Last week in the vuDAT building at Michigan State University, a group of developers interested in educational search and discovery got together to contribute code (in what’s commonly called a code sprint) to Creative Commons’ DiscoverEd project. Readers interested in the technical details about our work last week can find daily posts on CC Labs — Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.
DiscoverEd is a semantic enhanced search prototype. What does that mean practically? Let’s say you’re a ninth grade biology teacher interested in finding education resources about cell organelles to hand out to students. How would you go about that?
If you’re web savvy, you might open up a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing and search for “cell organelles”. You’d find a lot of resources (Google alone finds over 11 million pages!), but which do you choose to investigate further? It’s time consuming and difficult to sift through search results for resources that have certain properties you might be interested in, like being appropriate for 9th graders, being under a CC license that allows you to modify the resource and share changes, or being written in English or Spanish, for example. As you throw up your hands in dismay, you might think “Can’t someone do this for me?!”
DiscoverEd is an educational search prototype that does exactly that, by searching metadata about educational resources. It provides a way to sift through search results based on specific qualities like what license it’s under, the education level, or subject.
Compare search results for “cell organelles” in Google, Yahoo, Bing, and now in DiscoverEd. You can see that finding CC licensed educational resources is friendlier because of the available metadata accompanying each result.
While most search engines rely solely on algorithmic analyses of resources, DiscoverEd can incorporate data provided by the resource publisher or curator. As long as curators and publishers follow some basic standards, metadata can be consumed and displayed by DiscoverEd. These formats (e.g. RDFa) allow otherwise unrelated educational projects, curators, and repositories to express facts about their resources in the same format so that tools (like DiscoverEd) can use that data for useful purposes (like search and discovery).
Creative Commons believes an open web following open standards leads to better outcomes for everyone. Our vision for the web is that everyone following interoperable standards, whether they be legal standards like the CC licenses or technical standards like CC REL and RDFa, will result in a platform that enables social and technical innovation in the same way that HTTP and HTML enabled change. DiscoverEd is a project that allows us to explore ways to improve search for OER, and simultaneously demonstrate the utility of structured data.
Continued development of DiscoverEd is supported by the AgShare project, funded by a grant from The Gates Foundation. Creative Commons thanks MSU, vuDAT, MSU Global, and the participants in the DiscoverEd sprint last week for their support.