ASPECT Main Outcomes
The ASPECT Best Practice Network (BPN) was supported by the European Commission’s eContentplus Programme. It started in September 2008 and involved twenty-two partners from fifteen countries, including nine Ministries of Education (MoE), four commercial content developers and leading technology providers. For the first time, experts from all international standardisation bodies and consortia active in e-learning (CEN/ISSS, IEEE, ISO, IMS, ADL) worked together in order to improve the adoption of learning technology standards and specifications.
In the course of thirty-two months, the ASPECT consortium implemented and tested two categories of specifications: specifications for content use (e.g., content packaging formats, access control, and licensing); and specifications for content discovery (e.g., metadata, vocabularies, protocols, and registries). Through this work, the project identified best practices for learning content discovery and use and produced recommendations for the education community in Europe: Ministries of Education, teachers and students, commercial content developers, owners of learning content repositories, tools providers, and experts in standards.
Work in developing these best practices involved project partners and teachers using a version of the European Schoolnet Learning Resource Exchange (LRE) service that enables schools to find open educational content from many different countries and providers. In ASPECT a customized and password protected version of the LRE was developed for schools in the project that contained resources from commercial providers and some additional search and retrieval features related to the exploration of the standards under investigation in the project.
During ASPECT, content providers from both the public and private sectors applied content standards to their learning resources and made them available via the LRE. This represents a large-scale implementation of standards and specifications for content discovery and use. As a result, the following elements, not directly linked to the quality of the specifications themselves, were identified as necessary for the successful adoption of a standard:
- Availability and quality of tools for producing compliant content and metadata;
- Availability and quality of tools to test for compliance;
- Availability of solutions adapted to the different needs of content providers from both the public and private sectors.
An important focus in the project was the exploration of content standards and specifications for content packaging (SCORM and Common Cartridge) by both Ministries of Education and commercial content developers. ASPECT tested existing tools for creating, validating content packages and using these specifications. Having identified areas in need of improvement, ASPECT also developed new tools to enhance content packages and to validate them more accurately.
After the end of the project, ASPECT continues to make publicly available a variety of tools and services to support the best practices that emerged from its work. These can be accessed via the Learning Resource Exchange (LRE) Service Centre.
The LRE Service Centre includes:
- A Learning Technology Standards Observatory (LTSO) serving as a focal access point to updated information on projects, results, news, organisations, activities and events that are relevant to the development and adoption of e-learning technology standards and specifications.
- An application profile registry providing information about the data elements and vocabularies used by different application profiles and mappings between different profiles of a given standard.
- A Vocabulary Bank for Education (VBE) providing a browsable and searchable interface to locate, view and download controlled vocabularies.
- Learning Object Repository Registries providing up-to-date information about repositories of learning resources and their collections.
- Validation services for testing conformance of metadata records to different metadata specifications and profiles.
- Metadata transformation services for converting metadata records from one application profile to another.
- An automatic metadata translation service integrated in the Learning Resource Exchange (LRE) enabling the discovery of learning resources in various languages.
An important aim in ASPECT was to help redress a perceived ‘disconnect’ between standards’ organisations and the educational community by working directly with teachers to help them explore and implement standards. From the perspective of Ministries of Education, it is important that teachers’ views as well as those of technical experts are fed into the pre-standardisation process. In line with this objective, 46 teachers from Belgium, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania took part in a series of ASPECT workshops to elicit their opinions and observe their use of content packaging, search features and mechanisms developed in the ASPECT project. The tests were carried out between October 2009 and May 2010, and involved three independent workshops:
- National workshops on content discovery;
- Online workshops on content reuse; and
- An international workshop for all participants on content packaging and access control.
Additional information on these activities with teachers can be found in ASPECT public deliverables D6.4, D6.5 and D7.3.2.
The various ASPECT activities were driven by the needs of the different stakeholders as identified at the start of the project. ASPECT conducted several studies on the different stakeholders’ adoption and awareness of content discovery/repository standards (e.g., IEEE LOM, IMS LODE, …) and content packaging standards (SCORM & IMS Common Cartridge). This work included interviews with the ASPECT content providers (Ministries of Education and commercial content providers), ascertaining their readiness and willingness to adopt content standards. Insights from these interviews informed the development of the ASPECT recommendations.
ASPECT results were disseminated through over thirty face-to-face events and online webinars that attracted 1479 attendees. ASPECT workshops, plugfests, seminars and newsletters also allowed ASPECT to create an active global community, including nearly 200 ASPECT Associate Partners, interested in the implementation and ongoing development of educational content standards and specifications. Like the LRE Service Centre, this community will exist after the end of the project and be integrated in a new version of the Learning Resource Exchange that was launched by European Schoolnet and its supporting Ministries of Education in February 2011.