I like to read the One Laptop Per Child News blog. It is not an official blog of the OLPC project but the author often posts interesting things related to education in addition to just the latest news about the XO laptop or the OLPC project. The other day I read a post about whether it was practical or beneficial to distribute XO laptops in areas that don't have internet connections. I decided that I have been keeping DEMML™ a secret for far too long and posted a comment about that article. Here is what I wrote:
Over the past few years I have been working on a solution to the exact problem you discuss in this article. I have invented a system for organizing and storing educational content such that it can be used even if there is no internet connection. I call that system the Distributable Educational Material Markup Language (DEMML). You can find more information at http://www.demml.org.
I have also invented, though not implemented, a communications protocol that can distribute the content, or any other content, to intermittently connected computers. I call that protocol the "Intelligent Epidemic Routing Protocol." You can learn more about this at http://www.ideationizing.com/2009/07/intelligent-epidemic-routing.html.
I have been keeping rather quiet about these so far because neither of them are quite ready for prime time and I haven't had much time to work on them due to the demands of school. I am also concerned about those with far more skill than me wresting control of my idea from me and turning it into yet another proprietary lock on the one type of information that truly needs to be free. However, it seems that I can't (or shouldn't) keep my cards close to my vest any longer. As I have always expected DEMML to be used with XOs I have decided to mention it to you first.
I got an email from a student at Carnegie Mellon University asking if DEMML™ could be used to keep track of audio books. I asked him if I could post his question here so my response could also be on the blog. He agreed, so here is the message he sent to me:
I'm a student with some experience in creating activities and content for the OLPC, and currently working with a couple of laptop schools in the Boston area. I saw your comment on OLPC News and think DEMML really fits the issues that laptop schools like those described in Bhutan and also Peru (where I hear >90% of the schools are offline) have with content.
When I was applying for the OLPCorps program (not accepted, unfortunately) I realized the need for schools to keep track of what content existed on their server and USB disks. DEMML can fit that need. Probably a good model to start with would be audiobooks from Librivox.org These audiobooks are created by volunteers from public domain books on Project Gutenberg. How can a school keep track of the text file, audio file, and metadata (author, difficulty level, lesson plan, whether students like the content)? Because the OLPC supports HTML5, it's also possible for their to be a file connecting the time in the audiobook to the text to display.
I am looking into a number of solutions for OLPC content and would be interested in seeing what you think of this eBooks+audiobooks project.
Civil Engineering Class of 2011
Carnegie Mellon University
And here is my response, which I e-mailed to him earlier:
Nick, I am pleased to meet someone else who cares about educating the world.
DEMML is designed such that content is broken up into it's smallest constituent parts. Usually about the size of a couple of paragraphs in a standard textbook. (Please see http://demml.org/features/index.htm#granular & http://demml.org/standard/classification/1b1-different_model.htm.) It is not necessarily designed for cataloging entire books. We have the Library of congress system for that. DEMML will eventually include a hierarchical tree of any content that is taught in an educational context. (see http://demml.org/standard/classification/3-create_tree.htm)
However, as any one book contains many different individual topics (often hundreds or thousands) it has occurred to me that people might like to include an index of their book in DEMML format. The DEMML standards include standards for creating what I call electronic syllabuses and lesson plans. A DEMML syllabus includes a hierarchical list of topics that a student should study and the proficiency level that the teacher expects the student to reach for each topic. A lesson plan indicates all the specific content that a teacher wants a student to study. One will be able to use a form of DEMML syllabus to indicate all the DEMML topics that are covered in the book and the proficiency level for each individual topic one could reasonably expect an astute student to reach by reading that book.
Another method involves adding DEMML tags to the content of the book itself. I have envisioned a set of tags that one would place around a specific portion of a book. Those tags would indicate which DEMML topic that particular section covers. Of course, this would require that the book be stored as an XML or XHTML document.
Yet another method I have thought of is for a printed book to simply contain footnotes that refer to the specific DEMML topic being discussed by citing the DEMCS code for that topic. I have designed the coding system for the topics such that they will take up the least amount of space when printed and so that users will be able to simply type the code from their book into a text field and that will directly translate to the location of a topic in a DEMML storage system (http://demml.org/standard/classification/1d-numbering.htm#demcsalpha).
Please also keep in mind that the DEMML standard is not complete. Nor is it completely documented on the web site. I have only posted the parts that describe the basic features and benefits. I have not published the parts that would allow one to actually "recreate the invention." This is because I hope to eventually patent the standard. This will be done so that I can prevent it from being "embraced and extended" to death by companies like Microsoft. I will license the standard freely but only if the licensees agree to the same level of openness. In addition, the classification system (DEMCS) has not even been started. Before I can do that I will need to consult with experts and organizations associated with all the major academic fields in order to best create that first hierarchical tree of educational content.
If you want, you can subscribe to my DEMML blog (http://demml.blogspot.com/) so that you will be notified when I finally do finish the DEMML standard. One of the reasons I posted on the OLPC blog was to spur myself into getting going and working on the standard more diligently. As a fellow student, I am sure you know how hard it can be to work on a large project while keeping up with one's studies.
Grant Sheridan Robertson
P. S. With your permission, I would like to post your question and my answer on my DEMML blog. I try to keep as much information as possible out where anyone can see it. Thanks.
This post (with the exception of Nicholas' e-mail) is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson. I assume Nicholas' e-mail is Copyright © 2009 by Nicholas Doiron unless he says otherwise.