simulacra), Graham Turnbull (SCRAN), Bill Urwin (South West Grid for Learning).


This meeting was arranged under the auspices of Interoperability Focus, and was Chaired by Bruce Royan of SCRAN. A venue was generously provided by SCRAN, with support from the Scottish Library and Information Council and the Scottish Executive Education Department.

Minutes of Last Meeting

Paul Miller apologised for the delay in producing minutes from the September meeting, and said that they would be available as soon as possible.

IMS Europe

The forthcoming launch of IMS Europe was announced. This event takes place in Madrid on the 16th and 17th of January 2001. Members who are interested in this development should contact Kevin Riley directly.

There was some discussion as to the relationship between the new IMS Europe and the larger IMS Global Learning Consortium, based in the USA. It was suggested that IMS Europe might bring a local voice to the standards-building effort, perhaps concentrating in areas such as the development of localised terminologies, previously identified as important by MEG. Nevertheless, MEG members were interested in the relative decision-making abilities of the two bodies, and wondered what might happen if they disagreed over the best solution to a problem.

MEG members expressed interest in exploring the potential of IMS Europe, and would welcome more information. A presentation at the next meeting by Kevin Riley, Paul Lefrere, or equivalent, might be useful. [ACTION: PM]

SCHEMAS and the MEG registry

Rachel Heery from UKOLN reported on progress to date with registering application profiles used by MEG members.

As background, Rachel outlined UKOLN's involvement in this area, firstly through the DESIRE project (and a UKOLN-led deliverable to create a Registry), and secondly through more recent work in the SCHEMAS project. Both DESIRE and SCHEMAS are funded by the European Commission.

At the September meeting, Rachel had asked for the names of individuals who would be prepared to contribute data to a registry for MEG. A number of names were forthcoming, and both the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative's Education working group proposal and the schema used by NGfL Scotland have been entered into the DESIRE registry.

The original intention had been to register MEG member schemas in the SCHEMAS project registry, which is more advanced and will ultimately utilise the Resource Description Framework (RDF) to allow flexible comparisons between schemas. Owing to the experimental nature of the SCHEMAS registry at present, though, it has been decided to enter more basic descriptions of schemas into the existing DESIRE registry for now. These may be migrated to the more advanced system at a later date.

Within the DESIRE registry software it is possible to explore registered schemas in a variety of ways. This functionality has already led to discussion on the MEG mailing list, with BECTa undertaking a mapping between their work and that of NGfL Scotland.

The greatest functionality comes in providing explicit mappings between one schema and another. This is done by means of mapping from each schema to ISO's Basic Semantic Registry (BSR), and then using it as an intermediary in comparing each schema. This process is currently labour intensive, and therefore possibly only worth undertaking on a limited number of relatively stable schemas. There are also doubts as to whether or not the BSR contains sufficient functionality in the area of educational resources, and UKOLN has already had to extend it in a number of places. Some members queried the utility of mapping through something as abstract as BSR at all, suggesting instead that all schemas simply map to the Dublin Core or to IMS/IEEE LOM.

It was AGREED that continued work on the registry was useful, and MEG members were asked to consider submitting their information to the registry [ACTION: ALL]. A number of members expressed concerns in registering their evolving schemas with the registry. It was agreed, though, that the most useful time for other MEG members to be seeing such schema is whilst they are being developed, so that there is real potential for changing things in order to align more closely with what other people are doing. It was AGREED that draft schema should be registered, but also requested that the status of such schema should be more clearly labelled in the registry application [ACTION: RH]. It was also suggested that modification dates for schemas be more visible in the registry.

Virtual Teaching Centre

Irena Bosworth from BECTa reported on the Virtual Teaching Centre. This work parallels QCAs efforts to redevelop the National Curriculum site, and points towards greater deployment of common approaches across DfEE and related agencies. The VTC utilises XML and adopts an approach compatible with Dublin Core, the LOM, and the National Curriculum.

(English) National Curriculum Website

Patrick Towell from Simulacra outlined the developments currently being undertaken on the QCA's new National Curriculum website. This new site is still under development, and not currently available to the public.

The approach adopted makes use of XML, and is based upon an extended Dublin Core. Significant use is made of various locally defined controlled terminologies.

The site is tied closely to the English National Curriculum, and Subject Officers have had significant input into development of terminologies. The site is designed in such a way as to allow links from sections of the National Curriculum out to relevant resources, both commercial and freely available. These resources can be evaluated to a certain extent based upon a peer rating mechanism. Large publishing bodies can provide information in the form of RDF, whereas smaller bodies can either make use of a web-based tagging tool to describe their resources, or ask for this to be done on their behalf. The tagging tool allows for quite detailed definition of subject and coverage for a resource, and MEG members questioned the feasibility of having any large body of material accurately tagged in this way.

Educational publishers are apparently interested in the potential of this site, and the access it offers to a 'captive' market. It might be interesting to explore the relationship, therefore, between the National Curriculum tools and those that publishers will be using for other ends as a result of ONIX International developments.

There was some discussion of the approach taken, and its applicability to other areas of the educational sector. It was felt, for example, that an approach based more upon learning outcomes would be required for UfI, SUfI, and the like. Patrick mentioned that an earlier version of the tagging tool had permitted such an approach, but that this had been removed as it was proving too complex to use and manage across the breadth of the Curriculum.

Questions were also raised as to the size of the resulting metadata record, with the potential for it being larger than the object it described. Within the National Curriculum approach, the metadata is held separately from the resource, and will therefore not significantly increase the size of the resource being downloaded. This separation, though, potentially makes the development of a system based upon Adaptive Learning Outcomes difficult; in such a system, the learner is directed to their next task or package of learning based upon the result obtained in the current resource.

The MEG Concord

This document was discussed, with a view to agreeing any necessary changes and beginning the process of signing up. Following discussion, a revised version of the Concord was approved, and SCRAN, UfI and SUfI signed up on the spot. A programme is underway to add signatures to the Concord, and all members are invited to sign, and to advocate signing to those organisations with which they have some influence. [ACTION: ALL]

Any Other Business

It was suggested that MEG should consider formally contacting funding and grant-giving bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, NOF, and the national education departments. There is a role to play here in persuading such bodies to build standards-based requirements into their awards, along similar lines to the approach currently being taken by NOF's digitisation programme.

It was suggested that MEG might be seen as an authoritative source of information on educational metadata and related issues for those public sector bodies covered by the e-Government Interoperability Framework. An approach through the Office of the e-Envoy and the Information Age Government Champions within the Scottish Executive's Education Department and DfEE might determine how such an approach might be received. [ACTION: BR, PM, NM, ...]

Date of Next Meeting

A venue was not selected for the next meeting, but it was agreed that we should aim to meet in or around March 2001. Offers of a venue capable of seating and feeding us all should be directed to Paul. [ACTION: ALL]