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January 30, 2008

Learning Materials & FRBR

JISC is currently funding a study, conducted by Phil Barker of JISC CETIS, to survey the requirements for a metadata application profile for learning materials held by digital repositories. Yesterday Phil posted an update on work to date, including a pointer to a (draft) document titled Learning Materials Application Profile Pre-draft Domain Model which 'suggests a "straw man" domain model for use during the project which, hopefully, will prove useful in the analysis of the metadata requirements'.

The document outlines two models: the first is of the operations applied to a learning object (based on the OAIS model) and the second is a (very outline) entity-relational model for a learning resource - which is based on a subset of the Functional Requirements for the Bibliographic Record (FRBR) model. As far as I can recall, this is the first time I've seen the FRBR model applied to the learning object space - though of course at least some of the resources which are considered "learning resources" are also described as bibliographic resources, and I think at least some, if not many, of the functions to be supported by "learning object metadata" are analogous to those to be supported by bibliographic metadata.

I do have some quibbles with the model in the current draft. Without a fuller description of the functions to be supported, it's difficult to assess whether it meets those requirements - though  I recognise that, as I think the opening comment I cited above indicates, there's an element of "chicken and egg" involved in this process: you need to have at least an outline set of entity types before you can start talking about operations on instances of those types. Clearly a FRBR-based approach should facilitate interoperability between learning object repositories and systems based on FRBR or on FRBR-derivatives like the Eprints/Scholarly Works Application Profile (SWAP). I have to admit the way "Context" is modelled at present doesn't look quite right to me, and I'm not sure about the approach of collapsing the concepts of an individual agency and a class of agents into a single "Agent" entity type in the model. (For me the distinguishing characteristic of what the SWAP calls an "Agent" is that, while it encompasses both individuals and groups, an "Agent" is something which acts as a unit, and I'm not sure that applies in the same way to the intended audience for a resource.) The other aspect I was wondering about is the potential requirement to model whole-part relationships, which, AFAICT, are excluded from the current draft version. FRBR supports a range of variant whole-part relations between instances of the principal FRBR entity types, although in the case of the SWAP, I don't think any of them were used.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here really - and probably ending up sounding more negative than I intend! I think it's a positive development to see members of the "learning metadata community" exploring - critically - the usefulness of a model emerging from the library community. I need to read the draft more carefully and formulate my thoughts more coherently, but I'll be trying to send some comments to Phil.


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Thanks Pete, and don't worry about sounding too negative, you've pretty much picked on the areas where I think I need most help. Any of your thoughts, coherent or not, are greatly welcome. Phil.

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