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An overview of the MDC project

Sarah Holyfield
13 Jun, 2005
An overview of the MDC (Middleware for Distributed Cognition) toolkit project funded in 2004.

One of the aims of the project from its initial proposal was to "make it as easy as possible to integrate fully functional and interoperable Search and Discover services into Learning Design, VLE and Portal systems…".

Ultimately the project addresses the need of educational institutions to move away from monolithic library systems to a more distributed way of provisioning content to learners. The goal of this project is to create software that can embedded seamlessly into learning environments. This project is about pulling together the library and VLE worlds.

The project has implemented a learner interface for searching multiple resource repositories to find for example books, journal articles and learning objects. The interface allows learners to conduct many searches, preview resources and select the ones they want to include in a resource (reading) list.

The MDC interface has built on the JAFER federated search software to allow both Z39.50 and SRW compliant searching. The resource lists can be output according to the IMS Resource List Interoperability data specification. Learners can preview their resources using the NISO OpenURL 0.1 mechanism.

By representing resource lists in an internationally agreed XML format a single base for representing bibliographies in multiple formats can be used. The project has integrated the Apache Cocoon software to allow for output in PDF and XHTML formats and have started to work with the XBib open office team to output list in the many different styles (e.g. Harvard, MLA, Chicago etc).

Scenarios of use

The MDC software is meant to simplify the process of searching for resources and compiling and sharing resource lists. The goal was to make this process simple enough that it can be easily embedded into VLEs or Learning design systems.

As a learning activity

Tutors and teachers can embed the software within a learning design that asks students to search for resources that support a specific claim/ assertion. They then save the list to a shared area for other students to use.

There will be many other learning designs that exploit the search/ compile/ share process.

As an institutional or departmental tool

The MDC software is open source and free and so can be hosted at many different organisation levels. Groups can configure the interface and how the JAFER search is conducted to suite their specific needs.

Whilst not currently provided the searches could be cached and data-mining techniques could used to inform library strategies for purchasing. Resource lists could also be stored in a way that they could also be used to inform which resources need purchasing.


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