KOS – the missing link?

Lorna Balkan

Constructing and maintaining Knowledge Organization Systems (KOS) such as thesauri is an expensive and labour-intensive business. Increasingly, people are looking at ways to extend their value by finding additional applications for them beyond their traditional role as information retrieval aids for document and data collections.

A workshop entitled ‘Knowledge Organization in learning and teaching’, organized by ISKO-UK at the Institute of Education, London, on 7 October, explored some of these other possibilities within the education domain.

A major theme of the workshop was how KOS can be used for organising and managing information within and across organizations by linking data. Bryan Johnson of the Institute of Education (IoE) opened the session with a description of how the IoE thesaurus has been used to automatically index a repository of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) materials that enables linking between different types of material, such as exam papers and their related syllabuses. He pointed out that this work was only possible due to the thorough revision and update of the thesaurus that preceded it.

Jennifer Summers of Haplo described two linked data projects supported by the Haplo open-source platform – Share Academy, which shows collaborative projects between Higher Education institutions and museums, and the Virtual Research Environment at the University of Westminster, which links key information on researchers (research funding, outputs, etc.). Peter Winstanley of the Scottish Government, meanwhile, outlined an on-going project he is heading that aims to create an interactive online careers information service, underpinned by RDF-formatted KOS and linked data sources.

Incidentally, Helen Challinor, from the Department for Education (DfE), who chaired the workshop, recently gave a talk to colleagues at the UK Data Archive on how she created a subset (currently 1,300 terms) of the DfE thesaurus which she manages and develops, in order to link various administrative systems within her department.

The importance of standards was emphasised by Madi Solomon of Optimity Advisors who introduced the W3C Open Linked Education Community Group. The community’s goals include, amongst other things, acting as a portal for education vocabularies and sharing best practices. This last goal tied in nicely with the presentation by Phil Barker of Heriot Watt University on the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), an education-specific extension of schema.org, which defines metadata standards for educational resources.

The take-home message from the day was that thesauri and other KOS do indeed have important roles to play in knowledge management and linked data. However, they need to be well constructed, up-to-date, and available in standard formats if they are to be fully exploited. The CESSDA-ELSST project, by updating the ELSST and HASSET thesauri and converting them to SKOS is thus maximising their usability and ensuring their longevity. Moreover, by working in synergy with other metadata initiatives and projects, such as the Data Documentation Initiative (DDI) and the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER) project, CESSDA-ELSST is helping to promote data sharing and linking.

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