GUEST COLUMN | by Dave Gladney
Several concurrent movements and initiatives hold the promise for creating seismic changes in U.S. education. The best known of these is the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the state-led effort to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce.
Meanwhile, the personalized learning movement—enabled by the development of adaptive technologies and “recommendation engines”—has gained significant traction in recent years. One driver in this movement is the growing use of “Big Data,” offering rich assessment information about students’ specific strengths and needs. The Shared Learning Collaborative is currently pilot testing a shared technology infrastructure designed to help states and districts provide teachers with the instructional data they need in order to create truly personalized learning opportunities based on students’ individual learning styles and needs.
The flip side of this involves locating just the right learning resources to address those needs. That’s where the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) comes in. Launched in June 2011 and co-led by the Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons, the LRMI is working to create and implement a standard tagging specification for learning resources that enables alignment to learning standards, such as the Common Core. The LRMI’s work extends the effort by Schema.org (a consortium involving search engine giants Microsoft Bing, Google, Yahoo!, and Yandex) to establish a standard method of tagging Web pages across the Internet.
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the LRMI holds the promise of supporting personalized learning by improving the “discoverability” of specific learning resources on the Web. Together, the existing Schema.org properties and LRMI education-specific properties will allow educators to search for materials using criteria such as the following:
Educational Use (such as assignment or group work)
Learning Resource Type (such as presentation or handout)
The LRMI specification is currently under consideration for adoption by Schema.org, and a number of publishers and content curators are tagging materials as part of a Proof of Concept phase. By early 2013, more than 1,000 resources will have been tagged, and that number is poised to mushroom as more and more learning resource providers realize the benefits of tagging their materials to the LRMI specification.
Upon approval by Schema.org, the LRMI specification would become the de facto standard metadata schema for learning resources. Why is this important? As more and more resources are tagged to the LRMI specification and as search engines add the specification to their crawl, educators can use the LRMI to pinpoint the exact learning resources they need at the exact time they need them.
For instance, consider the case of a fourth-grade teacher who is trying to help several struggling students with the following Common Core Reading Standard for Informational Text K-5:
Craft and Structure 4—Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.
Say the specific topic under consideration is global warming, and the teacher wants to find an article aligned to that particular standard that is supported with comprehension questions and a writing activity. The material should also be appropriate for small-group work and designed to be completed in less than an hour.
A Google search for “global warming lesson plans” yields more than 1 million options. Finding a resource at the right grade level incorporating all of the teacher’s desired requirements that aligns to the specific standard could take an entire planning period, and even then the resource still might not offer everything the teacher wants.
Now consider that same search using the LRMI search criteria outlined above. In just a few clicks, the teacher could find a handful of targeted resources meeting the exact specifications required. That’s the potential power of the LRMI.
The need for such a metadata tagging system was clearly illustrated in an LRMI survey of educators conducted in spring 2012. Here are a few of the key findings:
–Nearly three in four educators (72.6 percent) said they search online for instructional resources at least several times a week.
–Two thirds of educators (66 percent) said they get too many “irrelevant results.”
–Nearly 9 in 10 educators (87.6 percent) said they would be more satisfied with Internet searches if they could filter results by standard instructional criteria such as grade level, subject area, and media type.
These results were echoed in the month-long Easy Access and Search for Education (EASE) awareness campaign, conducted by the LRMI throughout October 2012. Dozens of educators took time to post comments about their online search experiences, frustrations, and needs, and thousands more learned about the power of the LRMI to support education in their school or district.
While not as widely discussed as the Common Core State Standards, “Big Data,” or personalized education, the LRMI can play a vital role in supporting the success of all of them. By helping educators easily locate the most appropriate learning resources to meet specific needs, the LRMI provides a powerful tool in the effort to provide truly personalized learning opportunities for all students.
Dave Gladney is project manager of the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative for the Association of Educational Publishers. To learn more about this project, visit www.lrmi.net.