Organic.Edunet* (Organic.Edunet)

Published on: 19/11/2010
Document

*Full title: Organic.Edunet: A multilingual Web portal for sustainable agriculture & environmental education

Organic.Edunet is a multilingual federation of learning repositories with quality content for the awareness and education of European youth about Organic Agriculture and Agroecology.

Organic.Edunet aimed to facilitate access, usage and exploitation of digital educational content related to Organic Agriculture (OA) and Agroecology (AE). It has deployed a multilingual online federation of learning repositories, populated with quality content from various content producers. In addition, it has deployed a multilingual online environment (the Organic.Edunet Internet portal) that will facilitate end-users' search, retrieval, access and use of the content in the learning repositories.

The project studied educational scenarios that introduce the use of the Organic.Edunet portal and content to support teaching of topics related to OA and Agroecology in two cases of formal educational systems, i.e., high schools and agricultural universities. Furthermore, it evaluated project results in the context of pilot demonstrators in pilot educational institutions, as well as through open validation events where external interested stakeholders were invited.

Organic.Edunet focused on achieving interoperability between the digital collections of OA and Agroecology content that producers in various EU countries have developed, as well as facilitating publication, access and use of this content in multilingual learning contexts through a single European reference point. In this way, digital content that can be used to educate the European youth about the benefits of OA and Agroecology has become easily accessible, usable and exploitable.

Policy Context

The Organic.Edunet project was funded under the EU eContentplus Programme, Area: 4.1 - Targeted projects for educational content.

eContentplus supports the creation of better conditions to make available, accessible, usable and exploitable digital content for learning. The programme encourages solutions that integrate technical, pedagogical and organisational aspects and that significantly increase the multilingual and multicultural use of digital content and repositories. At the same time, this is complemented by actions building on the benefits arising from enriching a critical mass of digital content with well-defined semantic metadata. These actions should encourage the necessary structures (organisational, business, technical) for the emergence of pan-European learning services, irrespective of location and language. The project should lead to results that will significantly increase multilingual and multicultural use and re-use of quality content.

The European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming (2004) has identified the need for actions supporting the training and education of all stakeholders related to OA, covering aspects related to production, processing and marketing of OA products and their benefits, plus targeting OA products as the preferred option for both producers and consumers. The European Commission, through its strategic Action Plan and a number of funded initiatives of the 6th and 7th FP has aimed at the promotion and further understanding of OA concepts and methods, and the cultivation of a consumer culture that will facilitate the development of the OA products market. In the period between 2004 and 2010, twenty research projects related to organic food and farming have been funded under the EU's Framework Programmes. In addition, large international organisations such as the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), along to non-profit associations such as the Soil Association in UK (http://www.soilassociation.org), drive their own awareness and education initiatives for the promotion of OA methods and practices around the world. Furthermore, agricultural universities around the world have included OA-related and AE courses in their educational programs, aiming to prepare agricultural professionals that may support and guide farmers through the selection and proper adoption of OA methods.

To further promote the familiarisation of consumers with the benefits of OA for their health and for the environment, the most dynamic consumer groups have to be properly educated. Young people at all stages of formal education have to be carefully approached through relevant educational programmes in the curricula of all kinds of educational institutions, from elementary schools to relevant university departments. But apart from raising the awareness and education level of consumers, agricultural professionals have also to be properly educated. By agricultural professionals we refer to the different types of future agricultural experts (e.g. natural production experts, veterinary experts, agricultural economists, extension officers, etc.) who study in agricultural universities around Europe, and who should be provided with a wide range of information related to OA and AE theories, methods, practices, and economic/environmental impacts. Most European agricultural universities have already included relevant courses in their programs, and university teachers have developed an important amount of content resources, but these are usually collected at an individual level. A great unexploited opportunity therefore exists in appropriately collecting, organising and online offering of quality and multilingual content on OA and AE that may support current or future educational activities in the formal educational systems of Europe.

Description of target users and groups

Target portal users are:

  • high-school children & teacher  to be familiarised with concepts & benefits of OA & AE
  • students & tutors of agricultural universities to be educated about methods and practices of OA & AE

Targeted users will be the user communities already addressed by the project (high-school students and teachers, as well as agricultural university students and teachers). More specifically, the Organic.Edunet portal is expected to be freely used by all European schools and agricultural universities, in order to help potential users search and locate content resources of interest.

Content stakeholders include:

  • EU-funded initiatives
  • public or private not-for-profit organisations
  • agricultural publishing houses
  • agricultural universities & institutes
  • rural schools & teachers

The targeted users are all types of content producers aimed by the project (OA teachers, international organisations, private publishers), who will freely use the tools in order to create their own learning repository, populate it with content, publish it online and connect it to the Organic.Edunet federation.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

A number of success factors led to the successful ending of the Organic.Edunet project. For example, in order to be user-friendly, the the Organic.Edunet project put a great amount of effort into providing multilingual interfaces for its tools and products. As a result:

  • The Organic.Edunet Web Portal user interface has already been translated into fourteen (14) languages and more translations are in progress.
  • The Confolio repository tool user interface has already been translated into seventeen (17) languages and more translations are in progress.
  • The OA ontology has been translated into sixteen (16) languages so far.
  • The metadata records of a thousand (1 000) of the available resources have been translated into seven (7) project languages, whereas about five hundred (500) have been translated in all nine (9). Additional translations into different languages have been scheduled and some are already in progress.

Another success factor is the subject of the project itself; the OA sector is rapidly growing and the interest about the OA topics is constantly rising. As a result, the availability of educational material covering topics of OA is increasing along with the demand for quality educational resources by students, teachers and educators in general. Organic.Edunet provides a large amount of quality resources on OA and AE through an easy to use interface, covering the needs of the stakeholders.

The introduction of educational scenarios for school and university level was an innovation in the area of the OA educational context and introduced the facilitation of blended learning techniques in this area. These scenarios can be developed by using open educational resources and facilitate the introduction of teaching topics of OA & AE in both schools and universities.

The quality of the available resources was assured by developing a quality assessment mechanism, which includes a multi-level quality control and evaluation of the resources by experts on the topics. In addition, resources can be further evaluated and reviewed by the registered users of the portal as an extra quality evaluation step.

Technology solution

During the three years of the Organic.Edunet project, a number of technological tools were developed and facilitated:

1. The Confolio tool: Confolio is an e-Portfolio tool, developed and used for the indexing, storing, retrieving and describing digital educational resources with metadata records. It provides the interface for interconnecting the network of digital educational repositories. Its interface has been translated into seventeen (17) languages so far and more translations have been scheduled. As of today, four different installations of the Confolio repository tool exist in four different servers:

  • http://informatics.aua.gr:8080/confolio/apps/Default.html       (at AUA premises/servers)
  • http://confolio.virtuelleschule.bmukk.gv.at                             (at BMUKK premises/servers)
  • http://confolio.vm.grnet.gr                                                  (at GRNET premises/servers)
  • http://oe.confolio.org                                                         (at KTH premises/servers)

2. The Organic.Edunet Web portal: the portal provides a multilingual user interface for accessing the resources available in the networked repositories. Its interface has already been translated into fourteen (14) languages and 16 more translations are pending. The portal includes a special section for schools, which contains educational resources and scenarios appropriate for school level, images and games. It provides access to the two handbooks (for school and university level respectively) as guides for scenario development. It facilitates four (4) different search mechanisms (text, browsing, tag based and semantic search), it contains basic information about the networked repositories and extended help options in the form of videos, texts and guides. Even though the Organic.Edunet project has ended, the Organic.Edunet Web portal is still functional and its sustainability will be assured by the support of other projects (e.g. Organic.Mednet, Organic.Balkanet and CerOrganic).

3. A new ontology set was developed to cover the specific needs of the project. It has been revised and is now in the final version. It has been translated into sixteen (16) languages so far and provided in OWL.

(url=http://project.organic-edunet.eu/organic/files/document/OrganicEdunet_D2.2.3a_final.pdf)

4. A new metadata profile (Organic.Edunet LOM Application Profile) was used for the description of the educational resources with metadata records. This profile is compliant to the IEEE Learning Object metadata (LOM) standard

(http://project.organic-edunet.eu/organic/files/document/OrganicEdunet_D2.2.3a_final.pdf) .

5. Two handbooks were developed for the implementation of educational scenarios at school and university levels respectively. They provide guidelines for the introduction of the educational scenarios in the teaching process as well as examples of existing scenarios. These handbooks are available in English.

Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The main products produced in the context of Organic.Edunet are:

Content Repositories that include

  • Content itself (digital resources)
  • Metadata records (compliant with IEEE LOM)
  • OA & AE ontology for the thematic classification of content resources

Software / tools

  • Confolio Repository Tool
  • Organic.Edunet Federation Web Portal

Educational guides/ practises

  • Teacher Handbooks on designing educational scenarios and introducing them in the classroom.
  • Examples and material of educational scenarios from project partners

Quality tools

  • Content quality criteria
  • Quality criteria and process for educational programs [D6.3.2]

The online federation of learning repositories with content on OA & AE consists of eleven (11) repositories with content in thirteen languages, described with metadata.

The Confolio Repository Tool is a Web-based environment that supports stakeholders interested in organising, managing and sharing educational content on OA and AE. It helps them to annotate digital resources with metadata compliant to the IEEE LOM standard, and can be found at http://oe.confolio.org. It provides a wide range of functionalities, such as:

  • Management of resources such as uploaded files, links, and non-digital objects
  • Advanced descriptions of these resources
  • Collaborative creation of resource repositories
  • Annotation of harvested learning resources
  • Integration of other online services such as Flickr, YouTube, Google Calendar, etc

Furthermore a serious contribution of the project can also be identified in the work carried out for the elaboration of the Organic.Edunet Ontology.

The Organic.Edunet Portal (www.organic.edunet.eu) is an online environment that facilitates multilingual search, browsing, access and retrieval of OA and AE learning objects. It offers the Organic.Edunet users with a number of online services, which allows the users to:

  • describe and upload learning objects through web-based interfaces
  • semantically search and browse learning objects, using associations between concepts of the Organic.Edunet domain model
  • browse through learning objects using a concept-based browsing interface
  • allow users to evaluate learning objects, storing these evaluations/reviews in the learning object metadata
  • socially recommend learning objects to users engaging a collaborative filtering algorithm that takes into consideration the evaluations provided by users.

By October 2010, the Organic.Edunet Web portal provides access to approximately 10 800 resources and has more than 1 000 registered users. It has received more than 12 000 unique visitors since 01/01/2010.

The educational guides and practises of the project have been developed in the context of WP3 "Educational Design" and have been based on the way that the educational partners of Organic.Edunet (schools and universities) have designed and implemented educational activities related to OA & AE topics for their learners.

The main outcomes that can be used are:

  • Teacher's handbooks, to support the design of educational scenarios, by proposing/ explaining a step-by-step process for the scenario design. Two handbooks have been produced, one for the school and one for university teachers.
  • Examples and material of educational scenarios that Organic.Edunet partners (but also external users/ teachers) have been developed.

The quality outcomes of the project focused on two levels. The first one concerned the quality review and assurance of the educational content in the repositories. The second concerned the quality criteria and consideration related to a whole educational activity (on a programme level or a scenario level). Thus, the relevant outcomes are:

  • Content quality criteria
  • Quality criteria and process for educational programmes

The teaching and learning resources provided by Organic.Edunet include:

1. Consortium-provided content resources

  • BIO@GRO, ECOLOGICA, COMPASS projects
  • selection from Intute repository resources
  • teaching resources from agricultural universities
  • other tutor-provided resources

2. Publicly available resources - a selection of resources available online by not-for-profit organisations (e.g. FAO, Organic ePrints, Soil Association, Organic Agriculture Information Access)

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

One of the approaches followed by Organic.Edunet project in order to transfer the knowledge and experience gained was through Open Days (http://virtuelleschule.bmukk.gv.at/projekte-international/eu-projekte/organicedunet/open-days). Open Days were workshops which provided an excellent opportunity to attract a core group of interested teachers and involve them in the project from the very beginning, therefore functioning as validation trials for the project's educational approach. Open Days were used to:

  • foster dissemination and attract target group of teachers
  • build an initial contact with the target group and
  • gain feedback on the usability of the products of Organic.Edunet

Some of the user groups that participated in the Open Days were school and university teachers from biology, chemistry or other related agricultural/environmental topics with a focus on OA, teaching staff from training and research institutions in the field of OA, students from pedagogical universities in the field of OA, ministries of agriculture and education, other stakeholders (bio-food industry representatives, institutions and initiatives for sustainable/organic agriculture, other related national or European projects or initiatives), partners from their affiliated partner networks, NGO' and NPOs of organic/ecological agriculture and agricultural cooperatives.

Open Days were successfully organized by project partners from Austria (Goethegymnasium (Austrian High School), Vienna), Estonia (Miksike, Tallinn and Saku vald, Harjumaa), Germany (University Duisburg-Essen, Essen), Greece (University of Crete and Agricultural University of Athens), Hungary (Corvinus University Budapest), Nordic countries (Nødebo Agricultural School, Denmark), Romania (University of Agronomic Science and Veterinary Medicine, Bucharest) and Spain (University of Alcala, Alcalá de Hernares). In total, ten (10) Open Days events were organized and more than 220 people participated in these events. The results and experiences acquired by the Open Days were facilitated by the project in the evaluation process.

The project also shared its experience, tools and products with a wide network of affiliated partners. This network currently consists of 83 affiliated partners from all over the world (http://project.organic-edunet.eu/organic/partners/affiliated.html). These partners are mostly educational institutes and schools. In addition, this list includes commercial enterprises, organic certification agencies and organic farmers' organisations.

Lessons learnt

  1. The need for an educational portal that provides access to digital resources about organic agriculture and agroecology was high; this is confirmed by the success of the Organic.Edunet Web portal during its less than twelve (12) months of operation: more than 23,000 visits and almost 121,000 pageviews from 15,000 unique visitors from 130 different countries until November 2010. The aforementioned numbers highlight the need covered by the development and function of this portal.
  2. The need for personalized, multilingual user environment was more than obvious; by the end of the project, the user interface of both the web portal and the Confolio tool has been translated in more languages than initially planned. In addition, more translations are ongoing, due to the demand of user communities for a user interface translated in their native language. Even though English is considered to be the international, common language, it seems that most of the portal and Confolio users feel more comfortable with the user interface translated in their native language.
  3. The sustainability of a project's tools, such as the Web Portal, the Confolio tool and the ontology on Organic agriculture in the case of Organic.Edunet, should be considered and implemented through viable plans. In this case, the sustainability of these tools is assured through other European projects as well as through extensive promotion of the products and results of the project, even after its end.
Scope: International, Pan-European