Term 4 2014
- Feature article
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Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT): Read all over
Les Kneebone, Metadata Manager for ScOT, provides an update on the vocabulary.
Two years ago in Connections Issue 83 I provided an update for Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT) that focused on new technical developments in providing thesaurus services. These tools and web-services are made possible by PoolParty, a new generation vocabulary management platform. PoolParty provides a specialist 'triple-store' database suited to managing thesaurus-type data using the W3C's RDF specification and providing access to that data via a 'SPARQL' webservice. RDF, or 'Resource Description Framework' is a data syntax and format that can be used to model information (such as the concepts contained in thesauri), which can then be communicated between machines, and even 'understood' by machines. RDF data can be queried by other systems using the W3C's SPARQL language, much like SQL is used to query relational databases. Poolparty also provides support for multi-language character encoding, and a more traditional REST-based webservice API for connection to other systems.
Today we are using our thesaurus platform to serve the needs of systems using new and old data standards. We hope that an additional vocabulary format will support better integration of curriculum and teaching frameworks with education resources in the sector.
A significant user of ScOT data is the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). ScOT concept URIs are embedded in all 'Content Descriptions', which are the most granular curriculum elements published by ACARA. ScOT is the subject-indexing language used to provide a common vocabulary link between Australian Curriculum and education resources. ScOT tagging of the two final learning areas, Languages and Work Studies, is in progress.
Australian Professional Standards for Teachers
The 'Teacher standards' have recently been migrated onto the PoolParty platform and are hosted at Australian Education Vocabularies (AEV) on behalf of Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). ScOT is also used to describe each teacher standard, again providing a common vocabulary link between the standards and resource that may support their objectives.
ScOT and MARC: Machine-Readable Cataloguing
ScOT is no stranger to the SCIS database and has been used within SCIS cataloguing standards for about seven years. However the mechanism for loading, updating and maintaining ScOT in SCIS systems has relied upon complex transformations between vastly different data structures. ScOT (and the other AEV projects) is managed natively in RDF, a relatively new W3C data standard. Most library systems use bibliographic, authority and holdings data in MARC format–developed at the Library of Congress in the 1960s.
In order to better operate with MARC-based systems, ScOT is now distributed openly in MARC-21 format. Available from the AEV homepage, the MARC format is an odd addition next to its much younger sibling formats RDF/XML and JSON (developed 16 and 14 years ago respectively). Perhaps in 40 or 50 years someone will be charged with designing a backwards-compatible transformation between some far off data standard to 'Semantic Web' standards like RDF in use today.
As the last of the Australian Curriculum is profiled, the ScOT project is looking forward to new sources of warrant. Other curriculum frameworks near, and possibly far, may present opportunities to grow the coverage of school sector topics within ScOT. The concepts, and language used to describe the concepts, used in education resources and in user search behavior will continue to inform new terms and reference structures.
The ScOT continues to be project managed by ESA. I've had a job title change, but while the 'ScOT' bit has been removed I can still field any questions about the project.