Tagging with URI

Cross-referencing is one of the key activities when building a portfolio used for accreditation of prior learning or to gain a competency-based qualification. How does it work:

  • On the one hand, candidates have a list of competencies and performance criteria
  • On the other hand, candidates collect a number of evidence demonstrating their competencies
  •  for every piece of evidence the candidate indicates which competencies / units / elements / performance criteria it covers
  • for each unit / element / performance criteria the candidate indicates which pieces of evidence support the claim
With a computer, there is a very simple way of doing this: using competency definitions as tags. Once all the pieces of evidences are tagged with the various competency definitions it is easy to retrieve all those linked to a particular competency and the all the competencies linked to a single piece of evidence. The simple process of tagging creates all the cross references needed to have the portfolio reviewed by an assessor who can then (in)validate the links.
There are two ways of creating this kind of tag with existing systems:
  1. strings: the title of the competency/performance criteria —pros: relatively user friendly (probably not if the user has to key in long definitions); cons: ambiguity as the same string of characters can refer to different definitions; and risks of typos (that can be reduced by providing drop-down boxes)
  2. URL/URI: the address of the competency definition —pro: uniqueness; cons: not user friendly
There is a third way, that would require very little effort from ePortfolio publishers: using URL/URIs as tags while making it user-friendly: users would select a definition from a competency repository, drag it in the ‘tag’ section of the piece of evidence. The tag would appear as a string to the user, but the URI would point to the competency definition. The level of granularity of a URI could be down to a single performance criterion.
Ta make it backward compatible and allow users to create tags without URIs, the URI field could be set to null. This could also encourage groups of people and communities to create and share their own meaningful URIs/definitions.
Of course, this method of URI tagging is not restricted to ePortfolios and could be generalised to any kind of tagging, like linking a blog entry to Learning Forum London or ePortfolio 2009 could use the same URI http://www.epforum.eu —today it is ep2009, hoping that nobody else with use it or won’t use ePortfolio2009 or ePortfolio 09…
And of course, to make this work seamlessly, instead of having each ePortfolio system create its own internal representation of competency frameworks, these frameworks could be made public through a series of distributed repositories providing the desired URIs that could be shared within a community of professionals an organisation or a sector.
The solution to unique resource identifiers for competency definition has already been discussed by Simon Grant (Representing frameworks of skill and competence for interoperability and more recently in Representing defining and using ability competency and similar concepts). It is clear that we have all the technology required and the solutions are not exactly rocket science. What is missing is the political impetus and committment.
One could imagine that each URI is translated into a URL where the competency map could be represented by a hierarchy of directories:
  • language / sector / domain / area / unit / element / performance criteria
  • language / sector / domain / area / unit ? data = “knowledge”, “evidence examples”, etc.
This is one possible representation, and there are alternative equivalents.
One of the goals of EIfEL for the Learning Forum London conference is to create a consensus within the ePortfolio community, and possibly beyond, on:
  • “URI tagging” as a general mechanism for tagging
  • Establish a number of initial competency repositories providing URIs using existing occupational competency standards and a simple mechanism for growing internally and externally those repositories
  • Draw a roadmap for future developments

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