Educational metadata in use

L. Jay Wantz and Michael Miller

Intelligent Automation, Inc., Rockville, MD 20850, U.S.A. and

The traditional search and navigation techniques of the Web are wholly user-directed. The burden of pruning the search space is placed upon the user, and is a difficult, time-consuming, and often a (mostly) manual task. This can be particularly problematic when the user is under time, or learning and comprehension constraints, as in educational situations. This short paper describes how we have utilized metadata about educational Web resources to improve the search and navigation processes. In particular, we describe our education-related metadata dictionary, the Courseware Description Language (CDL), and its use within two applications: (1) COOL Links, a user-centered hypermedia link type; and (2) SeekEZ, a user-centered searching facility. We also provide a brief survey of the metadata efforts that have been useful to education and instruction.

Metadata; Education; Search; Hyperlinks; COOL links

1. Introduction

Today's Web community (including the W3C, the major browser makers, and the creators of the search engines) has embraced the collection and use of metadata to characterize and index Web resources. Several notable metadata efforts have made an impact, directly or otherwise, on education via the Web. Among those efforts, and of interest to our current work, are the following:

This short paper describes our approach toward building user-centric education applications using metadata. We first offer a brief description of our own metadata dictionary and its relation to those described above, followed by a description of our current application areas.

2. The Courseware Description Language

Our metadata dictionary is called the Courseware Description Language (CDL). It is an extensive collection of more than 50 attributes for describing educational resources that are particularly appropriate for K-12 education applications. Descriptions may characterize a resource's applicability to specific grade levels, its support of various pedagogical models, its time requirements, its dependency on various teacher roles, and its relationship to other resources in a set, to name a few.

We first developed our dictionary in late 1995, independently of the metadata work in digital cataloguing (Dublin Core) and online clearinghouses (GEM/ERIC). Yet, as one might suspect, there are many similarities. The elements of the Dublin Core map directly to elements in CDL. The CDL can be used to describe resources that serve as part of a lesson plan (e.g., a Web page which presents activities for learning about solar energy, appropriate for students in 5th grade), similar to GEM. Finally, and in relation to LOMG/IMS, the CDL provides support for building sophisticated knowledge applications (beyond searching and indexing) by identifying those resources that can most appropriately match the needs of an individual student in a given learning context.

The CDL was developed as one part of a formal and implementational approach to automating individualized lesson plan generation. The primary goal of our work has been to address the individual needs of students, including the special needs of students with disabilities. The CDL is firmly grounded in current theories of learning, educational psychology, curriculum and instruction, and teacher decision-making.

3. Educational applications of metadata

Our purpose in developing new methods to capture, store, and distribute educational metadata is to provide an environment for individualized instruction via the Web. In the past, a great deal of hypertext research has been carried out on trails, paths and guided tours (such as [3]), and their relationship to learning and information gathering. However, these have the limitation that they are pre-authored, and therefore do not adapt to the on-going experience or performance of the learner navigating the Web. We envision educational tools that provide individualized, adaptive tours, where each learner is automatically guided on a tour based upon their particular preferences, traits, and performance. This is the conceptual basis for what we call User-Centric Navigation (UCN) [4]. UCN is the automated guidance of an individual through an information hyperspace, creating an individualized trail by relating the user's profile to the most relevant information resources. Below we provide a few examples of applications that use educational metadata to further our goals toward individualized instruction and UCN.

User-centric navigation with COOL links: Since early 1996, we have been working on a multi-ended and computed link type, termed a COOL link (or Collection Of Objects Link). A COOL Link is associated with a collection of component resources, via their metadata characterizations. (See [2] in these proceedings for more information.)

User-centric searching with SeekEZ: Our most recent efforts have been devoted to improving the search process by providing personalized resultant sets. Similar to the metadata search engines that are being built today, our notion of search would likewise key on specific, standardized metadata tags. The difference is the amount of allowable personalization. As with all of our work to date, we assume that a user profile exists and is rather comprehensive in nature, particularly relating to the domains in which the individual typically searches and browses. Our search facility has a taxonomy of resources, similar to what might be found with other search engines such as Yahoo!. Yet, our taxonomy is specifically geared toward K-12 education, and each branch is a COOL link. Therefore, as the learner selects a node in the tree, the remaining taxonomy is dynamically constructed by comparing the metadata of the sub-branches an leaves with the learner's profile. COOL links, in effect, are dynamically pruning the search tree as the user directs the query.

4. Conclusion

Metadata can be used to improve the search process, to build user-specific, guided paths, and to maintain relationships among disparate educational resources. Several metadata projects are under development today, of which our own CDL is one, to target and standardize the instructional qualities that are most useful in describing educational resources. The efforts of these projects, if successful, will provide a metadata foundation that can be leveraged by future instructional applications.

We believe that the continued success of the Web is contingent upon automated tools that efficiently guide the information gatherer toward relevant and appropriate material. In this paper, we have described our use of educational metadata in building applications for personalized navigation and search in the context of learning. Ultimately, we believe that the Web will be a viable environment for providing individualized instruction applications for parents, teachers, and learners.


This research and development was supported (in part) by DARPA contract #N66001-95-C-8626, and US Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) contract #N66001-97-M-C528.


[1] Dempsey, L. and Weibel, S., The Warwick metadata workshop: a framework for the deployment of resource description, D-Lib Magazine, July/August 1996.
[2] Miller, M. and Wantz, L., COOL links: ride the wave, in: Proc. of the 7th International World Wide Web Conference, Brisbane, Australia, April 1998.
[3] Trigg, R.H., Guided tours and tabletops: tools for communicating in a hypertext environment, ACM Trans. Off. Inf. Syst., 6(4): 398–414, Oct. 1988.
[4] Wantz, L., and Miller, M., Toward user-centric navigation of the Web: COOL links using SPI, in: Proc. of the 6th International World Wide Web Conference, Santa Clara, CA, April 1997.
[5] Weibel, S. et al., The 4th Dublin Core metadata workshop report, D-Lib Magazine, June 1997.


COOL Links:
Courseware Description Language (CDL):
Dublin Core:
Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC):
Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM):
IEEE P1484:
Instructional Management System (IMS) project:
NIST Learning Objects Metadata Group (LOMG):
Warwick Framework: