Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Looking Out for "Linked Course Data"

In The Library's Role in Organising "Course Knowledge", I suggested that one possible role for the library might be in organising the knowledge an institution has, or accretes, around the institution's courses over a period of time.

This knowledge might include things like reading lists, and past exam papers, for example.

Looking round the website, it strikes me that the Computing Laboratory have already collected a lot of relevant material around their teaching, although not necessarily in a portable format.

So for example, we have a breakdown of syllabus information for each lecture course associated with the Computer Science Tripos for the current academic year:

Each topic has a page associated with it outlining the syllabus, as well as learning objectives and recommended reading:

The format of the URIs is based on a strightforward enumeration: in the above case, for example.

A second area of the site provides a slightly different breakdown of the teaching materials associated with each lecture course:

In many cases, it seems as if the URI is often 'inspired' by the title of the course, e.g. in the above case.

Included on the course materials page is information that identifies which other programmes (that is, "Subjects" in the CAMSIS parlance) aside from the Computer Science Tripos expect students to take papers/exams in these subjects.

Note that whilst the Subject codes are not explicitly identified on either the syllabus page or the course materials page, they are hinted at in the URI of the syllabus pages, and in the Taken By area of the course materials page. In the above we see CST for example, which is close to the CAMSIS subject code:

Back to the course materials page, and the links to past papers also tend to include a human readable element: although it is not necessarily the case that you can directly transform the URI of the past papers page from the course materials page.

Note that there doesn't seem to be a way of identifying the URI of the syllabus page from the course material or past papers page (or vice versa).

If we look at the past paper areas:

and in more detail at an actual past paper:

there is only 'anecdotal' evidence of the CAMSIS examination code (i.e. 'Paper I').

The URI of the past papers, whilst readable to an extent, are also not forthcoming in this respect: e.g.

So where are we at in terms of being able to use URIs and CAMSIS codes as "Linked Data"? (see also: CAMSIS Codes "-ish Linked Data" Map)

Nowhere we'd want to start from, I suspect...;-)

So what would have been nice? Well what have we got?

- Subject codes (for the Computing Science Tripos, Natural Sciences Tripos, etc), that look something like CST; (there are also UCAS codes, which I suspect must map on to Subject codes, somehow?)
- Parts (roman numerals, maybe with an A/B) (which sort of map on to year of study... sort of...); note that subject code + part already have CAMSIS codes defined for them;
- Papers (a number), which relate to exams;
- (Lecture) courses (titles, numreous incosistent short forms), which map onto a particular paper in the context of a Part and a Subject.

So what would be nice would be:
- a unique identifier for each lecture course;
- a mapping from a lecture course identifier to past paper, keyed by Subject, part and exam number. Note that (like a DOI) this might be a many to one mapping. So for example, Discrete Mathematics I, which is taken by: Part IA CST, Part IA NST, Part I PPS, might have require four plus one pieces of information in its identifier: e.g. 2009/CST0/1/DM_I for the year, subject and part, paper and course in the Computing Science Tripos, and 2009/CST0/1/DM_1:NST0 for its NatSci variant?

The question number in a particular exam paper might also be handy in cases where each different lecture course has it's own identifiable subsection within a paper.

In other institutions, it is likely that the course (module?) will have its own unique identifier. So for example, if we look at the Reading List system at Manchester, we can see how courses there are identified by a unique code within the first year Computing degree:

If we tunnel into the Plymouth Reading list system, we find that whilst module codes are identified, there is no link back to the parent degree code:

The RDF version of the page does appear to have an informal (i.e. not by code number) reference back to the 'parent' degree programme, though:

All of which is to say: at the moment there is no obvious/easy way to map from a UCAS code to an internal degree code to a year of study to a particular lecture course to its reading list and/or past papers. And in the Cambridge context, there's no obvious way of going from a URI associated with content relating to any one of those levels to a URI for content relating to any other ;-) (I think!)

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