Monday, June 02, 2008

Learning resources as part of collections - what about the network?

I'm just exploring a new dataset that I got from LeMill, it contains information about learning resources that users have put in their "collections". Collections is a tool for users to create their own sub-sets of resources and give them a common title, e.g. I find 5 resources on pyramids, I add them to my collection, and I call it "Pyramids for 5th graders", as I am going to use it during my History lesson that I teach with 5th graders.

I think that collections-tool is an excellent tool, also for me as a researcher ;) What I am interested in knowing is whether we could make the links between these collections visible. The link would, of course, be the resources that are shared with collections.

Let's just explore the early visualisation of LOs connecting the collections. Click on "click to interact", and you get the life image. Alternatively, you can click on the title in the image, and you'll have the whole visualisation in a bigger interface. So what's there?

What you first see is a top-level overview of users' collections using a network diagram. It first looks like a grid; the ones on the top left hand corner are small one, they only contain a few resources. The other ones towards the right bottom corner look more clunky and visibly bigger, they include many more resources and are actually overlapped one with another.

You can start zooming in with your mouse. You see that some names will start appearing. Those are the name of the collection and the resources within. With a right click on your mouse, you see a hand appearing. This allows you to move within the visualisation. What you see here is a huge amount of what is called “singletons” in the network jargon. These singletons are collections, but they do not have any connections through shared resources to other collections.

Now, try to locate yourself in the area where that big cluster is, at the bottom right hand corner.

Now, instead of looking at separate little singletons, we are hoovering over a “giant component”. This is clearly the largest group of nodes within this network and some of them seem interconnected. With interconnection I mean that the same resource is in more than one connection.

You can visualise this nicely, if you click on some of the big nodes. It will be highlighted in orange. This way you can see what are the resources related to this collection (the collection name is the node). Interestingly, you'll see some of the resources act as a connection between different collections.

What we can already quickly see is that something called “middle regions” are entirely missing from this network. They represents rather isolated groups that interact amongst themselves. In our case they would be a few resources that are in a few collections by a few users. There do not seem to be any such "isolated stars" in this network of collections. The cool thing about these isolated stars is that over some period of time, they might merge with the giant component. This would happen through a resource that is shared in both the giant component and the smaller entity.

Ok, visualisation is just a visualisation, a snapshot of a moment. More work is needed to properly analyse what is going on, and most importantly, does this have anything to do with how we can make a repository of learning resources a better place?

Well, I of course am on my SNA trip and think that it can help anything and everything, but more about that later..


No comments: