Online Reference Tools
Educom has announced a "metadata" specification that should make it easier to search the Web for educational materials from diverse sources. As a result, publishers, teachers or anyone else posting materials online can add tags with information such as the author's name, learning objective, subject area and licensing requirements. The metadata specification is the first development from the Instructional Management Systems (IMS) project, a public-private partnership led by Educom. Academic partners include the California State University system, the Institute for Academic Technology at the University of North Carolina, the University of Michigan and Miami-Dade Community College.
In September, Educom released a Java-based tool to assist content developers in applying the metadata labels. One IMS partner, Apple Computer, plans to use the tool for its Educational Object Economy initiative. IBM, Sun Microsystems and International Thomson Publishing are also corporate partners in the IMS project, which began in February.
Two participating government agencies, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Defense, hope the metadata specification will improve training opportunities for their personnel. Interested parties can review a draft specification at www.imsproject.org until December 5. Educom plans to release a prototype instructional management system based on this and additional specifications in 1998.
Educom is a non-profit consortium of 600 colleges and universities and 100 corporate associates dedicated to transforming higher education through information technology. Educom, Washington, DC, (202) 872-4200, www.educom.edu.
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Encyclopaedia Britannica this fall launched the Britannica Internet Guide (www.ebig.com), a free service that quickly locates Web sites that correspond to a user's interests or queries. At press time, the Guide included references to more than 65,000 sites, with more sites being added each month.
Editors and contributors review select sites in a uniform, clearly written manner, taking into account factors such as the depth and accuracy of information, credentials of the author, elegance of design, ease of navigation, quality of graphics and multimedia, and frequency of revision.
Sites are rated Noteworthy (one star), Recommended (two stars) or Superior (three stars). Reflecting the editors' high standards, less than five percent of the sites thus far have received three stars. The service also contains some sites that are neither rated or reviewed, including home pages for corporations, schools and newspapers.
Students may search the Britannica database by keyword using Boolean operators. Or, they may browse through an outline of the 14 categories: art and literature; business, economy and employment; computers and the Internet; education; health and medicine; history; law, government and politics; science, technology and mathematics; news and current events; philosophy and religion; social science; society and social issues; sports and diversions; and world geography and culture.
By scrolling up and down the Outline of Knowledge, students discover relationships among topics. Finally, if necessary, one can search the entire Web within the Britannica Internet Guide using Alta Vista technology. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, IL, (800) 621-3900, www.eb.com.
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Philips Multimedia Center (PMC), a division of Philips Electronics, introduces PlanetSearch Networks (PSN), a family of Web sites focused on specific areas of shared interests. The first targeted site, PlanetK-12, offers many tools and resources for teachers and students.
"Up until now, people have clicked on their browser icon to get onto the Web and 'enter' what can be compared to a huge library of books and documents that has no structure," explained Steve Leventhal, PSN's general manager. "PlanetSearch is designed to provide users with a focused, organized and personalized view of the Web."
A highlight of the network is a robust search engine developed by Philips Research that responds to full-sentence queries and presents results with key terms color coded. With Search Alert activated, you are notified via e-mail when updated information relative to your query is available. Any visitor can create a personal Home Page containing customized news, weather and hot links.
PlanetK-12 (www.planetK-12.com) includes the Curriculum Corner, with lesson plans, projects and materials organized by subject or grade level; the Administration Building, for accessing information on standards, policies and government initiatives; the Career Classroom, which lists professional development opportunities; and the Teachers' Lounge, where instructors can share ideas through bulletin boards.
Another component, Daily Digital provides general news from Reuters NewMedia, financial information from Reality Online, weather updates from WeatherLabs and phone directories from GTE Super Pages. In addition, PlanetK-12 users will find selected content from Education Week, T.H.E. Journal and other educational publications. Philips Multimedia Center, Palo Alto, CA, (415) 846-4300, www.planetsearch.com.
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NewsBank, Inc., has unveiled NewsBank InfoWeb, a gateway to newspapers, journals, newswires, radio/TV broadcast transcripts and government documents from around the world. The resources cover a wide spectrum of scientific, health, economic, social and historic issues.
The firm's editors will continue to add articles and reports that provide educational value and varying perspectives. The validated database helps prevent the problem associated with general Web search engines, which often return many materials inappropriate for the classroom.
NewsBank also applies common-language indexing to link documents by topics relevant to students. Searches can be conducted across all years and source types through a Web browser interface, greatly reducing the learning curve for users at all skill levels.
"Instead of students having to search any number of individual Web sites -- some of which may not be suitable -- we're giving them a one-stop, validated place to accomplish their research work with a system that is easy to manage," said Daniel S. Jones, president of NewsBank.
NewsBank InfoWeb resources are available for flat-fee subscriptions for unlimited use at all computer terminals located in one school. NewsBank, Inc., New Canaan, CT, (800) 762-8182, www.newsbank.com.
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With Wiley InterScience, educators can access nearly all of John Wiley & Sons' scientific, technical, medical and professional journals from their PC. Fifty journals went online in October, and many more will follow in coming months.
Subscribers can search across the entire list of journals, then download and print articles with illustrations, art, tables and charts fully integrated with the text. Each journal will have its own Web site featuring links to related products and to external sites of interest.
Through the end of this year, educators will enjoy free access to Wiley InterScience, where they are encouraged to provide feedback on how to enhance the service for the scholarly community. After the pilot period, schools can choose from a number of subscription options for both print and electronic versions of the journals.
Zuno, a Mitsubishi Electric Co. subsidiary based in London and Boston, developed the software application for Wiley InterScience. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY, (212) 850-6000, www.wiley.com.
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Infonautics' Electric Library (www.elibrary.com) supplies immediate answers to research questions on virtually any topic. Students pose questions in plain English -- i.e., "Is there a cure for the common cold?" or "When did women first serve on juries?" -- and results are ranked in relevancy order, with reading levels displayed.
The service aggregates thousands of magazines, journals, newspapers, newswires, books, maps, photos and more. Periodical sources include TIME, U.S. News and World Report, Sports Illustrated, The Economist, Money, Information Week, People, Foreign Policy, New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor and the Jerusalem Post.
Users also get full-text access to reference works such as Monarch Notes, The World's Best P'etry on CD, Collier's Encyclopedia, the World Almanac of U.S. Politics, Webster's New World Thesaurus and the King James Bible. Contents of the database are updated daily via satellite and other direct links.
In addition, Infonautics has customized Electric Library for the Apple eMate 300, allowing students to quickly save articles to the NewtWorks word processor for viewing or printing off-line. Because the service prevents open searches of the Internet, youngsters can work on their own with minimal supervision.
Electric Library this year received the Golden Lamp Award for Home Learning Software from the Educational Press Association of America. Teachers should inquire about a free 30-day subscription. Infonautics Corp., Wayne, PA, (800) 304-3542, www.infonautics.com.
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Information Quest (IQ) has formed strategic alliances with Kluwer Academic Publishers and Blackwell Science to link their electronic journals to the IQ content database. IQ (www.eiq.com) provides access to more than 12,000 scientific, technical, medical and business journals published since 1990.
The Web-based service supports simple and sophisticated queries utilizing techniques such as keyword, concept, pattern matching and Boolean operators. An alert function tracks user-defined searches over time; when "hits" occur against the parameters, IQ automatically sends an e-mail notice with the citation.
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This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.