An Ontological Model for SCORM-Compliant Authoring Tools

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An Ontological Model for SCORM-Compliant Authoring Tools
  J OURNAL OF I NFORMATION S CIENCE AND E NGINEERING 21, 891-909 (2005) 891 An Ontological Model for SCORM-Compliant Authoring Tools J IN- T AN D AVID Y ANG, W EN- C HIH C HEN * ,  C HUN- Y EN T SAI **  AND M EI- S HENG C HAO +    Department of General Literacy * Graduate Institute of Information and Computer Education ** Graduate Institute of Science Education  National Kaohsiung Normal University Kaohsiung, 802 Taiwan  E-mail: +  Department of Education  National Taiwan Normal University Taipei, 106 Taiwan This paper models authoring course practices on the SCORM-compliant Content Repository Management System (CRMS) and presents three new invaluable components: the Ontology-Based Outline Authoring Tool (OBOAT), the Visualized Online Course Authoring Tool (VOCAT), and the Visualized Online Simple Sequencing Authoring Tool (VOSSAT). The pivotal role that ontologies play in authoring SCORM-compliant learning objects is again reconfirmed based on their ability to provide an outline of pre-cisely-defined terms that can be communicated among teachers by means of visualized presentations. Teaching materials that require outlining most likely rely on conceptual models in the form of ontologies that open up new ways for teachers to move from a learning object-oriented view to a content framework-oriented view. In the same vein, VOCAT and VOSSAT both offer user-friendly interfaces on the Web. While the former allows teachers to compile teaching materials, the latter enables them to devise their own instructional strategies. The prime contributions of this study are newly-devised innova-tive tools that teachers can easily use to author teaching materials that will suit their teaching contexts, including their students’ needs and backgrounds. Finally, we discuss the implications of this study for education.  Keywords:   SCORM, content repository management system (CRMS), RDF/RDFS, on-tology, IMS SS 1. INTRODUCTION For some time, the WWW has been regarded as the ideal platform on which to de-velop Internet applications; this is by virtue of its powerful communication paradigm, which is based on multimedia, its browsing capabilities, and its open architectural struc-ture, which, to a great extent, collectively facilitate the integration of different types of content and systems. More to the point, learners can simply open their browsers and im-merse themselves in a learning environment to obtain the knowledge they seek. At the same time, this universal interface also offers an efficient, convenient way for teachers to author their own teaching materials as long as the learning objects have been provided on the Web. Received July 7, 2004; revised February 1, 2005; accepted May 18, 2005. Communicated by Robert Lewis.  J IN -T AN D AVID Y ANG, W EN- C HIH C HEN, C HUN- Y EN T SAI AND  M EI- S HENG C HAO 892 To further upgrade the ability of users to share the teaching materials available in these systems, various international organizations have proposed standard formats, in-cluding SCORM 2004 [1-3, 10, 12]. Given such standard formats, teaching materials in different learning management systems can now be not only shared, but also reused, and even recombined. Among these international standards, the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), which integrates IMS, LOM, and AICC, has perhaps emerged as the most popular international standard in recent years. ADL SCORM 2004, in particular, aims at facilitating adaptive learning through declaratively rule-based de-scriptions. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that structures with complicated se-quencing rules in the Activity Tree (AT) in SCORM 2004 make the design and creation of course sequences rather difficult, at best. Bearing this in mind, to help teachers and instruction designers structure course units based on sequencing behavior rules, we pro-pose newly-devised authoring tools which can be represented as graph modes, thus pro-viding a considerably more user-friendly platform than those currently available. While learning and course materials are typically composed of tree-like structures or directed-graphs, clearly annotating a SCORM-Compliant content package with metadata (i.e., data describing its contents/functionalities) is essential for authoring purposes (courses/materials). In this regard, proposals for the standardization of annotations used in various languages have previously been put forward by the W3C [23], the most nota-ble of which are the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the RDF Schema, which are currently being used both to represent information and to exchange knowledge on the Web. Such annotations, however, are of limited value unless, of course, there is a commonly-held understanding as to their precise meaning. As metadata constructed from a set of ordered terms for the discovery and filtering of learning objects (LOs) from a content repository, ontologies can indeed help to fulfill this requirement by providing “a representation of a shared conceptualization of a par-ticular domain” that can be easily handled by teachers [5]. Moreover, in terms of author-ing, the outlines of materials are more apt to be based on conceptual models in the form of ontologies that open up new avenues for individuals to move from a learning ob- ject-oriented view to a content framework-oriented view. What is clear, however, is that learning objects are structured, interlinked, combined, and used, thereby facilitating in-teraction among teachers. In this way, the objectives of the content framework of the teaching materials can be achieved. This kind of semantic web, containing ontologies and machine-processable relational metadata, can greatly facilitate the construction of course units. The RDF Schema (RDFS) itself is already recognized as an ontology, that is, a knowledge-based language, since at its core, it focuses on classes and their properties (i.e., the binary relations between them), on the range of these properties and the domain constraints placed on them, and on subclass and sub-property (sub-sumption) relations [17]. Being a relatively primitive language in terms of its ability to describe resources, RDF/RDFS provides ontological support for the authoring of course outlines by filtering out learning objects (LOs). For teachers, the benefits of filtering out LOs might be mostly related to their teaching requirements. Unlike the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), which offers a simple hierarchical structure in the form of a tree-like presenta-tion [23, 25], RDF/RDFS is represented as a graph, which makes its application both easier and faster.  A N  O NTOLOGICAL  M ODEL FOR  SCORM-C OMPLIANT  A UTHORING T OOLS 893 To reduce the time required for searching and assembling, such as that required for LOs, for sharable content objects (SCOs), or for a Content Package (CP) [1] within a content repository, an ontology can lay the groundwork for authoring courses though it does only offer a static outline. The shortcoming here is that it is more often than not quite difficult for teachers to adapt this type of outline to meet their students’ preferences or needs. This is why, in this paper, we propose semi-dynamic outlining. In essence, making an outline is a pragmatic way of evaluating whether a set of vocabulary items is adequate, consistent, or valid, since teachers are able to assess whether the vocabulary selected can serve as a framework for a conceptual map in a higher-level knowledge ab-straction [13]. To be sure, a semi-dynamic authoring environment is preferable for de-vising a teaching context that is suitable in light of the students’ backgrounds. In this study, we apply RDF/RDFS techniques as we explore how to best author an aggregation of metadata as web-based ontologies for the mathematics domain at the sec-ondary school level in Taiwan. More specifically, we focus on joint-authoring course practices based on a specific content repository, namely, the Content Repository Man-agement System (CRMS), which consists of SCORM-Compliant learning objects, such as the SCO, Asset, and a Content Package. CRMS offers all of the learning resources available in the SCROM 2004 format for the compulsory education system in Taiwan. We start with a literature review in the next section and follow it with a discussion of the framework of the methodology we used in the present study. In sections 4 and 5, we demonstrate selected modeling authoring practices based on various scenarios and also include some recommendations for future study.  2. LITERATURE REVIEW In this section, we identify four themes which we regard as fundamental to this study. They are 1) CRMS, 2) the RDF/RDFS and ontology, 3) an example of a domain ontology with RDF/RDFS, and 4) visualized online authoring tools. We present a brief review of the literature for each. 2.1 CRMS CRMS, a SCORM 2004-Compliant content repository, consists of a collection of such teaching materials as Learning Objects or Content Aggregations [26]. CRMS is a web-based application which is designed for teachers who wish to easily and quickly assemble or create their own course materials from existing sharable LOs and CPs. In other words, teachers and instruction designers can author courses by searching and ed-iting in a very effective way using CRMS. CRMS is also a platform with extensible functionalities. As shown in Fig. 1, when viewed horizontally, the CP upload, the authoring tools, and even the ADL 2004 RTE (Run Time Environment) modules can be added in their entirety. In addition, new func-tionalities, like Lego’s plug-ins, can also be integrated into CRMS. On the other hand, when viewed from vertically, in the infrastructure layer, in the intermediate layer, and in the highest layer, data, services and applications, respectively, are available. The data layer consists of a content repository, which contains LOs or CPs. The service layer  J IN -T AN D AVID Y ANG, W EN- C HIH C HEN, C HUN- Y EN T SAI AND  M EI- S HENG C HAO 894 Fig. 1. Framework of the CRMS. includes a variety of services, such as the domain ontology and CP management. The application layer provides Ontology-Based Outline Authoring Tools (OBOAT), the Visualized Online Course Authoring Tool (VOCAT) for course editing or aggregation, and the Visualized Online Simple Sequencing Authoring Tool (VOSSAT) for setting IMSSS rules. At present, the IMS Simple Sequencing (SS) Specification in SCORM 2004 de-scribes a method that can be used to represent the intended behavior of an authored learning experience such that any LMS will sequence discrete learning activities in a consistent way. The IMS SS is not labeled “simple” because the specification itself is simple, but rather because it defines a limited number of widely used sequencing behav-iors [1]. Furthermore, the IMS SS recognizes only the role of the learner and does not define any sequencing capabilities that utilize or are dependent on other actors, such as instructors, mentors, or peers. Sequencing and Navigation [20] in SCORM 2004, which adopts the Simple Se-quencing Specification (SSS) of the IMS, relies on three concepts regarding learning activities, each of which may be described either as an instructional event, as events em-bedded in a content resource, or as an aggregation of activities to describe content re-sources with their contained instructional events [1]. The contents of the SN are organ-ized into a hierarchical structure, that is, in the form of an activity tree (AT) in a learning map , as shown in Fig. 2. Each learning activity which includes one or more student ac-tivities has an associated set of sequencing behaviors, as specified in the Sequencing Definition Model (SDM), which is a set of attributes used by the SN . The SN uses a specific set of data attributes which are associated with learning ac-tivities in the activity tree as the required sequencing behaviors in order to control the sequencing, selection, and delivery of activities to the learner. The sequencing behav-iors describe how the activity or how the students’ participation in the activity can be  A N  O NTOLOGICAL  M ODEL FOR  SCORM-C OMPLIANT  A UTHORING T OOLS 895 Fig. 2. Example of an activity tree (AT) with clusters. modified to create the desired learning experience. The SN enables teachers   to share not only the learning contents but also the intended learning experiences. It also provides a set of widely used sequencing methods so that teachers and instruction designers can arrange the sequencing efficiently. However, the best way to create, to represent, and to maintain an activity tree and the associated sequencing definition of the authoring tools is of prime concern. The IMS SS Authoring tools generally organize LOs or SCOs into a hierarchy of courses, modules, lessons, presentations, etc., which are related to each other by means of a prerequisite, by another part, and by some other relationships. Each instructional unit typically has its own instructional objectives. In addition, some systems might even in-clude SCOs that address misconceptions or provide remedial materials. The contents are usually stored on a web page, and the above tools can substantially help teachers and instruction designers effectively create courses for web-based learning. Authoring tools for the IMS SS excel both at representing diverse teaching strate-gies using rule-based descriptions and encoding fine-grained strategies often used by teachers and instructional experts. These authoring tools tend to focus on the “macro” level of instruction, i.e. the sequencing of topics or modules. At the same time, they ad-dress the “micro” level of instruction, particularly as it concerns decision-making. This includes when and how to best give explanations, summaries, examples, and analogies; precisely what type of hinting and feedback to give; and what types of questions and ex-ercises to provide students with. Somewhat ironically, authoring tools for the IMS SS vis-`a-vis teaching strategies have the most sophisticated sets of primitive tutorial opera-tions. In addition, these tools have the capability of representing multiple tutoring strate-gies and “meta-strategies” that can facilitate the selection of the most appropriate tutor-ing strategy within a given context. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the IMS SS is
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