In today’s China, most of the universities and schools have their own libraries, computer servers and multimedia classrooms. When a teacher wants to give his/her students a lively lecture or class which is based on many different types of media formats such as text, image, audio, video…, he/she needs the following steps to complete his/her work.
I. Firstly he/she must find the related materials.
II. Then he/she needs to choose and make copies or references of the materials.
III. Finally he/she needs to use a kind of multimedia authoring tool (mostly Microsoft PowerPoint) to organize the materials together.
As mentioned above, all the three steps may become bottlenecks. Search engine such as Google retrieves too many information items, but only a few of them are useful. In many cases the users have to make local copies for the whole contents, though they might only use small parts of these contents. Users lack an authoring tool both powerful and flexible in helping them make and modify their composite works. Furthermore there is also a common need that the users could publish their own works in an easy way.
Building a knowledge repository in traditional pattern is an expensive and ad hoc work. The developer must design and implement each repository separately. It’s hard to unite these repositories together and expose their common services (such as searching) through a single entrance. That’s why the cost is high but the usability and the scalability are poor.
Grid is the technology of next generation of network. One goal of grid is to provide a new resource sharing mechanism. For the end users, they look at the whole system that might contain many distributed subsystems as a single one. So they could use only one entrance to access all the resources. For the owners of resources, the grid technology offers them a seamless and security way to publish their resource to the network. For the application developers, the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) of grid can reduce their workload by providing several standard components which could be integrated conveniently. Moreover the standardized components would make it possible that different projects could join up without much effort.
Another goal of grid technology is to improve the interactability between human and resources. Grid Service Markup Language (GSML) which is a part of Vega Grid project at Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, makes it possible that an end user can modify the presentation of the GSML pages freely and unite the basic page elements (i.e. text, image, audio, video) to be an integrated one. For example, GSML browser can pick up different parts of several on-line video clips and then rearrange their sequence without downloading. The browser can even add some especially good effects between the changes of scenes. The whole operations described above take effect promptly.
The improvable presentability of the lecture, the time wasted on finding suitable materials, the expensive cost of constructing a new knowledge repository and the absence of flexible publishing mechanism, all of these require an innovative approach. Grid technology and GSML give us the possibility.
2.1. General Objective:
This proposed project intends to develop a more powerful, scalable and cheap approach for universities and schools to build their own knowledge repository, let these repositories share their contents and be transparent to the end users. The project also aims to develop a more vivid and flexible presentation form which can be used in lectures and classes.
2.2. Specific Objectives
The following are the specific objectives of the study.
1) Developing a powerful and easy-to use authoring tool based on GSML composer. The authoring tool can unite on-line materials together without making their local copies and process each material in fine-grained level. That means materials in one GSML page can interact with each other (Figure 1) and this kind of interrelationship can be changed and take effect after refreshing the page (Figure 2).
2) Using grid technology’s SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) to develop several standard modular services that can be easily combined to form an integrated knowledge repository. These services all have standardized interface which can not only let many distributed repositories exchange their resources, but also give the end users a unified entrance to access the resources (Figure 3).
Figure 1. The GSML Browser we propose to develop would be able to combine on-line materials in different formats (e.g. video and text shown in this graph) into an integrated one. This graph was made by Microsoft Visio.
Figure 2. The authoring tool based on GSML Composer we intend to develop would create a usage for end users to edit a GSML page. When scenes of video clip “vclip1” changes, the clip sends an event to picture “image1” to inform it load a new picture. This graph was made by Microsoft Visio.
Figure 3. Repositories built with standard services could be seen as a united virtual repository by the end users.
Obviously teachers and students at universities/schools, where a computer server with information in various formats, is available, are the main beneficiaries. They can find their interested materials from knowledge repository easily and then edit them, especially video content, without making local copies. Finally they can publish their works as parts of knowledge repository so that other people could share and do some modification based on their works. The interactability will be notably increased by GSML composer.
Another group of beneficiaries are the builders of such knowledge repositories. Constructing knowledge repositories such as digital libraries is an arduous, expensive and ad hoc work. Our project provides the builders with a kind of component mechanism with which they only need to choose and compose the “toy bricks”. After some very simple configurations, these standardized components could be coupled just like an integrated one. Furthermore all the repositories built with our technology could communicate with each other and share their own resources in a formal way without much management.
Since internet is an open resource, all the individuals outside universities and schools could use the outputs of our work. Although at present the network infrastructure in China can not provide with all high quality services, our project’s good scalability ensures that the end users can use the basic services such as searching and browsing the flyweight resources. And they can seamlessly promote their experiences along with the improvement of the network.
Beijing Earthview Environment Education and Research Center (www.earthview.org) is a non-profit organization focused on disseminating knowledge on environment science to all walks of life to improve the environmental situation and promote sustainable development in China. With the sponsorship of IDRC from Dec. 2002 to Jun. 2004, Earthview worked with Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Science (ICT) and successfully built up the first digital library for public environment education in China. This library contains an information resource of more than 600 digitalized films and over thousand images and text documents. It will be used as the free resource for this project’s research to complete a sample system. As Earthview has rich experiences in using electronic materials to produce vivid educational materials for lectures and training courses, the research on content editing and its related technology can be fully carried out by Earthview. This can well save the costs to run the project. The outcomes of this project would bring great resource enrichment and convenience to Earthview to conduct its public educational activities nationwide.
Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Science (ICT) has the leading research team in developing Grid technology in China. Vega Grid project maintained by ICT has developed many innovative technologies. ICT can accommodate the project with experienced researchers, computer hardware, network infrastructure and system test-bed. This can save the expenses on capital equipments and payments for computer engineers.
China’s Ministry of Education made a policy in 2003 requesting all the universities in China open Environmental Science as a general curriculum to students. Since June 2004, teachers from more than 50 universities across China have logged into Earthview Environment Education Digital Library to use its multi-media materials. They have started showing great interests in our idea. Collaboration with these universities will cover the recurring expenses when the project ends thereby ensuring the sustainability of the system.
1) GSML will be used as the presenting language. The language can describe the interaction between displaying elements embedded in one page using an event-driven engine. The displaying elements mentioned above are also key concepts in GSML. They are sender and receiver of the events which are the basis of good intractability and presentability.
2) Composer of GSML will be used as the prototype of the authoring tool. The composer provides end users a visually editable interface with which the users can modify the chains of events between displaying elements, add or remove these elements and change the behaviors when an element receives an event.
3) Web Service will be used in order to produce several standard components to obtain flexibility, scalability and low expense. SOAP protocol will be the basic communicating method, so we do not need to consider too much on the constraints such as firewall and proxy…
4) OAI-PMH will be the main reference of our indexing and searching service due to its good scalability. OAI-compliant repositories also provide a unified searching interface through which users can use some formal query language to find their interested resources. Obviously, the OAI-PMH is based on HTTP protocol, and then we must revise it according to Web Service standard.
5) Metadata standards like Dublin Core and MPEG-7 will be used as the basic formats of resources information in the repositories. These standards especially MPEG-7 can describe the details of the resources. So the grain level of interactability could be increased enormously.
Furthermore, the project team will consult other principles and implementations of related works such as Digital Library’s 5S Formal Model, Macromedia’s Authorware and Flash.
The proposed project will need 24 months to complete. The schedule of subtasks is listed in the table below:
1. Design system architecture
2. Define metadata standard
3. Recruit project staff
4. Develop several basic displaying modules (text, image, audio, video…).
5. Revise GSML composer
6. Test the GSML browser and composer
7. Submit the first checkpoint report
1. Analyze OAI-PMH protocol
2. Encapsulate OAI provider into Web Service (WS)
3. Encapsulate OAI harvester into WS
4. Develop publishing WS
5. Test the WSs together
6. Submit the second checkpoint report
1. Prepare raw resources
2. System debug
3. Submit the third technical report
1. Sample system test run
2. Project outcome analysis
3. Submit final outcome report
The following are included in the project outputs.
1) Displaying modules of multi-type media (text, image, audio, video), embedded in the GSML brow ser, which can interact with each other to enhance the expressive force.
2) Authoring tool for composing multi-type media in fine-grained level.
3) Standard searching service with functions of providing end users with unified interface and exchanging resource information between distributed knowledge repositories.
4) Standard indexing service which can distill metadata from resources and then put them into the repositories automatically.
5) Standard publishing service that can help end users to publish their own works into the repositories.
6) A running example system based on the resources of Earthview Environmental Education Digital Library using our technology.
The project will be carried out according to the time-line strictly. We have set up several check points in our schedule and will submit the interim technical reports to the sponsor on time. We will report about the rate of progress including the achievement of milestones, problems encountered and how the problems can be solved when check points arrive.
A monthly internal report will also be made. In this report, we will address the achieved percentage of progress, redistribution of personal and other information that needs to be reported.
Regular discussions will be carried out between Earthview and ICT, also with other Institutions and experts interested in the similar studies. All the discussions will be recorded and made up to formal documents.
In summary, the progress of the project will be announced on Earthview’s website (http://www.earthview.org).