I spent last week at the 21st International World Wide Web Conference, aka WWW2012, in Lyon, France. The reputed gastronomic capital of France has much to recommend it, but I was there for different reasons: as co-chair of the 5th Linked Data on the Web workshop and to talk about our vision of an ‘education graph’ at the Linked Learning workshop.
Recent years have seen increasing discussion of the ‘social graph’ — the network of personal and professional connections made explicit in sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Against this backdrop there has been growing interest in the notion of an education graph representing connections between learners and other key objects in the education process, such as teachers, courses, learning resources, and so on.
At present, there are few, if any, places where this graph is more apparent than behind the scenes of Talis Aspire, which uses the Linked Data paradigm to make the connections in the graph manifest. We have long believed that systems able to connect individuals into a rich, education-oriented Web will be central to student success in the 21st century, and for this reason Talis Aspire has been built from the outset on a graph-based data model (RDF) that enables this degree of connectivity to be easily expressed and harnessed.
The Linked Learning workshop at WWW2012 (officially the ’2nd International Workshop on Learning and Education with the Web of Data’), focused as it was on Linked Data in an educational setting, provided the perfect forum to begin sharing our ideas in this area. I presented a paper, co-authored with several Talis Education colleagues, titled ‘Assembling and Applying an Education Graph based on Learning Resources in Universities‘ (PDF), that describes how, with the support and encouragement of our customers, we pool data from multiple instances of Talis Aspire Campus Edition in order to provide novel services back to those customers.
The key take-home message here is that while each Talis Aspire Campus Edition customer generates a wealth of data about the courses taught and resources used at that institution, certain insights (such as recommendations or lists of most referenced resources) are only available by looking at the aggregate across a wider sample of the sector. With a significant proportion of UK universities adopting Talis Aspire Campus Edition, the insights provided by this aggregate view can provide real value to those who participate.
As our vision of an education graph develops, we’ll aim to share more of the details with the community at large, through events such as the ‘Linked Learning’ and ‘Linked Data on the Web’ workshops. We’re also participating in community groups such as Linked Universities, which provide a focal point for universities publishing their own information in Linked Data form. With the large search engines increasingly consuming linked, structured data published on the Web by the likes of national governments and the BBC, we hope that all higher education institutions will become first class citizens of the Web of Data by contributing directly to the education graph. Please feel free to get in touch to find out how.