Expanding OLPC Content with DEMML XML Schema

   
   
   
   
   

Somewhere in a small village in some underdeveloped country there is a young boy. Let's call him Hidarth. Like over 121 million young children worldwide (1), Hidarth cannot go to school. There is no school in the village where he lives and it would take him far too long to walk to the nearest school several villages away. His village has no phones or internet connections.


Sharing and learning together

However, Hidarth was recently given an XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project (2). While playing with the computer is fun, he has no internet connection in his village so he can only learn how to do the few things that are available to do on the laptop. Hidarth quickly gets tired of taking and drawing pictures and leaves the laptop under his bed, leaving his education behind.

One day Hidarth's friend, Leelum, stops by for a visit. She has an XO as well and asks Hidarth why his is under the bed collecting dust. After agreeing that just playing with a computer doesn't really get one anywhere, Leelum shows Hidarth some new software that actually teaches her whatever she wants to learn. She shows him how to transfer the software to his computer along with her entire library of educational material.

Hidarth is impressed but sadly can't really use any of the material Leelum gave him because he is far behind her in his schooling. So, Leelum shows Hidarth how to mark the topics he would like to learn about and indicate his learning level. A click of a button then makes Hidarth's computer send Leelum's a message requesting the content. Leelum explains that while he won't get the content right away, the next time Leelum is in town her computer will automatically download the requested content and store it till Leelum can visit Hidarth again where the content will be automatically transferred.

Leelum doesn't come by Hidarth's village again for over a week, but, when she does, her computer transfers more than enough content of various learning levels for Hidarth to study for over a month. As he studies, the software keeps track of how fast Hidarth learns various types of material. Over time it learns much better exactly which type of explanation will help Hidarth understand which type of subject matter the best. This way, it can request more material that more closely matches his learning style.

This goes on for a few months and Hidarth is getting very excited about all the new things he is learning. However, Leelum doesn't come by nearly often enough these days to keep Hidarth stocked with fresh material. So Leelum explains that Hidarth can just use one of the free thumbdrives being given away at the school and place his requests on it. He can give that thumbdrive to his father who walks into the nearest town about once a week.

His father can simply walk into the schoolhouse and plug the thumbdrive into a special computer and that computer will automatically read Hidarth's requests and place the requested content onto the thumbdrive. In this way, Hidarth can be continuously stocked with educational material that exactly meets his needs and allows him to learn all on his own without having to walk most of a day just to attend class and without needing to have direct access to an internet connection.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the United States, there is a young girl who does have a classroom to go to (they even send out a bus so she doesn't have to walk at all) and she hates it. She spends much of her time sitting with her chin in her hands because she doesn't understand a thing the teacher is saying most of the time. Mary is a one of the 30% (3) of sixth graders in America who doesn't know it yet, but will never graduate from high-school.

She does OK on some subjects but she just doesn't understand the more technical subjects like math and science. The teacher goes too fast and Mary doesn't have time to understand what he is saying before the teacher moves on to the next subject. So Mary quickly gives up, gets bored, and decides that science is just for boys. Mary eventually drops out of high-school and gets a job at a local fast-food restaurant.

One day Mary sees an advertisement on TV about a way she can finish her high-school diploma and maybe even test out of a lot of college classes just by studying at home on her mom's computer. She tries it out and discovers that this is nothing like the computer programs they made her work on at school. Instead of just repeating the same stuff for everybody, whether anyone understands it or not, this program has lots of different explanations for the each and every thing she needs to learn.

And since all the content - contributed by people all over the world - is checked by real teachers, Mary knows that what she is learning is guaranteed to be reliable, unlike some of the stuff she finds on the internet. And now, when she doesn't understand what the computer says, she can just click a button and get a different explanation. Pretty soon, the computer somehow knows just what explanation to give her without her even needing to ask any more.

Mary quickly works her way through all the material she needs to get her GED. She can't believe how much she can remember either. It's not like in school where she would just cram for the test and then forget it all the next day. The program keeps asking her different questions about the same stuff but at just the right times so her brain just naturally decides to remember it, without her really trying that hard. Soon Mary is working on testing out of college level classes in science and math, subjects that she has taken a renewed interest in now that it is so much easier to learn them.

What could possibly have helped both Hidarth and Mary learn. Two people from drastically different backgrounds and life situations? Both were using software that made use of educational content in the DEMML format. The Distributable Educational Material Markup Language™ (DEMML™) will be both a free and open XML format for marking up educational material in a highly structured yet incredibly flexible manner and a system for authenticating and distributing that content throughout the world, even to areas that have no internet connection at all.

Once distributed, no internet connection is required to use the material either. This material is organized and classified to a degree never before attempted, using what turns out to be a rather simple system of encoding the hierarchical tree of all possible educational material right down to the paragraph level. This allows anyone to easily contribute any amount of material to what will quickly grow to be a vast library of vetted content for all to use. In addition the format facilitates a new level of flexibility in computer based learning by allowing educators to specify what material the student should study while still allowing the student instant access to additional material as their needs require.

Multiple different explanations or presentations can exist for any one fact within any very specific topic. This allows any student at any level to quickly find just the right explanation that helps them most efficiently understand the topic at hand.

To be clear, DEMML™ is not yet another Computer Based Training (CBT) system. Nor is it yet another Wiki or lesson-plan repository. Instead, it is a way of creating a library of educational material in a standardized format which all compatible CBT systems can easily and automatically draw from, with no content editing whatsoever. Existing CBT software can be modified slightly to make use of this content or modified even further to employ the rich functionality that only DEMML™ provides.

Just as hyperlinking existed long before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and HTML, CBT has been around a long time before DEMML™. Before HTML all hyperlinking systems were proprietary and only worked within limited confines. Similarly, current CBT systems are all either proprietary systems or are relatively unavailable to the public. DEMML™ will be to CBT what HTML and WWW have been to hyperlinking. It will open up a world of possibilities by making education easily available to everyone, everywhere.

Only when students can easily obtain and master all the material necessary for a course of study entirely on their own will they be free of the barriers that stand between them and knowledge. Only when everyone in the world has free and easy access to all the education they want or need will we be able to overcome the suffering created when the uneducated are left to fend for themselves against the unscrupulous.

People all over the world, in all walks of life, desperately need a new way to learn. They need to be able to learn at their own pace, using content that is fine tuned to their specific learning style rather than having canned content regurgitated at them by over-stressed teachers. I believe that DEMML will be that new way. I believe that DEMML will create a paradigm shift in the way people learn.

Unfortunately, DEMML™ is not quite ready for prime time yet. I will be creating the first version of the XML Schema next semester and will begin forming a non-profit organization to oversee the standard soon. Would you like to play a part in ushering in this new era of education? If so, please contact me and let me know.


References

Grant Sheridan Robertson originally published A story to illustrate the usefulness of DEMML on the DEMML blog and its used here with his permission

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22 Comments

Holy cows, this guy hit the nail on the head with WHY there isn't a huge effort in creating free curriculum. Good curriculum builds on itself, tracks a student, is easily editable, merge-able, and allows for various material (written, video, pictures, games, etc).

His structure could easily standardize how curriculum is created and maintained thus opening the pathway to truly free open educational material.

Too bad it will take sometime to see what he comes up with. After that, it would be interesting to see if the format in XML can be used in drupal, sugar, etc.

Thank you so much for you wonderful encouragement. This is exactly what I need to get myself moving on DEMML. I have to admit that I am definitely NOT a Type-A individual. It sometimes takes me a bit more to get motivated. This is why it has taken so long to even get this far with DEMML.

I took a look at your personal home page and learned that you like to write "Direct Instruction" educational content. Could you please contact me and send me some links where I could learn more about this. I am trying to structure DEMML in such a way as to be compatible with as many systems, standards, and formats as possible.

Regarding your comments about Drupal: As I am sure you know, Drupal is a content management system for creating interactive websites. While DEMML will have several web sites, it is not designed to actually BE a web site. It is a format for structuring data. On that note, it would be entirely possible, and quite welcome, for anyone to build a web site that makes use of official DEMML content as well as non-official, DEMML format content. As Drupal is a modular system, I would be thrilled if, once DEMML is complete, someone created a module for Drupal that would facilitate adding DEMML content to any Drupal based web site.

Again, thank you for your wonderful comments.

Grant

A lot of people get really nervous when talking about "open" curricula, for a variety of reasons that usually hover around trust and risk.

Curriki.org would be a valuable place to start and partner with, as they have been working on creating open-sourced curricula for a while now.

Jon, Thank you for your comments.

Could you please expound on what you meant by "trust and risk." These seem like important issues but I cannot quite see what you mean by them in the context of distributable educational content. Are you concerned that the vetting process would not be rigorous enough? I do have systems in mind but not fully realized yet. Do you have any suggestions?

I have been in e-mail contact with the director of Curriki.org regarding other issues. We have not yet discussed the possibility of DEMML content incorporating content from her web site. One good thing is that there is a lot of great educational content available out there on the internet at sites like Curriki.org and Wikipedia.com. Unfortunately, that content is rarely classified and organized in such a way and in such detail that a student could quickly and easily find exactly what they need. This is one of the primary benefits DEMML seeks to provide. Fortunately, most of this content is licensed under the Creative Content license and would therefore be perfect for inclusion in the DEMML database once it has been massaged into the DEMML format.

This sounds really what OLPC should fully embrace. Given the collaborative wireless capabilities of the XO, it would be its natural extension. I wonder if you are in touch with Sugar labs to allow a full and complete integration with that environment...

It would also be good to have a simple howto guide to facilitate a grassroot involvement from volunteers.

Keep up the good work!

The standard is being designed such that anyone can incorporate content into their existing Computer Based Education system, or create entirely new systems to take advantage of the special features of DEMML. DEMML is not a program or software system in itself. It is a standard for formatting and organizing the content and then distributing it even where there are no internet connections. I will definitely be working to encourage as many people as possible to write software that uses the content. I expect to write some basic software as proof of principle but I fully expect the open source and commercial software sectors to take over from there.

I have not been in contact with Sugar Labs yet. I am pretty new at this "change the world" thing and am a little shy about getting overrun by people with more knowledge and experience. I want to have things more firmly in place before I start "partnering up" with large development groups. Hopefully I will be ready for that by this summer.

Hi Grant,

While I cannot say it would be bad to have a huge library of content working, I'm kind of worried that you would be re-inventing (part of) the wheel.

There are a series of freely usable standards around which already give useful elements to classify and share freely-available content, and instead of defining a new one, I would kind of think that there are ways to express your creativity extending existing ones. This kind of repository idea is generally called a Learning Object Library (LOL - this might be hard to find in a search engine due to the noise of other occurrences of that name), or a Learning Object Repository (LOR). I'm giving you a list of related links here that you might want to run through *before* going any further.

- There's a document talking about various different solutions: http://www.fer.hr/_download/repository/Hrvoje_Jerkovic,_KDI.pdf

- The Fedora Learning Objects Repository Interface: http://linux.softpedia.com/get/Education/Flori-34011.shtml

- SCORM (1.2,1.3 and 2.0). I'm giving you one link related to SCORM 2.0 here, but basically SCORM already holds a structure for describing contents in XML and is already supported by most Learning Management Systems, of which Dokeos (of which I'm the project lead) and Moodle both run on an OLPC/XO1 with little config if needed: http://wiki.letsi.org/display/nextscorm/Toward+a+Content+Service+Architecture+for+Learning

- IMS/QTI

- AICC

- elml and gitta

Anyway, there's like a lot of things going in the same direction and I would really love to see convergence into a pair of standards instead of the generation of new ones.

Either way, at Dokeos, we would love to help make it happen by providing an interface for people to get access to standard contents. We already have a SCORM 1.2 and IMS/QTI export, and a FLOR export is under way. We would just need to know where to connect to and how to share the contents of more than 100,000 teachers around the world (well, those ready to share at least).

And considering we are also somewhat involved in the OLPC project here at Dokeos Latino, we love the story and the idea of sharing content through a USB stick. There are around 150,000 XO's here without internet connexion.

Yannick

Yannick,

When I was first inventing DEMML™ back in 2006 I did extensive reading on SCORM and several other standards for formatting educational content. One thing I learned about SCORM is that it was created by defense contractors at the behest of the Department of Defense. Being defense contractors, they naturally created something that requires more contractors to install and maintain. SCORM, FEDORA, and every other system I have seen all require one or more servers and a real-time network connection to work. I am designing DEMML™ such that it does not need any internet connection at all to work. Not even for the distribution of the content.

Another aspect of SCORM - and all the other systems I have examined - is that it requires content authors to hand-build every lesson. Yes, SCORM content can be saved in a repository as smaller chunks. However in order for content to be used within the LMS, that content must be hand-edited into a rather large, monolithic unit. DEMML™ imposes no such requirement. I encourage you to read the page about Features and Benefits on the DEMML web site. Particularly the sections about the highly granular nature of DEMML™ content, the way DEMML™ uses syllabuses and lesson plans to list content to be studied without actually containing any content themselves, and how no server or internet connections are required to distribute or use DEMML content. (If you have already done so, please take another look as I have just updated it to adress your concerns.) Now, it will be entirely possible for users to use content via a server or internet connection. It will simply not be required as it is in all of the other learning management systems out there.

One thing that makes all of this possible is that DEMML™ is student centered rather than teacher or institution centered. All LMSs want to track each student's progress on their servers in a secure manner so that the institution can verify that the student actually studied the content and did reasonably well on the evaluations. This requires a connection to a server. However, in DEMML™ all we care about is if the student learned something. We don't care about reporting that to some authority figure. The student's learning software tracks their progress merely for the purposes of predicting what to present next and when to quiz the student for maximum learning. Sure, the student can cheat "the system" but the only one they will be cheating is themselves. Once the student has learned the material, using whatever means works best for them, then institutions of various kinds can test that knowledge however they see fit.

DEMML™ compatible software could be written to report back to some sever with results but that is definitely not required or even encouraged. Once the DEMML™ schema is released and we have enough content in the system, it should be entirely possible for you and your company to write code that will include DEMML™ format content in SCORM systems. Then SCORM content authors would no longer need to hand-edit each lesson put into a SCORM system. They could just use DEMML™ format syllabuses and lesson plans to specify what should be included. The DEMML™ part of the system would then automatically choose what to present based on the needs of the user rather than the guesses of the content author. You could also mix and match official DEMML™ content with specialized content written just for your customers.

As to your suggestion to make use of all of the many standards that are already out there for formatting DEMML™ content: I fully intend to make use of as many pre-existing standards as possible. However, after studying many of them, I found that most, even ones that come highly recommended, do not track the detailed metadata necessary for a fully automated system to choose content for students on an individual basis. Please read the section about the rich metadata that DEMML™ content will provide to the student's learning software.

Remember, the key difference between DEMML and other systems is that DEMML leaves the content broken down into it's smallest constituent parts and lets the user's software choose which to present. Everything else requires content authors to manually piece together various parts into a larger whole. And while there are lots of repositories with lots of content out there, all of that content is bundled up into pre-determined lessons and chapters. The metadata associated with that content is almost always pretty darned sketchy, being comprised mostly of some tags and keywords made up on an ad-hoc basis by whomever happens to come along with no consistency whatsoever. As a result, most of the "sophisticated" searching features are essentially nothing more than standard word or keyword searches. It still takes hours of searching to find just the right material. Some content is classified by intended grade level or the type of media used. That is usually as far as it goes. The DEMML™ philosophy is that there are more different kinds of students than can be easily classified using simple grade levels.

Again, thank you for all of your comments. I will study the links and standards you provided and see if there is anything that I can use within DEMML™. Please feel free to subscribe to the DEMML™ blog to keep aprised of further developments. I don't post too very often so it shouldn't be too much of a bother.

Hi Grant, and thank you for your patient answer. There are just a few things I want to make clear:

* as unlikely as it may sound, I represent a company but I also represent a free software lead developer, with interest in improving education without financial benefit. The company itself sells services, not the product, so we don't have any commercial interest in adopting DEMML (nor will in any close future). My answer was just focusing on trying to contribute into getting you to focus on what doesn't exist just yet. Sorry if it was misunderstood as commercial interest o negative criticism.

* SCORM 1.2 and 1.3 allows you to cut content pieces into units called "SCO", and each of these might be composed of an unlimited number of pedagogical "objectives"

* SCORM 1.3 allows you to design conditional learning paths inside one course content (they call that "navigation" if I remember well). Not exactly what you might be looking for, but there is something to be taken from there.

* SCORM also allows you to read content without internet connexion to a server. LMS systems do require connexion to one of these though, obviously

* SCORM *is* a complex and complicated standard and might not be philosophically matching what you are planning to do, as you point out, but there are a lot of good things to take out from a pre-established standard that has already been used a lot.

Overall, I was just trying to pass on the message that it would probably be useful to you to re-use most of what already exists, but I'm sure you're going to do a great job.

One thing that bothers me is the insisting on the "TM" mention for DEMML. What is the objective of the trademark?

Thanks,

Yannick

Yannick,

Thank you for the additional information about SCORM. I see it has changed a lot since I last took a look at it back in 2006. I will have to take another look.

I had initially intended to allow both SCORM and HTML formatted content as the actual content displayed to the user. Perhaps I will move back to that model. For now, I think I will stick with HTML only. I am pretty overwhelmed with the complexity of this whole project as it is. Again, I am just one guy, and I actually have very little programming, XML, or web design experience.

I will especially have to take a look at all the pedagogical "objectives". While I do not consider these to be part of the content itself, I could perhaps use the SCORM XML elements for this information within the DEMML™ metadata. I definitely want to make it as easy as possible for developers to make use of the DEMML™ standard. Reusing existing elements would certainly make things easier. However, I will need to double-check on the license situation for SCORM and how that would affect the licensing for DEMML™. I would also be concerned about there being any patent or copyright restrictions on software that makes use of those elements. The USPTO has been handing out some pretty lame patents lately and I wouldn't want any developers of DEMML™ software to be encumbered by some stupid patent on "A system and method of reading SCORM compliant pedagogical objectives into a computer's memory."

Speaking of intellectual property: I use the "TM" when possible to assert my ownership in the intellectual property consisting of the DEMML name and logo. As does anyone else who needs to ensure that others do not come along and appropriate their intellectual property. I am sure you would not appreciate it if someone started producing a competing learning management suite and also call it "Dokeos." Therefore, I would recommend that you register "Dokeos" and your sphere logo as international trademarks.

As you know, I am currently just a single individual. As you may not know, I am also a student living almost entirely on financial aid. I do not have the financial resources to sue some large corporation (cough-Microsoft-cough) if they appropriate my ideas and attempt to patent them for themselves. Even if they do not attempt to steal my ideas outright, it is also possible for them to attempt to "embrace and extend" the DEMML™ standard into a proprietary nightmare. I am sure you remember the "browser wars" of 1995-1997 wherein Microsoft and Netscape both tried to "own" the World Wide Web by continuously introducing new, unofficial "features" to HTML.

It all worked out in the end (sort of) but the W3C totally lost control of the HTML standard for a while. Only because it was important for business use of HTML did things finally settle down and the W3C incorporated many of those additions to the standard. However, one of the results was that only those two large companies could keep up with the changes that were being forced into HTML. It was not possible for small, independent developers, such as yourself, to keep up with these changes. Therefore, there were few competing web browsers for quite some time. I do not want this to happen to DEMML™. I want it to be possible for lots of independent developers (open-source and commercial) to write software that makes use of the DEMML™ standard. Therefore, I must protect the standard from being "forked" into oblivion by major players attempting to control it for their own proprietary purposes.

Trademark enforcement is one way to protect the standard from such abuses. With a trademark it is possible to control who uses the standard and how it is used. If I can say that companies must not "embrace and extend" the standard or they will not be given the right to use my trademarks then that gives me some power to protect the standard. Once I form a non-profit I will turn ownership of the trademarks and standards over to that entity. But until then, I have to protect the intellectual property of the standard in any way I can.

SCORM has a government sponsored agency to protect the standard. They require compliance testing before anyone can claim to be SCORM compliant. This is simply to ensure that the standard does not get compromised by someone attempting to force it in a direction that would benefit only one company. It is also to ensure consistency in the format of the content so that any SCORM compliant content can be viewed by any SCORM compliant LMS. These are my goals as well.

None of this is to say that I will ever charge software developers or free content providers for using the DEMML standard. However, I am considering some system by which major commercial publishers who sell content in DEMML format would be required to help support the standard financially. I realize this is a controversial notion in the Open Source community. But I also don't want DEMML™ to become dependent on government support. I have more information about all this here under "Funding".

Again, thank you for all of your suggestions and encouragement. If you would like to discuss this further, you can find my contact information here.

Grant Sheridan Robertson

Before you think the opposite, I hate SCORM, but that's mostly because I have to deal with dozens of different (unlicensed) implementations of it by content developers, so most of what I'm telling you is not to get you into SCORM, but rather to get you to use pre-built pieces of it if you can, to focus on the innovative part.

The SCORM license might be a problem indeed.

I'm a developer, so I got a pretty clear idea now (been working on it for 3 years) of what it's made of, and SCORM's structure is pretty basic and unobtrusive if you want it to.

Basically, making a SCORM package can be as easy as putting HTML files together in a directory and building a small table of contents in an XML file called imsmanifest.xml. Period. In this case, all your content is considered "asset" (passive HTML).

Now if you want to make it really useful, you have to start playing with JavaScript, but that's the nice part too: all browsers can read HTML and JavaScript, no need for third party apps.

Thanks for clarifying the license usage. Defending the correct use of your future standard would be best done through an association that approves the use of the standard and gives a free membership to non-for-profit organizations and stuff like that, but that can come later on.

I'm reluctant to discuss this somewhere else because I wouldn't have time to extend this discussion much more right now (lot of work). With the information I've given you right now, I'm sure you won't spare any wasted effort, so my goal has been reached :-)

If you need any example of simple SCORM content, just send me an e-mail at y-at-beeznest-dot-com

Good luck!

"Before you think the opposite, I hate SCORM ..."

Again, Thanks for the insight. I see that I still have lots to learn about SCORM. It seems that, rather than being tightly controlled, SCORM has problems of its own with control of the standard. This is exactly what I want to avoid if at all possible.

I know some about the SCORM JavaScript but not much. I believe that is how the SCORM content communicates back with the servers via a special SCORM API. This is also something I want to avoid. This is part of what makes SCORM so darned complicated to implement. DEMML™ content will all stand entirely on its own. It will not require and will not be allowed to communicate back to any server. This is so the user's own personal learning management software can display that content even when there is no network or internet connection.

Again, thanks for all your help. Remember, subscribe to my blog so you can keep apprised of my progress, as slow as it is.

Grant Sheridan Robertson

Grant, as Yannick points out, there is a lot of overlap between your schema and SCORM + extensions. What does your schema offer that SCORM and company don't?

Hi Guys,

I think the sad thing is that best practice on the quite universally applicable subject of developing interactive learning resources (quizes, feedback, mini simulations etc.) does not seem to be shared so much.... and of course content development does not always have the priority it needs...

The most attractive model that I can see at the moment is based quite a bit on exelearning (www.exelearning.org) which is open source and implements all of the above, with an export to SCORM and HTML which can run with or without a net connection. I have been in contact with their developers and am checking out the source so I can add the HTML 5 offline manifest generation to the system.

When your normal quiz, fill in the blank etc. doesn't cut it then Scratch in a Java applet seems quite a sensible way to go (XO is not an ideal Java machine, but such is life). Certainly works for putting the gravity sim into the physics book.

We have also developed a new offline / HTML 5 friendly digital library generator that creates plain old HTML pages - some more info on that is in the olpc wiki.

Regards,

Mike

How's the development activity for eXeLearning? Latest stable version doesn't work with Firefox 3 out of the box and I've seen little activity (so I am worried about its future). Great to learn someone's going to work on integrating HTML5 offline stuff there.

Hey,

Indeed well I was about to go writing a Java / XSL system as I hade made for the library app... but then a bit more hunting and tips resulted in finding exelearning.

I emailed the developers (actually there was no dev link and eduforge forums wouldn't let me register).... Haven't got anything back yet but it's still holiday time I guess...

But the source is there... if worse comes to worse forking it will be a heck of a lot less painful than starting from scratch and re-inventing the wheel again... I am also gonna try and make an iDevice for Scratch (which would be a small mod of the Java iDevice) - so hopefully makes it easier to insert Scratch content as well.

Regards,

-Mike

You definitely should be using one of the "nightly" builds rather than the "release" version.
http://eXeLearning.org/files/nightlies/

Hi that's really cool. I have a confusion that I would like to clarify. Do you sell OLPC laptops at all region of the world?? How can anyone buy OLPC laptop?

Hi Grant. I too am working on a monumental (open-source) project all by myself... and it's not working out so well. It's just too big, and I am getting discouraged because there is no one to help me.

Finding others to get on board might be easier if you had a compelling demo. When I started learning about Ruby on Rails, there were a couple a slick videos about it, an Eclipse-based IDE (RadRails) and a easy installer for everything I needed to get a Rails web site up and running. It was incredibly easy to get started and I really enjoyed using it (at first) because of that. Later I started to lose interest because the more advanced stuff was hard to figure out, and I missed static typing, but because of all the resources they threw at newbies, the Rails people had convinced me to make a pretty nice web site with their technology.

In my opinion, what will get people on board faster than anything else is a demo that is actually "good enough" to use for some kind of educational purpose. Make software that is good enough for some particular subject: an editor to create the DEMML and a viewer to teach with. Make sure it's easy to install, or better yet, runs on a web site so there is no need to download anything. Find a free/wiki textbook for that subject and convert it to DEMML format. Then, you can start looking for people (teachers and/or students and/or programmers) that are willing to use it, edit it, write new educational content, and improve the software.

I would be very surprised if you could get others to start using the standard if there is no existing software that supports it. So it seems to me you should focus more on the software than the standard. On the other hand, as someone with no major successes under my belt, I could be wrong.

It is important when you write this software to keep its scope limited; otherwise you might lose enthusiasm before you have something good enough to start building a community with. As others have mentioned, start with existing software if possible; I wonder if you could somehow use MediaWiki a the DEMML editor?

Good luck. And by the way, I also disagree with the frequent use of "™". It has the connotation that you're some big corporation, producing a product, rather than one guy hoping to build a community.

David is right. There is a lot of documentation also about open-source *development* project which study that half-sad fact: you have to start small and make something functional. The Agile Development methods tend to agree on that (there's a cycle of incremental steps).

David,

I completely agree. I know that I need something to at least provide "proof of principle." I am working on it. However, I am not the most experienced programmer. I was mostly a networking guy before. So, everything I try to do is incredibly slow going. It really is a lot to try to do at once.

So, I am working on learning Java (beyond the basics they teach you in college classes) while I am working on the XML schema. I am a firm believer that the schema should come first and then you write the code to that.

As to the trademark issues: Unfortunately, how we would like things to be and how the law is written are often two different things. If I do not protect the intellectual property of the name and logo at every turn then I leave an opening for someone to come along and attempt to appropriate the name. As I expect the name to become a common household word (when I finally get all this done) it will be very tempting for large corporations to try to "horn in on the action" - so to speak - by naming their products in ways that imply that they are somehow officially associated with my (future) organization. So, despite how it might make a few people feel, it is imperative that I keep sticking that darned "TM" in there.

Thanks for all your advice.
Grant

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