What are Semantic Applications?

Semantic-aware applications infer the meaning, or semantics, of information on the Internet to make connections and provide answers that would otherwise entail a great deal of time and effort. New applications use the context of information as well as the content to make determinations about relationships between bits of data; examples like TripIt, SemaPlorer, and Xobni organize information about travel plans, places, or email contacts and display it in convenient formats based on semantic connections. Semantic searching is being applied for scientific inquiries, allowing researchers to find relevant information without having to deal with apparently similar, but irrelevant, information. For instance, Noesis, a new semantic web search engine developed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is designed to filter out search hits that are off-topic. The search engine uses a discipline-specific semantic ontology to match search terms with relevant results, ensuring that a search on "tropical cyclones" will not turn up information on sports teams or roller coasters.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • I know libraries best. I think there's huge potential in research, but that at this point most of the people I interact with would be suspicious that a semantic search wouldn't get everything. In addition, people really loved the serendipity of browsing the stacks. Though many people have turned to web-based serendipity, there'd be a mourning of the loss of serendipity (again) as semantic search really takes hold. - lauren.pressley lauren.pressley Nov 19, 2011
  • At my institution we engaged in a program 2 years ago to use semantic analysis to align all of the content in our school of business to ACBSP standards. The process was very accurate and saved us a lot of time and money. A summary of the process and results can be found here: http://sloanconsortium.org/effective_practices/semantic-mapping-learning-assets
    The implementation was so beneficial that we are planning to use the same techniques on all 1500 of our courses starting in January. The insights that can be gained are beneficial to faculty, instructional designer and administrators. Though it is a little further out on the horizon, we plan to start roundtripping student work products from the LMS and conducting semantic analysis on them to directly correlate student learning artifacts to outcomes. - phil.ice phil.ice Nov 19, 2011
  • Using peer instruction techniques, (Mazur) present effective ways of engaging students in helping each other learn. One of the techniques that has been popularized by it is the use of 'clickers' to ask concept questions students then discuss. With the advent of more effect latent semantic analysis (LSA) techniques, it's now becoming possible to ask short answer questions not just multiple choice questions, and extract with these techniques the concepts that are central to the students' responses.

    These analytic approaches open up the potential for semantically analyzing the the concepts embedded in subsections of textbooks and comparing these to the questions at the end of the chapter to examine the alignment of the questions to the idea the chapter actually expresses. Among the more useful of these techniques appears to be non-negative matrix factorization. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Nov 20, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Connecting semantic analytic tools to concept mapping is an emerging area of research. Building concept ontologies is an essential step toward development of core assessment instruments. Using semantic analytic tools to identify the concepts that are core to introductory courses is an important area of work. Physics has been the model discipline for this and for this reason physics education research has been a leading discipline in STEM. The description above focuses on semantic applications but really needs to address the broader area of semantic research that employs a range of analytic techniques and algorithms, some of which may be developed into user-focused applications but many of which are just part of the growing toolset in this research domain.- Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Nov 20, 2011
  • another response here

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • Really well done semantic searching would enable people to use more time for evaluation of sources (and application) rather than just searching. - lauren.pressley lauren.pressley Nov 19, 2011
  • The potential impact ranges from automating the process of visualising student understanding of core concepts, to analysing the alignment between text books and their problem sets, to developing patterns of concept development using semantic tools to surface underlying core and associative ideas. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Nov 20, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • Development of the Semant tool has been underway and piloted in several courses in physics and the University of Queensland. In addition semantic analysis is a core element in both NVivo and Leximancer are exemplar research applications in this area. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Nov 20, 2011
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