Whether or not we are familiar with the actual term, we are all familiar with the idea of metadata. We know that Amazon uses our past purchases to suggest future ones. That Facebook suggests friends based on our previous connections. That Google organizes search results in a particular order. But what exactly does the term “metadata” represent? And can we use it in our work as educators?
Metadata, in the broadest sense, is data about data. It can be as intrusive as Facebook
ads suggesting purchases based on what you searched for or bought on other sites (I’m pretty sure I only thought about those shoes. Get out of my head, Zuckerberg), or as benign as our aggregated tags on Twitter (#throwbackthursday). While metadata was not born with the rise of the digital—historians and archivists have been using metadata for years to categorize, classify, and curate —we are interacting with metadata in “increasingly digital and overt ways” (Baca). For example, we know to look at metadata—When was it published? By whom?— to evaluate the credibility of sources online. That’s using data about data.
Metadata is also used differently in different contexts—an online researcher may refer to a website’s HTML tags to review how information on that page is being categorized and utilized; a librarian digitizing images may be inputting metadata about image processing to contextualize the digitized product. In these cases, metadata “not only
identifies and describes an information object; it also documents how that object behaves, its function and use, its relationship to other information objects, [or] how it should be and has been managed over time” (Baca). How we want to use metadata is particularly significant, as it determines the methods and standards by which the metadata is both inputted and gathered.
As you can imagine, this has led to a myriad of metadata standards, each tailored to the needs of its user. For educators, the IEEE 1484.12.1–2002 Standard for Learning Object Metadata tracks learning objects (pieces of information used for learning) to identify defining elements such as “type of object; author; owner; terms of distribution; format; and pedagogical attributes, such as teaching or interaction style” (Wikipedia). More specifically, the LOM data model uses a hierarchy of categories to create a common language and classification for educational metadata. (see Wikipedia’s example below or click here)
The purpose of these standards, chartered by the IEEE Computer Society Standards Activity Board, is to “develop internationally accredited technical standards, recommended practices, and guidelines for educational technology. We anticipate and solve market problems caused by incompatible systems and data formats.” Currently, the IEEE Standards Committee is focusing its resources on five projects: an Actionable Data Book that is exploring the future of educational publications; an Augmented Reality Learning Experience Mode that seeks to create a standard model for defining AR-based learning experiences; Project-based Learning Opportunities that will connect students with available internships; Competencies, which seeks to standardize the language around competency standards; and the IEEE P7004: Standard for Child and Student Data Governance, a standard that “defines specific methodologies to help users certify how they approach accessing, collecting, storing, utilizing, sharing, and destroying child and student data.” Currently, there are LOM application profiles that operate in various iterations all over the world, and the “Dublin Education Working Group aims to provide refinements of Dublin Core [for which LOM was a starting point] for the specific needs of the education community” (Wikipedia). These initiatives function through the shared authority of educators who ask questions, contribute to, and revise the ongoing work.
So, educators, what are some other ways in which we could utilize metadata in our own teaching and reflective practices? What are we doing already? What tools or training would be necessary in understanding and utilizing these metadata standards?