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ResourceBrowser: Using Social Networking and Ontologies to Share Learning Resources

John Scott
Last modified 05 Dec, 2007
Published 05 Dec, 2007
In this article John Scott from the Chimera Institute, University of Essex, introduces ResourceBrowser a toolkit demonstrator project which links learning resources with the network of practitioners that created them.


This article describes the development of a demonstrator tool called ResourceBrowser that combined social networking and resource browsing tools together. Its objective was to demonstrate how the two tools could be combined to enable practitioners to form communities of practice and share learning resources. The ResourceBrowser project was funded by the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and evolved from previous JISC funded projects that included a Desk Study into e-Learning Models, and development of the DELTA and eProfile toolkits [1], [2]. The project used the ‘mash-up’ principle by combining web services provided by DELTA and eProfile. Therefore, in order to describe ResourceBrowser , this article will firstly give a brief overview of the other projects.

ResourceBrowser Evolution and Development

Desk Study and DELTA

The key aim of the desk-study was to increase understanding of the e-learning models that inform future effective practice, and to apply that understanding to guidance and tools to assist e-learning practitioners, assessor and designers. One of its major outputs was the generation of a mapping table that mapped pedagogical approaches onto generic learning activities. This study identified a need for a tool which could support practitioners in sharing and searching for learning resources with the learning resources themselves being described not only by standard metadata but also according to their pedagogical context [3].

DELTA employs semantic web technologies to provide a standardised way to represent machine interpretable descriptions of learning resources and as such makes particular use of ontologies and metadata standards to describe the learning resources. The mapping table from the desk-top study was converted into a pedagogical ontology containing a number of pedagogical approaches. New resources are then assigned to one or more pedagogical approaches according to their intended use. For example, a resource could be a Case Study that relates to a learning activity that is about groups of students gathering facts. This activity may be defined by the tutor with the activity itself being directed by the learners themselves, the learners then provide teachers with feedback at the end of the activity.

The DELTA resource creation wizard shown in Fig.1 guides the practitioner (tutor) through these steps by providing context sensitive help for the terminology being used. Having defined the Generic Learning Activity, the Roles and the Context, the system (using the pedagogical ontology) assigns a particular pedagogical approach to the resource. The user can then see the pedagogical perspective and the practitioner approach that relates to that particular learning resource.

DELTA Resource Creation Wizard

Figure 1:DELTA Resource Creation Wizard

The pedagogical perspective relates to the nature of learning itself and may be associationist/empiricist (learning as an activity), cognitive (learning as achieving understanding) or situative (learning as social practice). The practitioner approach is implied by how the particular pedagogical perspective relates to whether the activity is instruction, co-instruction, teach-back, construction, social construction, problem-based, situated learning or apprenticeship. For the example given here the pedagogical perspective is cognitive and the practitioner approach is teach-back.

In addition to the pedagogical ontology, DELTA employs a number of subject ontologies. New resources can therefore be categorised according to the subject and can be searched by traversing the subject domain ontologies that are provided by DELTA. The system currently provides around 20 subject ontologies that have been extracted from Wikipedia using a tool created by the project. There are also three subject ontologies that have been developed by the project team: core skills, computer science and education.

DELTA also uses standards based metadata to describe learning resources. A subset of the UK-LOM is used for this purpose. Additionally the RDN/LTSN categorisation is used to specify the resource type.

Many resource repositories use standard metadata to describe resources but DELTA’s uniqueness comes from the addition of the pedagogical ontology allowing the user to define the different pedagogical approaches a resource is intended to be used for [1].

Although DELTA was developed as a web-based application it is also provided as a web service. It is this web service which has been used by the new ResourceBrowser application when searching for resources. However, new resources must still be entered via the DELTA application itself.


The eProfile project [2] provides a means to graphically display and explore people’s social networks. Users register with the system and in doing so create a profile that is then searchable by others. The graphical display is based upon the TouchGraph software interface and is presented to a web browser as an applet. Using this interface a user can view their own or others social networks. They can also search for users who have an interest in a particular topic as well.

In addition to the client side demonstrator applet, there is also an eProfile web service. This employs the Friend Of A Friend (FOAF) W3C specification to ensure standardisation and portability of user profiles entered into the system [4]. The ResourceBrowser application uses a modified eProfile interface and makes calls to the eProfile web service.


The ResourceBrowser demonstrator is intended to show how social networks may be used to find learning resources. It also supports the reverse scenario, where if a learning resource has been found then it is also possible to retrieve the profile of the person who created it in the DELTA repository. It achieves this by integrating both the eProfile and DELTA web services into a single application. An example use case would be that of a user searching for people interested in a particular topic. A list of matching people would then be shown to the user together with a confidence rating in order to help the user choose who they wish to view in more detail. This is then achieved by clicking the mouse button on a person’s name in the list and the person’s social network is then displayed as a number of nodes that identify each person. Clicking the right mouse button on a particular node allows either a person’s profile to be displayed in a new window or a summary of the resources they have described in DELTA to be displayed in the right hand side of the screen (Fig. 2).

Users Social network

Figure 2. A user’s social network and their learning resources

It is then possible to view all the metadata describing particular resources (Fig.3).

Resource metadata details

Figure 3. Resource metadata details

From the graph viewer applet it is possible to also view specific subject ontologies. This allows the user to traverse the subject ontology and identify related concepts. Clicking the right mouse button on a subject node allows all resources related to this subject to be retrieved (Fig. 4).

Subject ontology and related resources

Figure 4. Subject ontology and related resources

Once again the metadata describing the resources may be viewed. Additionally, if the resource creator is a registered ResourceBrowser user, it is possible to view their social network in order to find other people who may have related interests.

A user may edit their user profile at any time to reflect changes in their interests, personal details or people they know.

Currently the pedagogical approach for a particular resource, which is one of the unique features of DELTA, cannot be viewed in ResourceBrowser. This is because further work is required to include the pedagogical ontology and the code to display the pedagogical approach.


The objective of the ResourceBrowser project was to build a demonstrator that provided a link between a social networking tool and learning resources. This paper has given a high level description of the key sub-components used (Delta and eProfile) and described the new ResourceBrowser application which has been built. ResourceBrowser demonstrates some of the advantages of this approach (i.e. combining social networking and semantic technologies) and demonstrates how such a system could be used in practice. We are now investigating ways of automatically classifying personal resources and making them available to online learning communities.


[1] Gardner M.R, Using Ontologies to Support the Sharing of Learning Resources(2007)

[2] eProfile project

[3] JISC Desk Study

[4] Friend Of A Friend (FOAF)


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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