Wanted: Enterprise Content Management for Education

   
   
   
   
   

A couple of months ago after an OLPC Austria meetup nubae and me were thinking about which major components were missing from the larger OLPC / Sugar eco-system. One of the projects we were discussing at the time was taking a bunch of great learning materials from a former teacher and scanning them to make them available to the general public. We realized that we had no idea where we would put the images once we had them scanned. As a result of the discussion I started looking at some Web based content management solutions but soon got distracted by other projects.


Stuck in the age of the floppy disk!

Several months later I find myself in the OLE Nepal offices in Kathmandu again trying to find a solution for content management within an educational context. In my opinion a suitable solution for Educational Content Management has to address the following requirements:

  • the ability to handle tens if not hundreds of thousands of multimedia objects
  • easy to search so existing objects can be quickly retrieved
  • a version control mechanism, especially for text documents which tend to undergo a lot of revisions
  • the ability to define workflows with the simplest one of them being the review of an object
  • support for metadata that goes beyond what normal file formats offer
  • allow for batch processing (upload, download, tagging, etc.)
  • preferably based on software people already know, e.g. a browser or file explorer
  • open-source

Software development, especially in environments with hundreds or thousands of independent contributors such as open source, wouldn't be possible today without solid source code management solutions. However while facing similar challenges as software development a lot of content development today is still done in a way that's very similar to how programs were developed before the arrival of tools like CVS, git or SVN.

I strongly believe that there are a lot of scenarios where effective ECM could really make it quite a bit easier to create educational content based on already available materials. Some of the most obvious examples are OLE Nepal's E-Paath efforts, the Karma project and of course the larger OLPC and SugarLabs initiatives.

Now in the past week I spent some time evaluating one potential solution, Alfresco, but unfortunately I have hit some roadblocks with it. I'd therefore be very interested in your suggestions for and experiences with other Enterprise Content Management products that could be used as an Educational Content Management solution which meets the requirements discussed at the beginning of the article. edu-git anyone?

You can find the original blog post that this article is based on over on the OLE Nepal blog.

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15 Comments

Hi,

I am pretty close to finishing a first demo version of something I have designed in Afghanistan for exactly that purpose - which is Simple Digital Library Interface (SDLI).

Basically it's a java system that generates HTML for directories of whatever kind of content that you have and does so using existing meta data.

In addition to the points that you made above two criteria are important for us - one is it should be easy to replicate (e.g. school server libraries updating from a central source) and secondly it should be as quick and simple as possible to add new content.

There's two 'passes' - one extracts meta data from different file types (e.g. from audio files, HTML files etc) and turns that into XML representing standard dublin core meta data, the second pass uses an XSL template to change that into pages that the user can view in the browser. Pretty much anyone that can change HTML stuff can change those templates to change appearance.

For searching we are using integration with Nutch which is a very nice open source search engine that really feels like Google.

I should have a demo version / code etc. online - it's open source of course...

We aren't using version control really - it's more of a library content system / interface. Though it could be adapted...

That sounds like a very interesting project indeed!

I'd definitely love to learn more about your project, could I ask you to get in touch with me on this topic via "christoph AT olpcnews DOT com".

Thanks.

Knowledge Tree ? Have been using MS SharePoint since its inception and it meets all of your criteria. There are several Linux equivalents such as the mentioned Alfresco. There should not be too much difference from business requirements for document management / control. Still managing my documents from my Win2000 server on my home network (as well as the cloud). Looking forward to switching to open source.

ncarrol, while MS SharePoint is obviously an interesting product it's only available via Microsoft's Volume Licensing and quite expensive at that. Plus it's obviously not open-source;-)

Do you have specific recommendations for other open-source equivalents besides Alfresco?

I looked at Knowledge Tree but the problem is that the free community edition has some limitations that are a deal breaker for me.

What limitations are a deal breaker in the community version of KnowledgeTree? It would be interesting to know, plus there's probably a way to enable these in the community version for your use (not that I am offering direct help here, but still, there might be ways to help)

If what you're looking for is more like a central public repository, you can also have a look at http://www.get-e-course.com (based on an open-source solution I'm contributing to, called openc2c).

What's wrong with Moodle? It's open source, designed as an educational portal (and can be customized to be at least slightly less class-centric), and supports embedding non-text media

Oh, and 1CC is already working on Moodle as part of the XS (server) setup

Does Moodle manage version, workflow and batch processing? (positively curious)

Moodle is a learning management system not a content repository / content management system.

Moodle does not meet the base requirements that Christoph specifies, nor is that moodle's purpose.

Christoph is looking for a solution to held content developers collaborate on individual resources such as documents, images, audio files, not a solution for delivering that content in a packaged format to students.

Moodle does have history logs and wiki plugins, but for simply open-source educational content creation and collaboration, why not add to Curriki.org? It may not have everything, but it has an active community already, with some people even gathering OLPC-relevant curricula together:

http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_ALoom/BiologyLinksforOLPC

http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_Group_OLPCResources/AFirstProjectAllAboutMeanAutobiographicalExploration_0

I have worked with a curriki and it is a nice tool. The curriki doesn't fit the our needs for the following reasons:

1) doesn't allow u to add resources in bulk that can later be accessed singly, for instance 30 unrelated images

2) Requires that u add a lot of metadata up front

The model that ChristophD and I have is that content authors can upload lots of individual resources in bulk, some of the metadata is extracted automatically, and later others can add metadata and tags.

One thing we didn't try yet but that looks interesting and might suit the purpose - o3spaces is a collaboration system for people working on documents together...

It's based on open office - I know it has some different versions in that annoying community edition vs. enterprise edition model - however it is open source up to there and I think that version could do most of what's needed from the list...

Mahara is a project instigated by the government of New Zealand, it is an educational content management system or e-profile system. Each learner has an area to collect and show off all their digitally created content, in whatever form that may be. It is open source and also integrates with Moodle.

I have extensive experience with eLearning and LCMSs - I've produced hundreds of hours of courseware over the past decade and ran a company in Montreal that specialized in multi-lingual courseware. I'd really like to help you with this project. Please contact me. I want to get involved with OLPC and see how my expertise can help you. Thanks.

a.

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