Reflections on the Metadata MOOC
I just completed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), specifically Metadata: Organising and Discovering Information, presented by Dr. Jeffrey Pomerantz from the University of North Carolina, via Coursera. As my first MOOC experience, it was a pretty damn good one.
From the start, I was impressed with the amount and quality of the content, as well as the Professor’s (I just spent 8 weeks with the guy, but I feel calling him Jeffery might be a little too casual?!) ability to present it clearly, and with personality.
The topic of metadata is pretty expansive, so to get the essential stuff down to 1-2 hours of video lectures each week must have been a challenge. There were plenty of related concepts and topics mentioned that he didn’t have time to go into, but he still managed to provide a really comprehensive look at metadata and its practical applications.
Good old ‘mature-age’ students
Yes, I’m a mature-age student myself, but I still seem to have the (slightly immature) undergraduate mindset of eye-rolling at the uptight ‘mature-age’ students. The course included a very well-used online forum, where students could post questions, concerns and discussion topics. The first week was pretty amusing, seeing a whole lot of people realise that the course would actually take time and effort! There were quite a few mini-meltdowns about the number of video lectures they would have to watch and the fact that 1 week wasn’t enough time to get through them all. Time management, people!
While there were quite a few lectures to get through in the first week (18), there were less each week after that. They ranged from 5 to 20 minutes each, and I discovered that I could watch them at 1.25 – 1.5x speed and still understand the Professor well enough (he isn’t the fastest speaker).
It was also funny to see people complaining about the level of information they received in the first week – a lot of people commented that it was too easy and that they already knew all the basic stuff about metadata. Which made me wonder if they thought the course was just for them, not thousands of people from all over the world…? The course was billed as an overview of metadata, suitable for anyone with an interest – the only requirement was to have some basic knowledge of HTML. Therefore, it made sense to dedicate the first week to introductory information.
I heart metadata
For me, although I already had at least a base-level understanding of most of the topics covered, it was a great opportunity to build on this knowledge and remind myself that I really do feel passionate about metadata (and the broader field of Information Science).
The first 3 weeks were my favourite, covering topics like Dublin Core, XML, Namespaces, Document Type Definitions and a bit of RDF. Although my interest began to wane a little when we started to look closely at CDWA (Categories for the Description of Works of Art) and the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, just because these have no particular relevance to my field of work.
As expected I struggled somewhat with the semantic web section – for some reason I’ve always had a hard time getting my head around the concept. But I do feel that I understand it a lot better after completing this course.
I enjoyed looking at structured data, microformats and Schema.org stuff. I was inspired to set up Twitter Cards for this blog and to put some more effort into creating metadata for each post and the site as a whole.
But damn, I really do find it annoying how many schemas there are out there. Even with just this little blog there are more than I want to think about. There are Open Graph meta tags for Facebook, Twitter Cards and Google+ metadata to consider, as well as the usual descriptions, titles and keywords to aid discovery via search engines. And, yes, I know there are plenty of SEO/metadata plugins to help automate the process, but still! The whole thing reminds me of this amusingly accurate xkcd comic:
The linked open data and metadata harvesting sections were also interesting and quite relevant to the work I do now.
Overall, the Metadata MOOC was a really useful experience for me. The course load was quite reasonable – I probably spent 2-3 hours per week at the most on it. The assessment was a 10-20 question quiz each week, which could be attempted up to 10 times. Me being pedantic, I attempted the quiz until I got 100% each time.
The only minor issue I had was that some of the assessment questions had fairly subjective answers and it sometimes took a couple of goes to get them right. This was a complaint some other students had, and it got some of them quite riled up (of course!). In some ways this was good because when I didn’t agree with or understand an answer I would read further on the topic. Maybe the professor was messing with us to force us to think more about the subject and answers?! That said, a couple of times I had to choose the ‘right’ answer even if I felt strongly that it wasn’t actually the correct answer. I guess this is a somewhat unavoidable issue for a subject so broad. As the Professor said many times, there are many variables in the field of metadata. What makes good metadata? How much metadata is enough? It all depends – on the resource being described, on the chosen schemas and vocabularies, on technology, on time and money, on the creator, and of course the users.