Sunday, July 12, 2009

Designing a course module in Metadata and Electronic Data Management - Part 2

Having worked out how much material is needed for a course module on Metadata and Electronic Data Management, what exactly is it for? The description of the IT in e-Commerce course refers to: "... document representation (XML, XSL, DTD, CSS), knowledge discovery (meta-data, information retrieval), data management (digital library, electronic document management), trading (spontaneous, deliberative, auctions) and security (encryption, public key, symmetric key, PKI, authentication, etc). ..."). So the course is about how to design e-documents, protect and manage them, so that they can be found and used for transactions in business.

The ANU is in Canberra, the seat of Australian Government and many students work for the government and so many of the examples in the course are drawn from government business. Also because some of the students go on the be academics and researchers, the example of academic publishing has been used as an example.

There are some common problems for people in business, government and academia: how do I create an e-document which will be flexible for use by different people at different times? How can it be kept? How can it be found? How can it be authenticated?

The problem with e-documents is coping with the volume of material. Workers are being overwhelmed with the volume of email and attachments. Just as they get used to e-mail, along comes blogs, wikis, twits and other technologies to cope with.

The course teaches the use of XML based technology. The idea is that you create the documents in a format which reflects the information content, separate from how the document will look to the reader. This goes beyond the separation of structure from presentation for web pages. With a HTML document, if you strip off the presentation layer, the document still looks like a text document. However, with XML data, with the data definitions removed, you have just a jumble of letters and numbers.

The key point in terms of knowledge discovery is metadata. The metadata can be used to find the data and also substitute for it in many processes. In the case of XML documents metadata is also used to define the data structure.

Students have considerable difficulty understanding what metadata is. The popularisation of metadata trough Tags on web resources, such as images, blog postings and instant messages, provides a useful example.

Previously I introduced metadata from the technical point of view and then illustrated it with popular examples such as Tags. Perhaps it might be to reverse this and introduce tags first.

In introducing electronic document management I went into considerable detail about the procedures used by the Australian Government. While this was popular with professional records managers and archivists, it was of little interest to IT students. It also seems a loosing battle in the government with such records management systems falling into disuse. While I can't solve the problems of the government by myself, perhaps I can suggest some different techniques to the students.

Deleting most of the material about records management procedures will make room for some new material on new electronic formats for use by business.

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