Metadata, Search, and Discovery

April 4, 2014    teaching metadata museums web

I just attended an interesting talk at Museums and the Web from some very smart folks from the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. The talk, titled “Connecting Learners and Museums through Educational Metadata Initiatives,” was a great introduction to the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative and some of the ways the Smithsonian is using this framework to improve the metadata of their many thousands of online learning resources. (The paper accompanying their presentation can be found here.)

I totally agree with the presenters: better metadata means better searchability and better usability. And the addition of paradata may in turn lead to better quality resources.

But I left the presentation with a general sense of so what? If Google isn’t yet showing relevant metadata in its search results and there are only a couple high-quality repositories of LRMI metadata, we have yet to make use of this technology, and I worry that its potential could founder. It did get me thinking, though. What potential applications are there for metadata-rich educational resources and repositories of those resources? How can we push this beyond higher-quality search results?

A few ideas

  • DuckDuckHack - So what if Google won’t integrate semantic data from Learning resources in search results? Let’s get a taste of how metadata-rich search results might look like by creating our own plugin for the fabulous DuckDuckGo search engine.
  • Serendipity - Can we imagine alternate modes of encountering and interacting with the learning resources we publish? Search is great, and it will probably always be a primary way in which we find web resources. As a thought experiment, could we imagine a serendipidous interface with repositories of learning resources? Whereas an ideal search engine might help me encounter exactly what I need as a teacher, a serendipidous interface might lead me to encounter resources in surprising, delightful, relevant, and possibly transformative ways. Crucially, these are resources that I might never have found through searching.
  • Learning resources as virtual thresholds - Can we view the discovery of a learning resource published by a museum as the beginning of a visit to that museum? Where would this line of inquiry lead us? (Thanks to Ross Parry and Erik Kristiansen for this insight.) I think this is especially fruitful if we think of museums not only as collections of objects and sites of interpretation and learning but also as forums for teacher professional development.