Agencies collaborate on learning research project

Goal is to analyze trends from data trails left by researchers, students and teachers

Agencies are collaborating on the online Learning Registry project to make federal primary source materials easier to find on the Web and to integrate into educational curricula, Steve Midgley, deputy director for the U.S. Office of Education Technology, said at a conference today.

“Digital resources are available on the Web, but they are difficult to integrate,” Midgley said at the Ignite Smithsonian media innovation conference in Washington. “We want to capture more information to achieve knowledge amplification.”

The project collects information about user data trails made when researchers, students and teachers search for federal data and resources available on third-party websites. By aggregating the information from the data trails, the registry expects to identify the information that would be most useful to educators.

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The user data trails also are known as “data exhaust,” Midgley said, because they consist of information that is typically spewed out in large quantities and not collected — such as data on how users use search engines, which search terms they use, how many searches they perform and in what order, and which websites they click through as they perform their research.

If that usage data is properly collected and analyzed, it can yield benefits in streamlining the research, integrating data into a curriculum and improving performance, he said.

For example, NASA regularly posts videos on third-party aggregation sites, such as the National Science Digital Library. A review of data trails on the digital library website showed that one of the NASA videos had been used by high school physics teachers for a lesson on velocity. That tip was shared with national educational agencies to help them prepare source materials for lessons on that topic.

“We want to interconnect users in a way that we are not doing today,” Midgley said.

In addition to Midgley’s office, the other key member of the collaboration is the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. Other agencies involved include, the National Science Foundation, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, the Federal Communications Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Archives and Records Administration.

Midgley said additional partners are welcome. “We are a do-ocracy with open participation,” he said. Anyone with interest in providing data, consuming data or sharing data is welcome to participate in the research.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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