A few weeks ago I wrote a proposal in response to a call for proposals from the JISC funded SWORD V2 project to help build SWORD clients. The proposal requested funds to accelerate development of software to help educators publish word processing to Connexions using the new OER publishing API that is based on SWORD V2.
The proposal is being funded! Thank you to JISC and the SWORD V2 project. Read their announcement about it here.
The basic idea is as follows:
- Many teachers use Word or Open Office to create their lessons and educational material. And many are eager and willing to share.
- Connexions is a great place to share educational materials because it is easy to reuse.
- You can combine pieces to create whole textbooks and courses.
- Connexions makes it available on the web, in print, for mobile phones, and for ebook readers.
- If you change one bit, Connexions remakes the book, the ebook, the web view, etc.
- If someone wants to adapt your content (change the examples, translate it), they can make a copy and publish their changes and you still get credit for inspiring the new adaptation.
- But, the word processing documents have to be converted to Connexions format first.
So this new tool will help authors convert their word processing documents, preview how they will look once they are in Connexions, and then use SWORD to publish them to Connexions.
And developers can help make better versions of this tool without knowing a whole lot about how Connexions software works. Just how SWORD (and the OERPub API variant) work.
Choosing or developing a standard way to publish open educational resources (OER) to libraries (repositories) that encourage remixability (sharing and adapting) was one of my main goals for the first three months of my fellowship with the Shuttleworth Foundation. Fortuitously, the way forward seems clear and smooth by using an existing publishing standard called SWORD.
For non-techies and techies alike, I highly recommend watching the video below that Cottage Labs made for SWORD V2. It is very short, clear, and quite nicely done. If you are a Connexions person, think of the package as a module (the document/page/topic itself, plus all the goodies like images, movies, sound clips, and handouts that the document contains). The package could also be an entire collection. If you work with other educational materials in learning management systems, the package could contain anything from a single PDF or geo-tagged image, to a whole common cartridge course.
As the video shows, SWORD is a simple protocol for depositing content into repositories. It is a specialization of the Atom Publishing Protocol which is itself widely used for publishing web content like blogs. After attending Open Repositories 2011, meeting some of the SWORD technical team (Stuart Lewis and Richard Jones), and getting a few technical details ironed out, SWORD looks like a winner. In particular, the second version (V2) has everything that we need for publishing open education resources.
The reasons for choosing SWORD in a nutshell (well really in a blog).
- SWORD is simple, but not too simple. SWORD V2 will handle all the basics: finding locations to publish to, creating items, updating them, and signaling that they are ready to publish. And that is about it. SWORD doesn’t specify authentication and authorization, so you can use other standards for that. SWORD doesn’t get into details of organization (like creating and managing folders and such) so much of the complexity of CMIS-like systems is avoided. SWORD V2 specifies one simple packaging format (an atom entry plus a zip) that must be supported, and then leaves all other packaging up to the repository to negotiate with the client. So creating a sword service is straight-forward and encourages lots of implementations. Clients toolkits can provide lots of useable code, but clients do have to know a bit about how the repositories they want to use expect content to be formatted. But that is true anyhow. You can’t send a bunch of PDF’s to Flickr, because it wants images, right?
- SWORD is flexible. SWORD provides specific returned URLs that can be used to give repository specific requirements like signing a license. Repository specific metadata can be added to the entry at will (with a nice namespace to keep them sorted). Repositories can choose to replace content or to create new versions.
- SWORD is popular. SWORD is implemented in many existing repositories (DSpace, ePrints, Fedora, arXiv, Zentity, Invenio) the Open Journal System (OJS), and budding data repositories like Chem#. The US Government led Learning Registry is also including a SWORD service for depositing metadata and paradata about learning materials. The SWORD working team includes many different organizations including JISC, UKOLN, US Library of Congress, and the teams from all those implementors. Client toolkits are available in a variety of popular langagues including Java, Python, Ruby, and PHP.
- SWORD has a head start in Connexions. Since I want to show how clients and services can make publishing OER easier while keeping them in remixable formats, implementing SWORD in Connexions is crucial to the process. Connexions already has a partial implementation of the first version of SWORD that was built for a very specific work flow with OJS. So a full implementation of SWORD has a head start in Connexions.