From ADL Team Member… Nikolaus Hruska: Using Activity Streams in Next Generation SCORM

Nikolaus Hruska

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As a contractor with Problem Solutions, Nikolaus provides support to the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of ADL.

What’s all of the buzz about Activity Streams recently? Many of the sites we use everyday are using and supporting them (ex, Twitter, Facebook, Google). The Federal Learning Registry uses activity streams to report how learning resources made available through the registry are being used in classrooms. ADL’s 3D Repository shares similar usage data to the Learning Registry (ex. # of downloads, rating) each time a model is downloaded — as an activity stream.  The resulting data can be mined to highlight the most relevant content and make recommendations based on behavior of other users.

How can activity streams apply to all of the different ways we can learn? How might we model any interaction between a person and a piece of content, regardless of whether the content is web-based, on a mobile device, in a virtual world, or in a serious game? More importantly – how might this approach change the landscape to accelerate and, perhaps, enhance the way we learn? ADL’s Project Tin Can has been researching solutions to these exact questions.

SEE: Project Tin Can Demonstration Video

Project Tin Can

Project Tin Can collected community-derived use cases, reviewed over one hundred ‘SCORM 2.0’ white papers, and performed many one-on-one interviews with a variety of experts in Learning Technology.  The current draft specification addresses many of the requirements derived from these interviews. A prototype Learning Record Store (LRS) and a sampling of activities that leverage Tin Can are available on the site for play; as well, you can browse the code and contribute via the GitHub site.  Check out the Quickstart Guide if you are interested in your own prototyping.

The Activity Stream Specification

The activity stream specification is an active project under the Open Web Foundation, with support and contribution from many of the web-based services we use daily.  The spec defines both a JSON binding and an XML binding based off of the Atom Publishing Protocol.

The working group initially defined Verbs and Activities to give you an idea of what types of interactions can currently be modeled using streams. If you are interested, you can browse the code, keep up with progress and even participate in the project via the GitHub site.  Facebook has recently released its own implementation of the Open Graph Protocol, which makes verbs and activities extensible – allowing them to be defined by applications connected to Facebook. For example, instead of saying ‘Jonathan likes The Odyssey’, Open Graph will allow applications to report that ‘Jonathan read the Odyssey’ (or ‘Jonathan hiked The Appalachian Trail’).

Verbs and Activities for Learning

Activity Streams are interesting, but to make the data in a learner record store transferable to other systems, we probably need a way to exchange all these nouns, verbs and objects so that across different systems, the data exchanged holds some shared meaning.

We’re looking at the work being done through,  which creates schemas (i.e. tags) for web content to mark creative works (generic term for any type of media) such as a videos, images, articles, blogs, etc. Possible verbs for creative works may include posted, read, completed, authored, listened, watched, commented, rated, liked, etc. Tagging content as prescribed by  is what enables the Semantic Web – converting the current web of unstructured documents into a “web of data” that may be intelligently consumed by other computers.  Tagged resources could be presented in an incoming RSS/Atom-type stream of ‘creative works’ to compose a ‘course’ or meet some learning objective (SEE Appendix B of the specification for an example ‘activity’). Depending on how the resource is tagged (ex. article), there are contextually corresponding verbs (ex. read, commented, rated) in the resulting activity stream.

Next Steps

The takeaway here is that ADL is researching how we might best use activity streams for learning purposes. This work applies directly to Tin Can, which is a development effort supporting “Next Generation SCORM.”

We are drafting prototypes to demonstrate a variety of approaches. We’re doing this so that through applied design, research and development, we can highlight better paths to follow.

For us, “better” means supporting the demands of the community that such technology is vastly powerful and, at the same time, simple to use.  We will continue to share resources available for download so the community can tinker with some of the artifacts of our explorations.

Please comment if you have ideas!