When building software that is to give language education, the issues
associated with the training material itself is only one aspect of
bringing it to a public. You have to have the material in order for the
secondary issues to become relevant. This article is about some of the
parts that are infrastructural to the delivery of language training as
developed by the University of Bamberg and reflects discussions and
thinking that grew over time.
When we discussed about how to do provide access to the training
material, we discussed several scenario's; individual people using the
material, schools using the material as exercise material and even
having a full language course in "Wikiversity". The consequence of all
this is that people from many organisations will have a need to gain
access to the educational process data that is needed. To me it is
obvious that this is certainly as complicated as the development of the
language training software itself, it is equally obvious that it is best
to link into existing programs. When these programs are part of an
international effort to make educational resources available on the
Internet we are onto a winner.
There are several components that are required. Security for access.
Security for the educational process data. Availability to the data and
the software. And it is at least as important that the software can be
found by the educators and by students.
The last few days I have been looking into this and I found that there
are many projects that are Open/Free and that can fit the requirements
that exist. In this it was quite fortunate that I was at the I&I
conference in the Netherlands where I learned many of the necessary buzz
For authentication the a-select project is really great. It allows for
the federation of trust and it does it in such a way that even
commercial banks cooperate in this project. Storing the educational
process data is operational information that may fit in an e-portfolio,
this in turn is part of the IMS framework. For finding the existence of
the material, there is good old advertising but having standards like
IEEE LOM on our side makes abundant sense.
In a way it may be premature to consider all this for the language
training. But given the amount of time that it will take to implement
all this I am afraid it is not really. The point that is driven home by
making use of these standards is that indeed we care about the
sustainability of the effort that is put into the development of the
language learning software.
As the Wikimedia Foundation is at this time considering the
implementation of single login for within its resources, it is an
opportune moment to see if the WMF can be persuaded to look into the
a-select authorisation system. Because of its ability to federate
security, it has the necessary hooks to give teachers access to their
students and not more than that. I spoke with Brion, the main developer
of the Mediawiki software and he can be persuaded to look into this. I
will need assistance to make a good pitch to him. It must be clear that
by implementing A-select within the WMF environment we are talking about
serious scalability; 80.000 people doing 10 or more edits a month is
just a tip of an iceberg. The iceberg is Alexa.com
stating that we are the 36^th website of the world with all that it
The operational education data is part of a students "portfolio", what I
have not understood yet is if the level where we need this data is to
low level but when skills are acquired it does make sense when it finds
its way into a students portfolio. The current approaches to portfolios
are not going to the detailed level of the individual training modules.
This is however relevant as it has its impact on the amount of time /
training necessary to acquire a skill.
By having the data and software on WMF servers, I expect we will host it
with an organisation that is neutral to many organisations and is there
for the long haul.
We can create the greatest software, have it in the greatest
infrastructure but people will still have to find it. IEEE LOM is a
standard that is really there for finding educational material. At the
I&I conference I learned how much the Dutch education is getting into
this. Edustandaard is a Dutch implementation of the IEEE LOM standard.
Many companies that supply schools with software are interested in
having Mediawiki support IEEE LOM natively. Certainly when there is
cooperation to make this work this will become a reality.