The DEMML™ blog is about the Distributable Educational Material Markup Language™,
an XML standard being developed by Grant Sheridan Robertson.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Introduction to DEMML Powerpoint

I don't know why I never posted this, but here is a link to the PowerPoint I used for my Apiron presentation about DEMML.  Below is the text of my notes for that presentation:

    • Introduction
      • Did you know that, despite the growing population, the worldwide birth rate is relatively stable at about 140 Million per year? My Educational Psychology teacher told us that, on average, new teachers stay on the job for only two years. Assuming 12 school years per person and a conservative estimate of 30 students per classroom, according to my back of the envelope calculation, exactly 1/5 of all people born, that's 28 million per year, would have to choose to become teachers just to keep up.  To put this number in perspective, that's more than the entire total population of  New York City, Los Angeles,  Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Dallas, San Diego, San Jose, Detroit, San Francisco, and Jacksonville, Florida combined, all deciding to become teachers every single year.  Completely disregarding all the other problems we have in the education system, it is clear we can never produce enough teachers to keep up.

    • Back of the envelope calculation.

    • Quite frankly, the only way we have been able to "keep up" so far is to simply let the majority of the world population go uneducated, which I consider completely unacceptable.
    • Clearly we need a different solution.
    • What follows is an overview of my vision for that solution.
    • "Brief" definition of DEMML
      • The Distributable Educational Material Markup Language™ (DEMML™) is both an data format for storing educational material in a highly structured yet incredibly flexible manner and a system for authenticating and distributing that content for independent or shared use throughout the world, even where there is no internet connection. This material is organized and classified to a degree never before attempted, using what turns out to be a rather simple system of encoding the hierarchical tree of all possible educational material right down to the paragraph - or even sentence - level. This allows anyone to easily contribute any amount of material to what will hopefully grow to be a vast library of vetted content for all to use. In addition the format facilitates a new level of flexibility in computer based learning by allowing educators to specify what material the student should study while still allowing the student instant access to additional material as their needs require. Multiple different explanations or presentations can exist for any one fact within any very specific topic. This allows any student at any level to quickly find just the right explanation that helps them most efficiently understand the topic at hand. To be clear, DEMML™ is not just another Computer Based Training system. Instead, it is a way of creating a library of educational material in a standardized format which all compatible Computer Based Training systems can instantly draw from, with no manual editing whatsoever.

    • Core Aspects of DEMML
      • DEMML has quite a few core features that make it unique:
      • Break it down
        • First we have to break down all educational content into the smallest reasonable topics and delineate the individual facts or concepts within those topics. This will require time spent with organizations expert in each of the different academic disciplines to define what all the different topics should be. Each topic is stored completely separately from the others so they can be presented in any order necessary or desired. 
    Animation of cutting up textbook and separating paragraphs.
    • Organize it
      • All that educational content will be organized into a gigantic hierarchical tree with a classification and coding system that is designed to allow additional topics and sub-topics to be inserted at any point in the tree without adjusting the existing content.
    Picture of tree from Shunga Trail
    Fade to background. Overlay graphics of folder structure and branch metaphor from web site.
    • Metadata
      • Metadata is added so software can better choose which content to present when. This metadata will include things like:
        • Learning style.
          • Learning Style
        • Prerequisites.
          • Prerequisites
          • Not just that someone has taken a particular course, but that they already know a specific fact that is necessary to understand the current topic being studied.
        • Difficulty level.
          • Difficulty Level
        • Thread.
          • Sometimes it is best to keep the same theme or "thread" when moving from one topic to another. Assigning named threads will allow software to choose content that is associated with the same thread as other content the student has studied before. This provides familiarity for easier learning.
        • Hardware and software requirements
          • Hardware and software requirements for displaying this particular content.
        • Other
          • And any other type of information that may help software choose the best content to present to the student.
    Animated mind map adding all this information about the information.
    • Multiple explanations for each topic or fact
      • One of the primary problems with all current education systems is that they are applied in a one-size-fits-all manner. DEMML allows multiple, different explanations for each different topic or fact so that just the right explanation can be presented to and/or chosen by the student. Each different explanation is given a unique code and is treated as a separate entity, or "Item."
    Animation of adding multiple different paragraphs in stacks for each different topic.
    • Multiple questions for each fact or concept.
      • DEMML allows a large variety of questions all about the same concept, which ensures that students are learning the concepts rather than just memorizing specific answers to specific questions.
    Slide in a stack of questions and problems.
    • Unlimited possibilities in content
      • Anything that can appear on a web page can appear in DEMML content. This could be simply text and diagrams like what is in textbooks now, or videos, audio clips, animations, or even interactive simulations. And so you don't think DEMML is all about sitting in front of the computer all day, it even can recommend outside learning activities such as lab experiments, collaborative projects, or identifying specimens found in nature. Anything that can be done in a regular classroom or out of class activities.
    Collage of different kinds of educational content.
    • Contribution and vetting
      • Anyone will be able to contribute content but it will be vetted by certified educators and experts.
    • Store and forward data transfer
      • The content is designed to be delivered in a store and forward manner so no internet connection is required to transfer or study the content.
    Final slide from DEMML communication PowerPoint.
    • Syllabuses and lesson plans
      • Teachers can easily produce electronic syllabuses to specify which topics students are to learn, by which dates. As well as lesson plans, which contain no actual content but are merely lists of specific explanations to be studied.
    Large outline representing topics.
    • Students can also create their own syllabuses indicating what they are interested in learning.
    Add in small outline.
    • Spaced Repetition
      • Spaced Repetition is when content is re-presented, or questions are asked, at timed intervals. Those intervals grow semi-exponentially which has been shown to increase learning and long term retention. However, the time intervals and the exact rate of increase which is most conducive to learning is different not only for each student but for each different piece of material learned. Only a computer can accurately calculate and keep track of this much data. There are already many flashcard programs that make use of spaced repetition. Unfortunately they only track learning patterns for specific question and answer pairs rather than for all the questions that pertain to a specific concept.
    Just a diagram showing the forgetting curve but adjusted for each repetition.
    • While DEMML does not do spaced repetition in and of itself, the way DEMML content is structured allows  software to easily make use of the content when quizzing students. However, rather than just asking the same question over and over again, the software can choose from any of the multiple questions associated with a specified topic or fact.
    • Study anywhere on almost any device.
      • Because the metadata indicates the hardware and software requirements, software can automatically select only appropriate content to transfer to users' various devices.
    Collage of multiple different devices.

    • User Interaction
      • Install software
        • In order to use DEMML content, students can install any compatible software they choose.
        • I hope to promote the creation of open source as well as proprietary software.
      • Import syllabuses and/or lesson plans
        • Next, users will import syllabuses and/or lesson plans obtained from teachers or any other source.
      • Obtain content.
        • The software will then know what content to obtain and import based on:
          • All the different syllabuses and lesson plans that have been imported
          • What the student already knows
          • As well as the prerequisites for all the specified topics.
      • Initial Learning
        • Based on this, the software chooses the most appropriate content to present to the student next. Student's can choose to study one particular subject in depth, follow a lesson plan or just take what comes in little pieces. If they don't understand the first explanation, students can instantly choose a different one, or a video or other format.
      • Study
        • Using spaced repetition, the software has the students review material, asks questions about the material, and presents problems that require knowledge and understanding of the material, all to reinforce their learning.
      • Testing
        • Although DEMML is not designed to administer evaluative tests, its vast storehouse of questions can be used by teachers to automatically generate tests based upon all that metadata.
      • Just bullet points for the different steps.
    • Differences from other systems.
      • So, what are some of the differences between DEMML and existing "systems"
      • The Internet
        • First we have the internet itself:
        • However, it is definitely not organized.
        • And searching for a very specific explanation can take hours.
      • Wikipedia
        • With Wikipedia, content is not vetted.
        • Nor is it stable. The articles can change at any time. Once content is officially accepted into DEMML, it can not be edited. If someone thinks they can write a better explanation they can do that, but it will be an entirely new explanation which is hopefully better suited to a different set of students than the original.
        • Finally, Wikipedia has only one version of any explanation so it is a one-size-fits-all proposition.
      • Lesson Plan Repositories
        • There are repositories of lesson plans available on the internet.
        • Unfortunately, they are poorly organized.
          • Lessons are usually merely grouped by major classification such as Biology, or Math.
          • And the metadata usually consists of simply listing what grade level the content is designed for.
        • It is difficult to find what is needed.
        • Once teachers have found something close to what they need, it often must be hand edited to adapt it for their specific purpose.
        • Once adapted, the lesson is still applied in a one-size-fits-all manner to an entire classroom.
      • Computer Based Training programs
        • Computer based training is often nothing much more than click-ware.
        • It is expensive to create therefore expensive to obtain.
        • If the software is good then the content may be poor or vice versa.
          • DEMML separates content from software so anyone can create different software to use the same library of content.
        • Though the developer of computer based training software can allow for variations in student ability, it is up to the content author to foresee all possible scenarios. If a particular scenario is not provided for when the software is produced then the student is out of luck. So, again, the one-size-fits-all (or at most just a few) problem.
        • Finally, it is very difficult to tell exactly everything that is in one of these programs before you buy it, so you have to go by general reviews and hope for the best.
    • Work to be done:
      • DEMML is still very much a work "in progress." I still have to:
        • Complete the rest  of the standard
        • Work with various educational associations to develop the hierarchical tree of topics.
        • Assign codes to all those topics
        • Start creating content.
        • Develop prototype software.
        • Get enough people on board that it will start to take off on its own.
    • Conclusion:
      • I believe, using DEMML, students will be able to learn much faster and retain what they learn far longer. As long as they want, in fact. I believe this will usher in a new age of what I call Ubiquitous Super-Education. Imagine if almost everyone on the planet had at least a college level education and they actually remembered almost everything they learned. Imagine if even ten percent had a graduate level education. Imagine the solutions that could be discovered. Imagine just how fast we could progress as a people.
      • Only when students can easily obtain and master all the material necessary for a course of study entirely on their own will they be free of the barriers that stand between them and knowledge. Only when everyone in the world has free and easy access to all the education they want or need will we be able to overcome the suffering created when the uneducated are left to fend for themselves against the unscrupulous.
      • To learn more go to

This post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.