There is too much talk about open and openness these days. No one seems to agree on what open is, but everyone agrees it is important. We’ve descended into semantic chaos where people fight to claim they are really “open” and others accuse them of just “openwashing”. I’m taking a break from the terms. Instead I’m just going to describe the technologies I’ve implemented and leave it to you, the reader to decide if you want to call it open, closed, or something else.
To start this new policy off let me describe one of our latest features and then I invite your comments and feedback.
On CourseSites I’m leading ongoing development to make it easy to share the Course experience more broadly via Social Media and Search. This capability is delivered using the emerging Semantic Web infrastructure put forth by the team at the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative and Schema.org.
The first is to create a public component of the course, a web page where anyone can drop by and ask to join, or browse as a guest (if the instructor wants). It links to a public instructor profile with a blog, where the instructor can elect to describe his or herself in a way that connects to the courses they teach. The Course home page also acts as a place to share the educational materials from the class in both IMS Common Cartridge or Blackboard Learn archive format. The materials are shared under the Creative Commons CC-BY license. This allows a permissive reuse of the materials in other educational contexts, while preserving the attribution of the original authors.
These pages contain Semantic web tags to describe the materials they contain. This makes them searchable, share-able and otherwise useful to applications beyond Blackboard. For example look at this example Course Homepage as rendered through the browser:
Now consider how Google sees the same page:
Note how information is encoded in a way that Google can pull key details right form the page. Information such as “version” and file links are consumable by a third party application. The descriptive scheme we use has been developed by a broad set of search engine companies at Schema.org (above). This ensures that from the moment we launched this feature Google and other search engines can consume the information.
We’re also experimenting with ways to make this page more accessible to social discovery as well. We include a standard “share” gadget that lets you publish the link to these materials to hundreds of different social media solutions. Also included on these pages is another Semantic Web technology pushed by Facebook called “OpenGraph“. This allows the link you share to Facebook to contain smart data. Here is that same course homepage viewed through Facebook.
This integration from Blackboard into Google, Bing, and other search engines along with social media like Facebook and Twitter was done completely through the Blackboard Building Blocks technology. One of my next projects will be to take the building block and work to make it available to other Blackboard installations. I hope in participating in the adoption of a standards driven technology supported by search engines and social media, we will encourage sharing, re-use and re-mixing of educational resources that are linked into the LMS/VLE.