|Target Users||Schools, teachers and students, educational publishers, third party educational content and service providers|
|Nature of the initiative||Private|
|Contact||Maria Vittoria Alfieri
Manager, Head of digital department
Mosaico is a web-based semantic search engine launched on September 2014 allowing teachers and students to search, collect and share educational content. Its core is an ever-growing database of texts, images and multimedia coming from paper and digital publisher’s production, and, in addition, a selection of meaningful links to online resources.
Designed to serve users quickly and effectively for the most personal learning and teaching experience, Mosaico provides relevant, inter-disciplinary, high-quality, reviewed and certified editorial educational content that can be highly customized by users and therefore tailored on the need of a group or an individual, in a way that would not be possible with a book or a general-purpose search engine.
With the web becoming ubiquitous in the lives of learners and teachers and the complexity of knowledge, as well as the quantity of information, growing exponentially in the last decades, society increasingly requires schools to address crucial social and cultural issues. Educational institutions are struggling to find the right means to constantly innovate teaching methodologies and customize the content in a way that responds to students’ diversified and ever-changing needs.
Moreover, European schools are required to teach and train under the European Qualifications Framework, which requires compenteces-driven teaching, thus empowering interdisciplinary approaches and adaptation of content.
A wide selection of texts and multimedia forms the core of Mosaico’s database. The content, coming from over thirty subjects, is grouped in four main branches of knowledge: history and geography, literature and philosophy, economy and law, life sciences and technology. The database currently includes 200,000 text units (from the digitization of 60,000 pages), 120,000 images, 6,000 multimedia files (videos, audios, interactive learning objects, documents), and over 100,000 additional links to web pages suitable for study purposes.
Mosaico displays its search results after extracting words, expressions and concepts that are relevant for learners, representing in a conceptual map the way they are related across subjects and disciplines. Users may collect Mosaico’s content and use it to create a digital publication, they can customize it adding personal notes or uploading user generated content (UGC) such as texts, images, links to web resources or any file format.
Teachers can use Mosaico to create and distribute lessons, students may use it to create essays or presentations, and both teachers and students can work cooperatively.
Furthermore, Mosaico is integrated with two complementary tools, MyStudio and OpenBooks:
- MyStudio, a learning platform designed around educational needs, is a web and native application providing learning tools for a cloud-based digital classroom (i.e. teacher’s notebook, calendar, cloud storage, testing/assessment platform, lesson plan manager, cooperative online EPUB editor and blog);
- OpenBooks, enhanced e-textbooks including multimedia, are intended to provide structured content, cooperative tools (such as sharing notes, exercises and content), and tools for students with special educational needs (text to speech engine, high-readability fonts).
Mosaico enriches the teaching and learning experience offered by MyStudio and OpenBooks with a platform for customized personal content creation, thus allowing for a comprehensive learning environment where teachers and students can easily choose the right tool for a specific task or activity, switching smoothly and transparently from one app to another.
The role of technology
A textbook is a path leading students and teachers from a beginning to an end. The content of a book (in print as in digital form) is densely related to and bound by a network of cross-references. When the idea of Mosaico came to light, in order to let users manipulate content without losing track of the relation within it, there were three major challenges to face:
- let users choose the relevant content (to do so, a solid and rich database of content had to be built);
- preserve the core connections within a given book (between units, chapters, paragraphs, research material, images and multimedia);
- fragment structured content into small pieces of information (breaking down the original path and supporting it with a robust network of connections).
XML and semantic search came to help. Textbooks which are laid out for printing are tagged with metadata. A standard layout design does not have any relevant semantic information, so editors help desktop publishers to enrich the native InDesign file with some core metadata: hierarchy of texts, titles, images, abstracts etc.
Multimedia undergoes a similar workflow: every learning object is described by a set of metadata so to be fully indexable. Both InDesign and multimedia content is packed in XML and becomes the source of the database. Text and metadata are then indexed by a third-party semantic search engine (COGITO® by Expert System) that has its own language knowledge and ontology and extracts each concept (entity) found in the database from a vast spectrum of categories such as places, people, ages, historical events, phenomena etc. These concepts are then displayed in a map that represents the way in which each entity is related to others; the search engine calculates how often concepts come together and how strong is the relationship between them.
Mosaico has a cloud-based architecture of applications with independent layers and modules that work through APIs and may display data to third-party applications. The system is inherently interoperable, allowing RCS Education to open its fully and richly organized archives and letting other content providers get into Mosaico’s backend. The main logical blocks of this architecture are displayed in the chart.
Mosaico stands out as a powerful mean to transform the way schools work, and it is receiving enthusiastic feedbacks from users. As RCS Education is willing to fully understand how teachers and students make use of this tool, a permanent focus group has been set up: a selection of teachers with different backgrounds and areas of expertise, who are often tutors for their colleagues, periodically answers online surveys or is individually interviewed.
This group is a useful tool not only to understand how teachers benefit from Mosaico, but also to spread an innovative approach to teaching and learning. Tutor-teachers have adopted Mosaico as a state-of-the-art platform for training courses on innovative teaching methodologies directed to their colleagues.
RCS Education also collects aggregated non-personal tracking data. A set of over 40 customized analytics gives meaningful details of users’ engagement and provides data that can be used to maintain Mosaico or design future innovative projects.
The process chosen to develop Mosaico represents an achievement itself. Every branch of RCS Education has contributed with ideas and skills that led to the success of the project. Editors supported the transformation of content from paper to digital, transferring their crucial competencies and learning to diversify content in the digital environment.
A similar transfer of competences occurred with third-party developers. While it is widely common for publishers to “shop” in the digital market for ready-made apps and technological solutions, RCS Education developed Mosaico by gathering technical partners around its own idea. This shows how a non-core tech firm can imagine, plan and deliver innovative digital projects.