How to build

E-archaeology Content Repository case study


  1. Creating a repository of didactic material – the basics
    1. Form of didactic content
    2. Interpretation of didactic content
  2. Content Repository and processable units
  3. Building repositories using Content Repository
    1. Browse and search repository resources
    2. Download content as a SCORM package
    3. Create new training programmes
    4. Add new content to the repository

Creating a repository of didactic material – the basics

A repository of didactic material is an IT solution which is used to store, process and download didactic content in digital format. Repositories can be created in a variety of ways depending on the form of the material, availability of technical infrastructure, the habits or skills of the users. A solution which stores files in digital format, using for example, ftp technology, can be considered a repository. A repository may also be a dedicated IT system which requires material to be structured according to set specifications and saved in a predetermined technical standard. Which solution is used depends on the form of the didactic material and its role in the distance learning process.

Depending on the methodological model applied, teaching material in digital format can be incorporated into the distance learning process in a variety of ways – it may be used to support and supplement the teaching process, it may also form the primary source of knowledge in place of the teacher. Whichever role it has, the material should fulfil the specific requirements of the target group as far as is possible. In order to do so, it is essential that the teacher is able to tailor the material to suit the particular needs of a group of learners on a given training programme. This material can differ to a greater or lesser degree from that already prepared for the specific training programme eg., it may contain additional components expanding certain topics, or some of the material may be removed. For it to be possible to adapt the material in this way the Content Repository must be sufficiently flexible. In the majority of cases, as teachers are not necessarily IT specialists, this process should not require a high degree of IT skills.

appropriately. Above all, it should be in a form which enables the creation of larger structures from smaller parts. Materials should be saved using a technical standard to make flexible processing possible. SCORM and the division of content into Learning Objects fulfils this requirement. It is also necessary to have a mechanism which enables didactic interpretations to be assigned to those parts of the material which are essentially cohesive and useful in the teaching process. Such chunks are designed to be used in various (numerous) educational contexts, different from the training programme where they were initially located. In the creation of the E-archaeology Content Repository it was decided to apply the UCTS (Universal Curricular Taxonomy System) in classifying didactic interpretations. This system defines the location of the materials used in the teaching process on three levels (Unit, Module, Curriculum).

The method presented is founded on the Content Repository tool, which is intended for the creation of teaching materials repositories. The Content Repository is an Internet-based information system which permits storage and processing of content which is SCORM (versions 1.2 and 2004) conformant. It enables the creation of repositories across a wide range of subjects and guarantees preservation of didactic content and coherence.

Form of didactic content

In order to support material reusability the repository must be structured appropriately. One possible approach applied in the creation of teaching materials is the organisation of content as an e-learning course. An e-learning course (or “e-book”, “content” ) is one way to save content in digital format, adapted to the specific nature of online learning provision. An e-learning course possesses the following characteristics:

  • contains multimedia and interactive elements making course content delivery more attractive and facilitating effective learning,
  • has a hierarchical structure based on the division of content into independent units known as Learning Objects,
  • can be imported into any distance learning system as it uses a standard representation of learning content such as SCORM.

Multimedia and interactive elements increase the effectiveness of online learning. They should always be used to supplement and expand core content rather than simply serve to make the material more attractive. The introduction of this type of element into e-learning courses permits the visualisation of dynamic processes, phenomena, or the illustration of interdependencies between processes discussed in the text. Components of this type are also used to check students’ progress and to build self-assessment mechanisms such as self-tests. Despite the significant role of multimedia and interactive elements in the distance learning process their presence, or lack of, does not affect the processing of the course in the learning materials repository.

The use of teaching units – Learning Objects – is an approach directly related to online teaching. The learner is unlikely to be able to cover all the elements contained in an e-learning course in one attempt. Learning will be interrupted by work or home obligations. If Learning Objects contain a chunk of material which can be covered in 3 – 10 minutes then the entire set of material will be covered in a more effective way. Complexity or amount of content may mean that Learning Objects will be located within larger structures covering selected issues and topics. Learning Objects will be placed in hierarchical order within blocks on a number of levels depending on the level of content detail. Such positioning of material determines the order of the chunks and presents the interdependencies between particular parts. This means that the learner will cover the material in the order preset by the author

SCORM makes it possible to set up an e-learning course on many distance learning platforms (Blackboard, Edumatic, Moodle, Olat, etc.). This standard is served by all leading distance learning LMS/LCMS systems. Using the SCORM standard in an online course guarantees transferability of didactic content and increases permanence through its simplicity and the low cost of introducing changes and supplements. The basic characteristic of the standard is also the possibility to organise content in a way which will permit its components to be reused. The SCORM philosophy is founded on the fact the content is divided into numerous components.

From a technical point of view the SCORM conformant material is structured in the following way:

  • E-learning course – a set of files (with content, graphic elements etc.), which may be accessed in an LMS/LCMS system. Technically, these are usually zip files, which guarantee transferability between platforms. The files contain all course components as well as the imsmanifest.xml file which holds information about structure (organisation) and all course components (resources).
  • Block – the structure which makes grouping of SCOs, assets or other blocks possible. From the perspective of SCORM architecture, a block is an Activity grouping certain resources or defining how they relate to each other.
  • SCO (Shareable Content Object) – the basic component of SCORM is dedicated to the organisation of content, which may be processed (activated, delivered to the learner) in an LMS/LCMS system and which can communicate with the system in order to deliver information about learner progress (eg., results of tests taken). An SCO can be used to save course components which deliver or verify knowledge. Technically, an SCO is a collection of asset and resource components. In many cases SCOs are treated as the technical realisation of the Learning Object concept, for they contain coherent portions of knowledge fulfilling the learning outcome objectives.
  • Asset, resource, file – components used in building an SCO (html files, graphics files, flask, scripts, etc.).

An important feature of SCORM which is significant in the creation of teaching content repositories is the possibility to describe content using an extended set of metadata. SCORM exploits IEEE Learning Object Metadata (LOM) specifications. Metadata can be used to describe any component such as an SCO, as well as single files. Metadata, when completed with information, can make a search of the repository far more efficient. Examples of LOM metadata:

  • General:
    • Description – general description of component
    • Language – language in which materials have been written,
  • Keyword – key words to describe component,
  • Technical:
    • Size – size of component (ex.g. in MB),
    • Requirement – technical requirements,
    • Duration – duration of component,
  • Educational:
    • InteractivityLevel – level of interactivity, for example medium or high,
    • Difficulty – level of difficulty of material,
    • SemanticDenisity – semantic density of material, for example low, medium or high,
  • TypicalAgeRange – age range of typical learner,
  • Rights:
    • CopyrightandTheOherRestrictions – copyright information,
    • Cost – cost (if applicabale),
  • Classification:
    • TaxonPath/Source – taxonomic system used to interpret content,
    • TaxonPath/Taxon – a particular term within a taxonomy.

Interpretation of didactic content

Structuring material as SCORM conformant Learning Objects is a good starting point for the creation of repositories where content is reusable. This approach however does not provide a direct answer to the following questions:

  • Which sections of material stored in the repository constitute a full set of teaching material?
  • Which content components can function independently ie., are essentially coherent and didactically useful?
  • Is it possible to include fragments of content in new structures in a way which is coherent and didactically useful?

In practice, the issues above lead to the following question: Is it possible to download any component from a repository ie., one or more SCOs organised in a block and use it in a didactic process?

So that content download is not purely technical, it is necessary to have a method which interprets the components according to their didactic nature. If the content is SCORM conformant it is insufficient to only refer to its structure, as certain elements of its structure (SCO, block, e-learning course) do not carry any information about the position of content within the teaching process. In SCORM, it is the author’s responsibility to decide which structures are didactically useful, and which have been introduced purely for technical or organisational reasons (eg., the large amount of material means it has been divided into smaller components and as a result single components should not be able to function independently). Such conceptualisation of content is rather difficult in that when creating material in a traditional format (eg., when writing a book) the resuability of its components is rarely taken into account, it is taken for granted that the content will be delivered to the learner as a whole. In structuring content intended to be SCORM conformant, where from a technical point of view any division of content is possible and easy to perform (especially when considering this as a purely technical issue!) it is necessary to develop and apply a more systematic method.

SCORM does not propose its own taxonomic system which could be used to describe the role of components from the point of view of their position in the teaching process. However, in LOM (Learning Object Metadata) TaxonPath metadata exists and it is used to denote this information. TaxonPath can be used to attribute various taxonomic systems to any component. SCORM documentation presents various ways of interpreting content:

Course Course Course Course
Module Block Phase Performance Objective
Lesson Module SubCourse (Annex) Enabling Objective
Learning Objective Lesson Lesson Teachning Point
Learning Step Learning Objective Task  
Learning Objecive      
Learning Step      

The taxonomic systems above refer to intuitively interpretable notions connected to the role of the material in the didactic process. In place of the above systems it would be possible to use other descriptions taken from the organisation of teaching processes at school (subject, class, lesson), or university level (subject, lecture, exercises). The presented method proposes UCTS as a solution which does not refer to a specific educational context for the interpretation of didactic content.

UCTS (Universal Curricular Taxonomy System) is a taxonomic system developed for the interpretation of didactic material in digital format. The system supplies the language of description thanks to which didactic material can be structured on a number of levels of detail. It can also be used to describe SCORM conformant material as well as to structure material in any other form as desired.

UCTS supplies the following concepts which can be used to describe didactic content:

  • Curriculum,
  • Learning module (also Module),
  • Learning unit (also Unit).

A Curriculum marks content which can be considered a training programme in that it contains a set of materials presenting a given subject in depth and which realise particular teaching objectives. A Curriculum is comprised of any number of Module-type components. The components are organised in the order in which they are supposed to be accessed by the learner. The Curriculum can be supplemented by an Exam element, which is the final exam for the entire training programme.

A Module can be comprised of a number of Unit components or other modules forming a complete whole dealing with the given subject in detail. This component should be supplemented by a Exam element which will enable assessment of learner progress.

The Unit component is the smallest didactic component and it introduces coherent content and contains elements allowing the learner to assess their own knowledge. A Unit is a content structure which cannot be divided further. This is rather intuitive, as in certain examples of didactic material (books, scripts, PowerPoint presentations), there is a particular threshold beyond which further division of content is impossible, though the divided content may still be of value in essence. A Unit can be comprised of the following elements:

  • Learning object – a portion of material which introduces new content organised as “knowledge chunks”. Content can be delivered as text, text with graphics (illustrations, photographs etc.), or as multimedia and interactive elements (non-linear demonstrations, dynamic diagrams and tables etc.), an element may contain self-assessment and exam elements.
  • Exercise – a component of material intended to test knowledge acquired. The construction of these components ought to be interactive, that is, they should contain interactive tests elements (multiple choice questions, drag and drop, puzzles etc.).
  • Self-assessment – a particular type of exercise giving the learner the opportunity to assess their own progress after covering a section of material. The questions contained should take the form of a review.
  • Exam – a component testing the knowledge acquired by the learner. The questions contained may be drawn from a question bank or predetermined. The results should be transferred to the LMS/LCMS system where they can be accessed by the teacher.
  • References – list of literature for further reading on the topic.

In the case of material which is SCORM conformant, these elements can be accessed as independent SCOs or integrated within one SCO.

Example materials described by UCTS are able to structure content as follows:


  • Archaeological heritage in contemporary Europe
  • Teaching of the past – archaeological heritage for teachers


  • Theorizing Cultural Heritage
  • Geographic Information System as a method of management of spatial data
  • International conventions and legal frameworks


  • Cultural Heritage – concepts and problems
  • Cultural Heritage – management through time
  • GIS applications and history
  • GIS in archaeology
  • UN and UNESCO conventions
  • European conventions

Content Repository and processable units

A Content Repository is software which functions within the Internet. It is dedicated to the creation of content repositories which are SCORM conformant (version 1.2 or 2004). The tools can be used to create single or multiple thematic repositories. In repositories which are not heterogeneous, the functionality of the tool which allows the creation of interdependent or slave repositories is very useful. A Content Repository possesses a complex system of rights which can control user access in accordance with the nature of the repository created and the organisational conditions of the institution maintaining the repository. This makes it possible to limit access to resources only to users who are logged in, or to allow only the author the right to publish content.

The basic function of a Content Repository is to enable the creation of new structures of knowledge based on components which are already available. The system makes this possible in a similar way to the work of an editor who selects the content required from that which is already available to prepare a book. This activity in a Content Repository is performed by carrying out a search for materials within the system and then positioning them accordingly in the knowledge structures being created. The tool permits only those components deemed didactically useful by their author to be processed. This activity is realised in the tool through the attribution of didactic intepretations to components and the creation of artefacts known as Processable Units (PUs).

A Processable unit (PU) is a defined data structure in the Content Repository according to which knowledge considered by the authors to be didactically useful is processed. Processable Units are created by ascribing didactic interpretations to any SCORM component. A PU created in this way is identified in the system as a Basic PU. Didactic interpretations may be identified using UCTS nomenclature or any other taxonomic system. A Content Repository is adapted to serve numerous taxonomic systems simultaneously. If UCTS nomenclature is in use, a user with the appropriate access permission can add one of the following values – Unit, Module, Curriculum – to the SCORM component (SCO, block, e-learning course). The system also permits the creation of a new PU called a System PU. This type of PU on creation is empty. It is designated to aggregate other PUs which are accessible within the system. The aggregation of a selected PU in the System PU is an activity which leads to the creation of new knowledge structures in the repository. It is possible to position any Basic PU or other System PUs in a System PU. What is important is that labelling content as a PU determines whether it can be downloaded from the system or not. It is only possible to download the content structures which are marked as a PU from a Content Repository.

Processable Units in the Content Repository also determine the level of granularity of content in the repository. In the system it is only possible to perform operations based on a PU. The tool does not permit the creation of new components containing content, in other words, it is impossible to create new SCOs. The Content Repository cannot then be classified as a LCMS. Content stored in the system must be created in an external tool. It should also be noted that it is impossible to defragment (to divide into smaller components) System PUs using the Content Repository. It is however possible (for the owner/author of content) to attribute didactic interpretations to a particular component of an existing PU and create new System PUs. This is conceptually a completely different activity to isolating (eg., in order to download) components of the PU. Such an approach is due to the fact that the author creating System PUs is responsible for whether or not a portion of knowledge labelled in this manner is didactically useful. The system does not permit further defragmentation of the PU in order to protect its integrity. This also means that in downloading content from the repository it will not be possible to download individual SCOs taken from the PU within which they are located. It is only possible to download SCORM packages containing content identified by the author as useful as a complete whole from the Content Repository.

Building repositories using Content Repository

A Content Repository makes the following functionalities used in the creation and management of didactic content repositories available:

  • browse and search resources collected in the repository,
  • download content as SCORM packages,
  • create new training programmes based on content already stored,
  • add new content to the repository.

Browse and search repository resources

A Content Repository provides a view of published resources according to the filters selected by the user when browsing a repository. The user is able to determine what information about the stored content is to be presented and also selects filters.

Basic filters enable the user to:

  • indicate which type of PUs are to be shown by selecting values of the taxonomic system in use eg., in UCTS it is possible to select values such as Curriculum, Module, Unit,
  • indicate the type of SCORM components which are to be shown (course, block, Asset, Resource, File).

These filters allow the user to determine the level of content granularity whereby it is possible to search the largest structures (Curriculum) or the smallest (Unit). It is also possible to formulate a more detailed search eg., search all Unit elements which are not blocks.

Apart from the basic filters the user can also use a multi-criteria search. In this mode the system performs a search in three ways:

  • word search,
  • tag search,
  • metadata search.

In the first, a repository search is carried out for the word the user enters. The system searches those component description fields which are text fields – areas where the author introduces textual descriptions of the component. The following fields are among those searched:

  • Title – component title given by the author,
  • File name – file name,
  • Description, Educational description – LOM metadata intended to contain the component description,
  • Keyword – LOM metadata intended to store key words describing the component,
  • Author – author of the component.

The Tag search looks for the tags authors use to describe the resource in the General/Keyword metadata. In the Content Repository system the author can use any word or words as a tag. It is also possible to use terms from wordnet based ontologies in the tag search. This last solution is available only when such an ontology has been created and attached to a repository. Such an ontology provides disambiguation during a tag search. It is possible thanks to the ontology structure in which words are connected in a so-called synset, collections of synonyms. During a search of the Content Repository such relations between tags are taken into account. Wordnet based ontologies also enable the search to be narrowed/extended for the tag entered by the user. The system always suggests a set of other tags from the semantic field of the tag entered by the user.

The last resource search method is the LOM metadata search. The Content Repository facilitates the search of all LOM metadata (approx. 100 elements).

After the element has been found the user can see the structure of the component searched. This function makes it possible to learn more about the structure of the PU or the SCORM components which have not been attributed didactic interpretations (but contain other components).

Download content as a SCORM package

Providing they have the appropriate permission, the user can download content stored in the repository as a SCORM package. The Content Repository enables download of content which has a didactic interpretation in the system, that is to say, it has been labelled as a PU. The system does not permit download of SCORM components (SCOs, blocks) which are not PUs.

Create new training programmes

The Content Repository is a tool which facilitates the creation of new training programmes and other knowledge structures on the basis of content which is available in the repository. This process can be compared to the work of an editor, who uses the material in the repository to build his own training programme. The process of the creation of new structures involves:

  • creating new System PUs,
  • modifying the System PU structure.

Add new content to the repository

A user granted access to do so may add content which is SCORM conformant to the Content Repository. This functionality is for users who administer online courses and who want to share them. After importing a course as a SCORM package into the system the user can do the following to each component:

  • attribute didactic interpretations,
  • attribute permission,
  • attribute tags,
  • attribute metadata.

Each SCORM component can be attributed the following permissions which govern the component’s behaviour in the repository:

  • Visible – visibility of component in the course tree view,
  • Preview – preview of component contents,
  • Download – option to download component from the repository,
  • Search permission (publication) – visibility of component in a search engine.

The “Preview” permission gives the user searching the repository access to the SCO and means the component structure is visible in this case. This can significantly improve the process of content selection from the repository performed by instructors.

The “Download” permission gives the user the right to determine which parts of the course can be downloaded by other users. In the E-archaeology Content Repository this can only be performed by the owner of the content contained in the system, giving him/her full control over the courses he/she stores in the repository.

Search permission governs which content will be published. If a component has search permission it will be visible in the search results. It may be given to components which are PUs as well as any other component (eg., file). This gives the author the right to decide which parts of the material can be accessed by other users.

The functionality of attributing tags enables the author to mark content with the help of a set of tags. In the E-archaeology Content Repository the tags dedicated to the description of content are selected by the author from an ontology such as the protection and management of archaeological heritage wordnet based ontology. This ontology contains 1500 words connected by so-called synsets which group synonyms. The synsets are also connected with identifiers of similar meaning. Thanks to this, once a tag is selected the system suggests a collection of tags with a similar meaning and it is then possible to choose the most suitable tags to describe content.

The bookmark ascribing metadata to a component is used in the description of a component using LOM metadata. The user can describe the contents using one or numerous metadata. The system enables the selection of each of the metadata available in LOM (approx. 150 values).