OceanTeacher History | FUST

OceanTeacher History

IODE training activities used to be organized on a ad hoc basis. Training materials would be developed by lecturers for the purpose of the course , would not be archived and would seldom be re-used within the context of IODE courses. This obvious wasteful use of resources was observed in the early 1990s and led to the development of the OceanPC “software package for oceanographic data processing and exchange on microcomputers” in 1996. Shortly after the ODINEA project started the organization of training courses and it was at this occasion that, for the first time, training materials were collated, organized with an html interface and provided on CD-ROM. This was the birth of the IODE Resource Kit, containing a series of powerpoint presentations, software tools and electronic documents in Microsoft Word and Acrobat PDF format.

The proposal to develop a more formal ‘IODE-wide’ tool was submitted to the IODE Officers during their meeting in Goa, India (February, 1998). The Officers recommended the development of a Pilot Project proposal for an “IODE Resource Kit CD-ROM” for submission to IODE-XVI. The stated objectives of the IODE Resource Kit were:

  • to constitute a computer-based tool as a follow-up and complement to IODE Data and Information Management activities;
    • to contain a number of modules which address marine data and information management requirements in the marine research process, going from programme design to program report;
    • to support the development of marine data and information management capabilities.

In addition, the Officers Meeting (Goa, India, 1998) agreed that the project should:

  • review and revise the ODINEA Course-in-a-box CD-ROM’s core document entitled ‘A Toolkit of Data and Information Management Modules for ICAM and Coastal Oceanography Programmes’;
  • identify suitable data, metadata and information (including IOC documents) to include in the IODE course-in-a-box CD-ROM;
  • identify suitable data formats and format translation utilities to include in the IODE course-in-a-box CD-ROM;
  • produce a beta version of the IODE Resource Kit CD-ROM for submission to IODE-XVI.

The purpose of the IODE Resource Kit was to provide an ‘NODC- In-A-Box’ capacity building tool for oceanographic data centres containing data and information management reference material and software tools useful for data centres.

The Kit was subsequently further developed based upon the 1997 ODINEA Kit and the Cape Town courses (ODINEA 1998, ODINEA 1999). The media was CD-ROM and the Kit was browser-driven (the Kit was also made available through the IOC/IODE web site). The Resource Kit was written in HTML, with some documents provided in PDF, Word and Excel spreadsheet formats. Software applications were also included and could be installed and/or launched from the browser. The Kit was developed by a small team composed of Dr. Murray Brown, Mr. Greg Reed and Mr. Peter Pissierssens.

The Resource Kit was modular in design and contains three basic modules, namely:

  • IODE Data Centre System,
  • Data Management Systems,
  • Data Analysis and Products.

A fourth module, Regional Data and Information Custom Pack was produced for specific regions and was prepared for the IOCINCWIO region.

IODE-XVI (Lisbon, Portugal, 31 October – 8 November 2000) congratulated the authors with the completion of the IODE Resource Kit, and identified the product as an impressive and important achievement for IODE.  The Committee had further requested the development of marine information management. The Committee adopted Recommendation IODE-XVI/7 through which it established the “IODE Resource Kit Project” and its Resource Kit Steering Group to be responsible for the further development and enhancement of the Resource Kit, in response to user feedback and additional requirements. The Steering group, composed of both data management experts and information management experts, met in Miami, Florida between 19 and 23 March 2001. This led to the development of the Marine Information Management Training Manual and the Data Management Training Manual for Course 1.

In 2001 it was agreed that the name ‘Resource Kit’ no longer appropriately described the content of the system as it now included both a set of software tools, as well as comprehensive training material. It was therefore decided to rename the system to “OceanTeacher” and a dedicated web site was established.

The first generation OceanTeacher was an html-based static content system that was developed and maintained using  Microsoft’s Frontpage software and hosted on a UNESCO web server in Paris, France. As Frontpage at that time was a tool intended mainly as a single (or at least small number of) editor web site authoring tool editing of the site was done mainly (in fact almost excelusively) by the OceanTeacher Chief Editor (Dr Murray Brown, USA).

From the start OceanTeacher applied an innovative approach to the organization of its content, the so-called binary structure. This consisted of separating expertise from courses and resulted in the so-called Resourcekit (the expertise or reference documentation) and the Training Manuals (the exercises and course paths). It is necessary to mention here that OceanTeacher was not intended to be a distance learning system but was aimed to be an “assistant” or “tool” used during training courses organized by IODE in Member States.

An additional division was between data management and information (library) management, although attempts were made to have “joint” material, especially as related to information technology.

The rapid and exponential growth of content in the Resource Kit and the need for a more distributed approach to content submission and management led to the submission of the proposal “ODIMeX: An Integrated Expert and Training System for Oceanographic Data and Information Management” to the Flanders-UNESCO Trust Fund for Science in 2003.

The proposal aimed at expanding OceanTeacher into an open, modular and expandable expert and training environment with the following properties:

  1. a binary model comprised of: (i) encyclopaedic resource kit ; and (ii) modular training curricula;
  2. ability for multiple expert authors to provide content for both the resource kit and training curricula;
  3. browser-driven using the University of Western Cape (UWC) KEWL.NextGen software;
  4. hierarchical management structure to ensure constant quality and peer-review;
  5. multiple user audiences
  6. data management and information management content

The project was approved and funded covering the period 2004-2008.  The project was successfully implemented and resulted in:

  • the first version of OceanTeacher using a web-based content management system based upon the KEWL.NextGen software developed by the University of the Western Cape, South Africa (see Figure  1 below);
  • the use of OceanTeacher during more than thirty courses organized between 2005 and 2008;
  • the second version of OceanTeacher’s Digital Library using the Semantic MediaWiki (SMW+) application (see Fig. 2) ;
  • a central Homepage for OceanTeacher that provides information on the different modules.

OceanTeacher Today

As mentioned today’s OceanTeacher is a complex integrated system including the OceanTeacher Encyclopedia (also known as the Digital Library), and the OceanTeacher Classroom (also knows as the OceanTeacher Courses). In addition the system includes video recordings of courses which can be used by the trainees to refresh their knowledge, or by others.

The current content tree of the OceanTeacher Encyclopedia can be seen HERE

OceanTeacher technology framework: Semantic MediaWiki

The new OceanTeacher uses the Semantic Mediawiki (SMW+) environment developed by the German Ontoprise (http://www.ontoprise.de) which is also supported by Vulcan Inc. (http://www.vulcan.com) . Vulcan Inc. creates and advances a variety of world-class endeavors and high-impact initiatives that change and improve the way people live, learn, do business and experience the world. Founded in 1986 by investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, and under the direction of president and CEO Jody Patton, Vulcan oversees various business and charitable projects including real estate holdings, investments in more than 40 companies, including Charter Communications, DreamWorks Animation SKG, Digeo Broadband, the Seattle Seahawks NFL and Portland Trail Blazers NBA franchises, First & Goal Inc., Vulcan Productions, the Seattle Cinerama theatre, Experience Music Project, the Science Fiction Museum & Hall of Fame, the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. For OceanTeacher the semantic extension development work has been co-sponsored by Vulcan within the framework of “Project Halo” (Project Halo is a unique effort towards the development of a "Digital Aristotle"—a staged, long-term research and development initiative to create an application capable of answering novel questions and solving advanced problems in a broad range of scientific disciplines – see http://www.projecthalo.com ) .



MediaWiki is a web-based wiki software application used by all projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, all wikis hosted by Wikia, and many other wikis, including some of the largest and most popular ones. Originally developed to serve the needs of the free content Wikipedia encyclopedia, today it has also been deployed by companies for internal knowledge management, and as a content management system. Notably, Novell uses it to operate several of its high traffic websites.

MediaWiki is written in the PHP programming language, and can use either the MySQL or PostgreSQL relational database management system. MediaWiki is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License while its documentation is released under the GFDL and partly in the public domain, making it free and open source software.

The use of MediaWiki will open up OceanTeacher to submissions by a virtually unlimited number of content contributors. However there is a major difference with the “traditional” wiki where anyone can contribute or edit anything on the wiki: OceanTeacher will have a more controlled approach with submissions being pre-arranged in discussions between authors and editors, and subsequently quality-controlled by editors who can accept, return or reject the resulting submissions.

Semantic Mediawiki

Semantic MediaWiki (SMW) is an extension to MediaWiki), that allows for the encoding of semantic data within wiki pages, thus turning a wiki that includes the extension into a semantic wiki. Data that has been encoded can be used in semantic searches, used for aggregation of pages, and exported to the outside world via RDF

SMW+ offers a rich feature set which goes well beyond traditional wiki features to create, share and publish content:


  • Enhanced wiki navigation: features to ease and speed up navigation and access to articles, as well as semantic data, in the wiki
  • Improved knowledge authoring: features to allow easy and expressive addition of semantic data to the wiki
  • Simplified knowledge retrieval: features to query knowledge and access information stored in the wiki
  • Polished knowledgebase: features that allow users to detect inconsistencies and continuously improve the quality of the authored knowledge
  • Secured content: access control tool to keep user groups away from sensitive content
  • Intuitive administration - features that support administration tasks

The core advantage of SMW+ is the ability to assign metadata tags (semantic annotations) to each page of content that describe the content. This  also enables the use of common metadata vocabularies (ontologies).  This will provide the content with powerful structure and precise searchability which is of considerable importance for large sites.

The technology and basic concepts used in OceanTeacher now, through SMW+ will make OceanTeacher an early implementer of Web 3.0. Web 3.0 refers to the third generation of Internet-based services that collectively comprise what might be called 'the intelligent Web'—such as those using semantic web, microformats, natural language search, data-mining, machine learning, recommendation agents, and artificial intelligence technologies—which emphasize machine-facilitated understanding of information in order to provide a more productive and intuitive user experience. 


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