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Archive for July, 2010

Content Ownership and Sharing in an LMS

Posted in Teaching, Technology on July 16th, 2010 by darcusb – Comments Off

Michael Feldstein has a post on the new Repository API in Moodle, and explains that it enables easy import and export of content to/from course sites. But, he suggests, this may well be a solution to a more fundamental design failing; as he puts it:

A fundamental flaw in LMS design is that the course, rather than the student, owns course documents. While it’s great that Moodle makes it easy to export course contributions to places where students can hold onto them after the course gets archived, this mechanism relies on students making specific efforts to save their work. I would prefer to see a system in which the canonical copies of student-created course documents (or faculty-created course documents, for that matter) live in the users’ private file storage space and the course instance is granted permission to access them.

I think is exactly right, but I see two issues. First, who owns group created/edited documents? I doubt this is an unresolvable issue, but it does add a layer of complexity to the discussion.

Second, I’d want to consider a broader notion of sharing. Consider an example:

I teach a large-enrollment introductory course that is part of the University’s “Top 25″ initiative, which seeks to reorient these sorts of more typically lecture courses around principles of inquiry-based learning. We have a team of people who teach this course who worked at figuring out new course modules that we could share among instructors. But the sharing happens (or not, as it were) through a wiki, and the kind of content we have up is not available in a fully ready-made form such that each of us can simply take it and go in our individual courses. Sharing just takes too much work as it is.

I’d like my LMS to make it really easy to share teaching resources among faculty; ideally not only within just a particular LMS instance at a single university, but across universities. Why can’t I, for example, create a course module and make it public? Why shouldn’t I be able to easily borrow work from colleagues at other institutions? And by easily, I don’t mean having to force them to export some damned package, email it to me, and then make me import it. I mean single-click sharing. What if, for example, I could search for particular concepts in my area of geography, and get a list of modules from both my colleagues here, but also other colleagues elsewhere, and simply click to use it in and/or adapt it to my course?

So that’s a use case: I really want to contribute to and borrow from my colleagues’ work in ways that go far beyond what’s now possible. What does it take to make that possible? Am not exactly sure, but think it’s likely to require rich metadata and structured content authoring. Sakai 3 will, for example, have a template system that allows for wizard-like creation of new content. I could imagine using those templates to layer RDFa metadata into the content itself, and then somehow collecting that metadata and exposing it through some sort of API (SPARQL?).

CSL Status and Next Steps

Posted in Technology on July 7th, 2010 by darcusb – 1 Comment

So it’s been a few months since version 1.0 of the CSL specification was finally released. Where do we stand now?


  1. We’ve got a completely 1.0-compliant CSL processor in the form of Frank Bennett’s citeproc-js, which is backed up by an extensive test suite. This has just recently been folded into the Zotero trunk code, so should be rolled out to Zotero users in the coming months.
  2. The Mendeley team is also planning to use citeproc-js, though I haven’t heard any update on timeline.
  3. Mendeley has also started work on a WYSIWYG online style creator. This is really important.
  4. Ron Jerome has been working on a PHP port for use in his Drupal biblio module; it’s not done, but he’s made good progress
  5. Sente has support for CSL import
  6. a new app called Peaya has CSL support, though I know no details (in fact, hadn’t ever heard of it until just a bit ago, which bothers me)
  7. Andrea Rossato is updating his wicked fast Haskell implementation to be 1.0-compliant; usable, among other things, with the really nice markdown processor Pandoc
What do I take away from this? That the idea of CSL is gaining traction: that citation styles are too much work to be worth the hassle for every application creating their own language and associated styles, and that users don’t really want to think about citation styling; they want stuff to “just work.”

So here’s my vision of where I’d like to be in another year or two:

  1. “CSL support” is considered an important feature by users
  2. A complete and beautifully functional online CSL creation application is up and running, and the result is an explosion of good, correct, and up-to-date styles. Right now we have a bit over 1,100 the last I checked; I’d like to see this increase to cover virtually all current journal styles. To do this right means it has to be really easy to both create new styles, and comment on and subsequently edit existing styles.
  3. Wide and deep (e.g. fully compliant) support for CSL across a range of applications and application types (online, desktop, etc.). This not only includes correct formatting, but also making it really easy to find and use the styles noted above (and passing around files by email does not count).
  4. I’d also like to see progress on the thorny problem of document interoperability, as well as adding RDFa support to formatted bibliographies for full round-tripping

But there’s still some distance between that idea and the current reality. For one thing, there’s not as much collaboration on CSL among developers as I’d like. Ideally, everyone that implements CSL should have some sort of public commitment to, and benefit from, future CSL development. At minimum, this should involve participating in development discussions. But beyond that, we need people to help with:

  1. web design for the site
  2. finishing the style creation application and repository (PHP and JQuery skills needed!), and figuring out how best to exploit this in applications
So continual progress, but still a fair bit of social and technical work to do!