Paradata and Learning Registry
Activity data is a broad term used to describe: “The record of any user action (online or in the physical world) that can be logged on a computer.”
Meaning can be derived from Activity Data by querying it to reveal patterns and context, this is often referred to as Analytics.
Initiatives such as OpenSocial, ActivityStreams, and Experience API(xAPI) have produced specifications and APIs to share Activity Data across platforms and applications.
On the other hand, paradata is a form of metadata that records how, and in what context, a learning resource is used.
The vision is that over time, a stream of data about the resource builds up, forming a timeline similar to the timelines used by social networking sites.
While metadata generally attempts to record objective or authoritative descriptions of a resource, paradata records the opinion of the users and how and where a resource has been used. Paradata is generated as learning resources are used, reused, adapted, contextualized, favorited, tweeted, retweeted, shared. This type of information tends not to be captured by more traditional cataloguing techniques, which aim to describe what a resource is, rather than how it may be used. Paradata complements metadata by providing an additional layer of contextual information.
In this context, the term paradata was first used by the US National Science Digital Library (NSDL) in early 2010 to describe data about user interactions with learning resources within the NSDL’s STEM Exchange. Later that year the term was adopted by the Learning Registry, an initiative initially funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Paradata differs from ActivityStreams in that it enables complex aggregations of activities to be recorded; e.g. High school English teachers taught using this resource 15 times during the month of May 2011.
While learning analytics generally refers to analysis of data about learners, paradata refers to data about learning resources.
Paradata can also record contextual information by linking resources with educational standards and curricula, pedagogic approaches and methodologies.
Paradata can be regarded as an extended and altered version of JSON ActivityStreams.
In short, although Learning Registry paradata is informed by the ActivityStreams approach, it differs from ActivityStreams in that it enables the description of aggregations of activities. Like ActivityStreams, there are three main parts to a basic paradata statement – an actor does verb to an object, e.g. “A teacher taught the lesson located at this URL.”
However paradata also adds:
- Descriptions which provide context to actors, verbs or objects.
- Measurements which provide data about magnitude, e.g. the number of times a verb occurred over a period of time.
- Dates which record when an action took place.
The Learning Registry approach allows metadata of any kind to be stored in a schema-free database. Schema-free databases, also referred to as NoSQL databases or document-oriented databases, are a class of database that have been adopted increasingly widely in recent years. In contrast to relational databases, they don’t rely on data conforming to a pre-set schema; instead documents are stored as a collection of key-value pairs in JSON format. The “key” identifies a property ot characteristic that is described by the value. The allowed content of documents isn’t predefined, and once the data is accumulated, it can be interrogated on the basis that are present and the content of the documents. This approach is increasingly widely used for managing heterogeneous data sets and large scale distributed applications.
In the past, many initiatives of managing information about learning resources rely on agreeing a metadata schema, because of the complex diversity of resources, none of them are particularly successful. In this struggling, the new approach of Learning Registry merits a lot of attention.
Overview of Learning Registry: White Paper on the Learning Registry for State Decision Makers and Strategists
Reference: CETIS publications