Paraportal: What else is out there?

The Paradata Exchange project team turned out in force to the IDEA12 conference, held in Melbourne on December 4 through 6. There were two sessions about paradata given on the 5th of December:

  • a panel discussion in the morning, about paradata standards
  • a demonstration in the afternoon, of a widget built on top of the Learning Registry API.

The panel discussion was on Standards development for open content and online assessment, and Nick Nicholas was one of five panelists. His presentation (available on Slideshare, with audio) gave an introduction to paradata, and how it can be used by end users and education authorities. It then moved on to the standards view of paradata.

The presentation situated the paradata specifications currently in use (from the Learning Registry, and ADL’s Project TinCan) as loose, Web 2.0 standards, as opposed to the strict standards familiar in the education space. Both projects deliberately chose to model their specifications on ActivityStreams—a specification oriented towards status updates and likes on social media.

The relaxed Web 2.0 approach to standards has some definite advantages to it—ease of adoption, ease of customisation, building on a widely deployed Web-based stack. It also poses challenges: such specifications can drift apart quite easily, precisely because they do not have a central authority controlling them. Not all domains can tolerate that risk; but by harnessing the social web, this approach helps promote the core driver of resource discovery, outside the confines of the portal silo. Which is why the Learning Registry favoured this kind of standard for its own goals of broadening discovery of resources in portals.


The afternoon demo (audio available) played out to a packed audience, in no small part thanks to this flyer.

The demo we gave was fairly simple, and is not a million miles away from the Common Core Labs demo of curriculum alignments to Learning Registry resources. Our demo consists of a widget, which queries a Learning Registry instance for resources tagged with a particular content description code from the Australian Curriculum. The widget returns all matching resources, along with their associated frequency counts:


The point of the demo is that, once several jurisdictions each constribute to the Paradata Exchange paradata about their resources, and how they are aligned to the Australian Curriculum, then queries to the Exchange will let users get an overview of what resources held by each jurisdiction are relevant to a particular content description—and can then see whether it is worth arranging access to those resources.

The relevance of resources to content descriptions can be obtained as expert-based alignments, as is already being done for the Learning Registry in the US. But it can also report on user-driven associations with the curriculum. Our demo is based on actual data from the Scootle portal (though the numbers are inflated for the demo); the counts reported on are the number of times both a content description and a learning resource have been included in the same learning path (learning sequence), which indicates that the users have chosen to associate learning resource and curriculum in those instances.

The implementation of the Paraportal reads JSON from the Learning Exchange API (through the Slice function). The relation of resource to content description has been expressed in paradata through a Related field. Because the Slice API does not directly query Related information, the content description codes have been added to the paradata record as a tag, which is then queried: the content description code is the only parameter that the widget needs from its environment. The output of the Learning Registry API is converted to an intermediate JSON layer so it can be more easily manipulated by the widget.

The Paraportal is meant as a proof of concept, rather than act as servicable code; the team will be consulting with the jurisdction to find out what a widget they would find useful should look like, but we hope this will give a starting point for discussion. The Paraportal can show how easy it is to integrate queries to the Paradata Exchange into existing portals—and how the Paradata Exchange can help address better discovery of curriculum-aligned resources.


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