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Project to Set Educational Metadata Standards Launched

The Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons announced Tuesday an initiative that would create a standard coding language for all searchable educational content on the Web.

The Learning Resources Framework Initiative will aim to improve search results for educational content on the Web, whether those searches are by teachers, students, or parents.

Creative Commons, which provides copyright licenses for content producers who wish to create open (or alterable) resources, will lead the technical work of creating a streamlined, education-specific metadata language. In layman's terms, they hope to create a common language of codes web producers and developers should embed within a digital learning object, depending on its properties. The Association of Educational Publishers, or AEP, a nonprofit group that advocates for the K-12 educational resource community, will run communication efforts for the project, which is believed to be the first such industry-specific endeavor.

The project is being funded by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates and William and Flora Hewlett foundations, who both also contribute funding to Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit publisher of Education Week. The initiative has already gained a stable of launch partners that includes the "big three" of educational nonfiction publishing as well as other publishers, education technology providers, and institutes.

"We feel this is a tremendous opportunity to be able to offer a service," AEP Chief Executive Officer Charlene Gaynor said at Tuesday's launch event in Washington, "to students, educators, and users of educational content on the Internet."

This all follows last week's announcement that major search engines Google, Yahoo, and Bing would all contribute formatting tags to schema.org, a library of standardized formatting tags. As a result, search results on all three engines will now be indexed and tagged using the same format.

The Learning Resources Framework Initiative will aim to submit metadata that at a minimum cover the K-12 common core standards to schema.org by the fall of this year, said Creative Commons CEO Catherine Casserly. While she admitted at a release event in Washington that that may be an ambitious target date, she insisted a sense of urgency is necessary to ensure the initiative's completion.

"Many of us have been down this road before," said Casserly, who added that one of the first items of business for the working group that takes on this project will be establishing a list of past mistakes and lessons learned. "The road ended abruptly and has not been successful. We are not taking that avenue this time."

It's also important to note, said Casserly, that the project will not serve to rate educational content found through Web searches, but merely curate it. In borrowing Gaynor's earlier analogy to Google Recipes, Casserly explained that users of that tool still have to use their own judgment to discern which potato salad recipe they find is the best one.

"We don't see that as the work of Creative Commons or the work of this project," Casserly said. "This is not about quality assessment per se, it's about tagging."

The AEP received a $225,000 grant from the Gates Foundation to lead its share of the project, while Creative Commons is expected to receive an as-yet-undisclosed amount of grant funding from the Hewlett Foundation. The latter grant is expected to be officially approved during the next several days, Casserly indicated.

Creative Commons has already posted an FAQ page about the project, and Wikipedia offers a large, if somewhat acronym-laden page about learning object metadata for the more curious and tech-savvy among you.

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