Updated ontology engineering lecture notes (2015)

It’s that time of the year again, in the southern hemisphere that is, where course preparations for the academic year are going on full steam ahead. Also this year, I’ll be teaching a CS honours course on ontology engineering. To that end, the lecture notes have been updated, though not in a major way like last year. Some sections have been shuffled around, there are a few new exercises, Chris’s update suggestion from last year on the OBO-OWL mapping has been included, and a couple of typos and odd sentences have been fixed.

Practically, this installment will be a bit different from previous years, as it has integrated a small project on Semantic Wikis, funded by CILT and OpenUCT. Set up, maintenance, and filling it with contents on ontology engineering topics will initially be done ‘in house’ by students enrolled in the course and not be generally available on the Web, but if all goes well, it’ll be accessible to everyone some time in April this year, and possibly included in the OER Commons.

Semantic MediaWiki’s features are fairly basic and there are a bunch of plugins and extensions I’ve seen listed, but I didn’t check whether they all worked with the latest SMW. If you have a particular suggestion, please leave a comment or send me an email. One thing I’m still wondering about particularly, but haven’t found a solution to, is whether there’s a plugin that lets you see the (lightweight) ontology when adding contents, so that it makes it easier to use terms in the text from the ontology’s vocabulary rather than find an having to process manually whatever (near)synonyms have been used throughout the pages (like, one contributor using ‘upper ontology’, another ‘foundational ontology’ and the third ‘top-level ontology’), and allow on-the-fly extensions of that ontology.

Pleasant SAARMSTE’15 in Maputo

The 23rd annual conference of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education, held in Maputo, Mozambique concluded last Friday, after some 200 presentations in 8 parallel session by academics from about 18 countries (mostly SACD region, some USA, UK, Norway, Japan, Turkey, and new Zealand). It was a stimulating event by a welcoming community.

Most maths & science teaching research presentations were concerned with “what goes wrong, and why?” and “which interventions (hypothesised improvements), and do they work?”. I’ll describe a brief sampling of the presentations spread over the 3.5 days to illustrate it. For instance, Frikkie George from UWC looked into why teachers in secondary schools do, or do not, use computer-assisted learning in their teaching [1]. To look at the negative side (for one may want to use technology in the classroom and wonder why it is not always happening that much): this was due to, mainly, the lack of experience with the technology, of on-site support, of availability of the technologies, and of lack of time to integrate it in the curriculum.

A recurring and emerging research theme on the problem-side of things was the “LoLT”–language of teaching and learning (formerly known as ‘medium of instruction’)–, as many learners in the classroom in SADC countries are being taught in a language that is not their mother tongue (called ‘home language’ in South Africa). There were several presentations on this issue, and a whole symposium was dedicated to it. Kathija Adam from NMMU presented a useful literature review [2], which was part of an inter-institutional funded project that started last year, so the main solutions are yet to come. (and I’ll leave it with this ‘cliffhanger’, as much more can be said about it, deserving its own blog post).

There was also the issue of “Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in the class room and in science”, and I went to a few of those presentations. It is a touchy subject in this region of the world, and to complicate matters, different presenters and attendees had quite different ideas and assumptions about it. From the ‘light’ version: e.g., IKS & weather by Alvin Riffel (also from UWC) in the way like, say, “an evening false moonbow brings rain tomorrow”1, which can then be used as an introduction to the scientific explanation of the phenomenon, relating everyday life observations to science in the classroom [3]. To the ‘heavy’ and un(counter?)productive: a big, fat, loud-mouthed militant claiming that ‘everything is science, including the spirits’ and lambasting ‘and if you go for western science [cf. African], then you are one of those bad oppressive colonialists, racist!’, nipping in the bud any conversation about IKS and science (I’m not exaggerating). Another recurring theme was pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).

My own presentation was about an experiment in peer instruction that, in short, didn’t have the desired effect (increasing class attendance), but was useful in other ways nevertheless (read the 13-page paper for the details [4]). This work will be extended this year, partially thanks to a UCT Teaching With Technology grant to develop a better functioning software-based audience response system, and more concept tests.

Other than that, it was hot in Maputo, full of friendly people, and good food and coffee. The SAARMSTE choir gave its best during the social dinner, which was also spiced up with some dancing. Friday afternoon after the conference’s closing ceremony, I planned to finally go to the internet cafe to check emails, but the bus was for the excursion through Maputo only, so that plan was changed (the alternative was a 20-minute walk in the blistering sun at 2pm and get burned, again). There may not be a whole lot of touristy places in the city, but it mattered not, as we had a good time together anyway. Also contributing to a great stay in Maputo was my choice on being frugal with the accommodation, opting for Fatima’s Place backpackers rather than a fancy hotel (choices: expensive and even more expensive): unlike the conference participant who was lamenting a ‘dull 15-hour stay at the hotel util the conference’s next day’, I had great company in the backpackers’ lively common area in the (late) evening.

The next SAARMSTE in early 2016 will be in Pretoria—a location not even close as appealing as Maputo, but a warm welcome will be guaranteed by its participants (as it was also welcoming in Cape Town in 2013 when I attended the conference).

References

[1] George, F., Ogunnniyi, M. Teacher’s perceptions on the use of ICT in a CAL environment to enhance the conception of scientific concepts. 23rd Annual Meeting of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (SAARMSTE’15), 13-16 January 2015, Maputo, Mozambique.

[2] Adam, K., Africa, A., Woods, T., Johnson, S. Exploring issues related to language in multilingual South African Science classrooms: a literature review. 23rd Annual Meeting of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (SAARMSTE’15), 13-16 January 2015, Maputo, Mozambique.

[3] Riffel, A.D. Examining the impact of dialogical argumentation on grade 9 learners’ beliefs about weather and indigenous knowledge. 23rd Annual Meeting of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (SAARMSTE’15), Huillet, E. (Ed.), pp366-379. 13-16 January 2015, Maputo, Mozambique.

[4] Keet, C.M. An Experiment with Peer Instruction in Computer Science to Enhance Class Attendance. 23rd Annual Meeting of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (SAARMSTE’15), Huillet, E. (Ed.), pp319-331. 13-16 January 2015, Maputo, Mozambique.

1The “false moonbow”—called corona, a circular ‘rainbow’ around the moon—phrase I just made up, and is similar to a reading-of-the-sky we have in the Netherlands, and on January 4 we saw an amazing one here, admiring it during a neighbourhood braai, wondering what it might mean. The next day, I made it to work through the heavy rain (in summer!) and looking it up to see what it meant and why… reality very much confirmed the theory, the whole day long.

Even more short reviews of books I’ve read in 2014

I’m not sure whether I’ll make it a permanent fixture for years to come, but, for now, here’s another set of book suggestions, following those on books on (South) Africa from 2011, some more and also general read in 2012, and even more fiction & non-fiction book suggestions from 2013. If nothing else, it’s actually a nice way to myself to recall the books’ contents and decide which ones are worthwhile mentioning here, for better or worse. To summarise the books I’ve read in 2014 in a little animated gif:

(saved last year from daskapital.nl)

(saved last year from daskapital.nl)

Let me start with fiction books this time, which includes two books/authors suggested by blog readers. (note: most book and author hyperlinks are to online bookstores and wikipedia or similar, unless I could find their home page)

Fiction

Stoner by John Williams (1965). This was a recommendation by a old friend (more precisely on the ‘old': she’s about as young as I am, but we go way back to kindergarten), and the book was great. If you haven’t heard about it yet: it tells the life of a professor coming from a humble background and dying in relative anonymity, in a way of the ups and downs of the life of an average ‘Joe Soap’, without any heroic achievements (assuming that you don’t count becoming a professor one). That may sound dull, perhaps, but it isn’t, not least in the way it is narrated, which gives a certain beauty to the mundane. I’ll admit I have read it in its Dutch translation, even in dwarsligger format (which appeared to be a useful invention), as I couldn’t find the book in the shops here, but better in translated form than not having read it at all. There’s more information over at wikipedia, the NYT’s review, the Guardian’s review, and many other places.

Not a fairy tale by Shaida Kazie Ali (2010). The book is fairly short, but many things happen nevertheless in this fast-paced story of two sisters who grow up in Cape Town in a Muslim-Indian family. The sisters have very different characters—one demure, the other willful and more adventurous—and both life stories are told in short chapters that cover the main events in their lives, including several same events from each one’s vantage point. As the title says, it’s not a fairy tale, and certainly the events are not all happy ones. Notwithstanding its occasional grim undertones, to me, it is told in a way to give a fascinating ‘peek into the kitchen’ of how people live in this society across the decennia. Sure, it is a work of fiction, but there are enough recognizable aspects that give the impression that it could have been pieced together from actual events from different lives. The story is interspersed with recipes—burfi, dhania chutney, coke float, falooda milkshake, masala tea, and more—which gives the book a reminiscence of como agua para chocolate. I haven’t tried them all, but if nothing else, now at least I know what a packet labelled ‘falooda’ is when I’m in the supermarket.

No time like the present, by Nadine Gordimer (2012). Not necessarily this particular book, but ‘well, anything by Gordimer’ was recommended. There were so few of Gordimer’s books in the shops here, that I had to go abroad to encounter a selection, including this recent one. I should have read some online reviews of it first, rather than spoiling myself with such an impulse buy, though. This book is so bad that I didn’t even finish it, nor do I want to finish reading it. While the storyline did sound interesting enough—about a ‘mixed race couple’ from the struggle times transitioning into the present-day South Africa, and how they come to terms with trying to live normal lives—the English was so bad it’s unbelievable this has made it through any editorial checks by the publisher. It’s replete with grammatically incoherent and incomplete sentences that makes it just unreadable. (There are other reviews online that are less negative)

The time machine, by HG Wells (1895). It is the first work of fiction that considers time travel, the possible time anomalies when time travelling, and to ponder what a future society may be like from the viewpoint of the traveller. It’s one of those sweet little books that are short but has a lot of story in it. Anyone who likes this genre ought to read this book.

One thousand and one nights, by Hanan Al-Shaykh (2011). Yes, what you may expect from the title. The beginning and end are about how Scheherazade (Shahrazad) ended up telling stories to King Shahrayar all night, and the largest part of the book is devoted to story within a story within another story etc., weaving a complex web of tales from across the Arab empire so that the king would spare her for another day, wishing to know how the story ends. The stories are lovely and captivating, and also I kept on reading, indeed wanting to know how the stories end.

Karma Suture, by Rosamund Kendall (2008). Because I liked the Angina Monologues by the same author (earlier review), I’ve even read that book for a second time already, and Karma Suture is also about medics in South Africa’s hospitals, I thought this one would be likable, too. The protagonist is a young medical doctor in a Cape Town hospital who lost the will to do that work and needs to find her vibe. The story was a bit depressing, but maybe that’s what 20-something South African women go through.

God’s spy by Juan Gómez-Jurado (2007) (espía de dios; spanish original). A ‘holiday book’ that’s fun, if that can be an appropriate adjective for a story about a serial killer murdering cardinals before the conclave after Pope John Paul’s death. It has recognizable Italian scenes, the human interaction component is worked out reasonably well, it has good twists and turns and suspense-building required for a crime novel, and an plot you won’t expect. (also on goodreads—it was a bestseller in Spain)

Non-fiction

This year’s non-fiction selection is as short as the other years, but I have less to say about them cf. last year.

David and Goliath—Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants, by Malcolm Gladwell (2013). What to say: yay! another book by Gladwell, and, like the others I read by Gladwell (Outliers, The tipping point), also this one is good. Gladwell takes a closer look at how seemingly underdogs are victorious against formidable opponents. Also in this case, there’s more to it than meets the eye (or some stupid USA Hollywood movie storyline of ‘winning against the odds’), such as playing by different rules/strategy than the seemingly formidable opponent does. The book is divided into three parts, on the advantages of disadvantages, the theory of desirable difficulty, and the limits of power, and, as with the other books, explores various narratives and facts. One of those remarkable observations is that, for universities in the USA at least, a good student is better off at a good university than at a top university. This for pure psychological reasons—it feels better to be the top of an average/good class than the average mutt in a top class—and that the top of a class gets more attention for nice side activities, so that the good student at a good (vs top) university gets more useful learning opportunities than s/he would have gotten at a top university. Taking another example from education: a ‘big’ class at school (well, just some 30) is better than a small (15) one, for it give more “allies in the adventures of learning”.

The dictator’s learning curve by William J. Dobson (2013), or: some suggestions for today’s anti-government activists. It’s mediocre, one of those books where the cover makes it sound more interesting than it is. The claimed thesis is that dictators have become more sophisticated in oppression by giving it a democratic veneer. This may be true at least in part, and in the sense there is a continuum from autocracy (tyranny, as Dobson labels it in the subtitle) to democracy. To highlight that notion has some value. However, it’s written from a very USA-centric viewpoint, so essentially it’s just highbrow propaganda for dubious USA foreign policy with its covert interventions not to be nice to countries such as Russia, China, and Venezuela—and to ‘justifiably’ undercut whatever plans they have through supporting opposition activists. Interwoven in the dictator’s learning curve storyline is his personal account of experiencing that there is more information sharing—and how—about strategy and tactics among activists across countries on how to foment dissent for another colour/flower-revolution. I was expecting some depth about autocracy-democracy spiced up with pop-politics and events, but it did not live up to that expectation. A more academic, and less ideologically tainted, treatise on the continuum autocracy-democracy would have been a more useful way of spending my time. You may find the longer PS Mag review useful before/instead of buying the book.

Umkhonto weSizewe (pocket history) by Janet Cherry (2011). There are more voluminous books about the armed organisation of the struggle against Apartheid, but this booklet was a useful introduction to it. It describes the various ‘stages’ of MK, from deciding to take up arms to the end to lay them down, and the successes and challenges that were faced and sacrifices made as an organisation and by its members.

I’m still not finished reading Orientalism by Edward Said—some day, I will, and will write about it. If you want to know about it now already, then go to your favourite search engine and have a look at the many reviews and (academic and non-academic) analyses. Reading A dream deferred (another suggestion) is still in the planning.

Formalization of the unifying metamodel of UML, EER, and ORM

Last year Pablo Fillottrani and I introduced an ontology-driven unifying metamodel of the static, structural, entities of UML Class Diagrams (v2.4.1), ER, EER, ORM, and ORM2 in [1,2], which was informally motivated and described here. This now also includes the constraints and we have formalised it in First Order Predicate Logic to put some precision to the UML Class Diagram fragments and their associated textual constraints, which is described in the technical report of the metamodel formalization [3]. Besides having such precision for the sake of it, it is also useful for automated checking of inter-model assertions and computing model transformations, which we illustrated in our RuleML’14 paper earlier this year [4] (related blog post).

The ‘bummer’ of the formalization is that it probably requires an undecidable language, due to having formulae with five variables, counting quantifiers, and ternary predicates (see section 2.11 of the tech report for details). To facilitate various possible uses nevertheless, we therefore also made a slightly simpler OWL version of it (the modelling decisions are described in Section 3 of the technical report). Having that OWL version, it was easy to also generate a verbalisation of the OWL version of the metamodel (thanks to SWAT NL Tools) so as to facilitate reading of the ontology by the casually interested reader and the very interested one who doesn’t like logic.

Although our DST/MINCyT-funded South Africa-Argentina scientific collaboration project (entitled Ontology-driven unification of conceptual data modelling languages) is officially in its last few months by now, more results are in the pipeline, which I hope to report on shortly.

References

[1] Keet, C.M., Fillottrani, P.R. Toward an ontology-driven unifying metamodel for UML Class Diagrams, EER, and ORM2. 32nd International Conference on Conceptual Modeling (ER’13). 11-13 November, 2013, Hong Kong. Springer LNCS vol 8217, 313-326.

[2] Keet, C.M., Fillottrani, P.R. Structural entities of an ontology-driven unifying metamodel for UML, EER, and ORM2. 3rd International Conference on Model & Data Engineering (MEDI’13). September 25-27, 2013, Amantea, Calabria, Italy. Springer LNCS (in print).

[3] Fillottrani, P.R., Keet, C.M. KF metamodel formalization. Technical report, Arxiv.org http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.6545. Dec 19, 2014, 26p.

[4] Fillottrani, P.R., Keet, C.M. Conceptual Model Interoperability: a Metamodel-driven Approach. 8th International Web Rule Symposium (RuleML’14), A. Bikakis et al. (Eds.). Springer LNCS 8620, 52-66. August 18-20, 2014, Prague, Czech Republic.

FAIR’14 and ‘modelling relationships’ tutorial

After a weekend of ‘loadshedding’ (one of those South African euphemisms) I’m posting a few notes on the Forum on Artificial Intelligence Research 2014 (FAIR’14) that took place from 3-5 Dec 2014 at Stellenbosch University, which was organised by CAIR and co-located with the FASTAR/Espresso Workshop 2014, which, in turn, was co-located with PRASA, AFLaT, and RobMech 2014 in Cape Town. FAIR’14 consisted of a presentation by Sergei Obiedkov of the Higher School of Economics, Russia, a tutorial on modelling relationships in ontologies by me, and a course on computational social choice theory by Ulle Endriss from the ILLC, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

While not quite relevant to my current research except for judgement aggregation at the end (for crowdsourcing), Ulle’s course was one of those events that made me think “[why didn’t/if only] I was exposed to this material before?!”, when I had to make choices as to what to study and specialise in (though, admitted, once knowing about the math with game theory and applying that to peace negotiations in my MA pdf, I still went on in CS with KR&R and ontologies). Ulle’s course combined socially relevant topics, such as the fair allocation of resources and voting systems, with solid, precise, logic- and math-based representations and computation. Besides the engaging content, he’s also good at teaching it. The content and slides are a condensed version of his MSc course on social choice theory and are available online here, which also has links to related reading material.

I tried to condense into 2 hours some aspects of modelling relationships in ontologies. It started with some problems and questions, proceeded to touching upon the nature of relations and some detail of the formal semantics, common relationships (with some detail about mereotopology), and closing with some practical modelling guidance and reasoner performance when modelling it one way or another. It being a tutorial, and not all participants had Protégé installed, I resorted to a peer instruction audience response system to incorporate interactively some questions about modelling some relationships. The slides are available online (though also here the text on the slides only partially reflect what I’ve talked about).

Other than that, there’s always the social component. Despite the weird time-warp that Stellenbosch town constitutes, it was really nice to catch up with former colleagues and to see the progress of postgrads of UKZN, to hear about the future of CAIR, and that it’s a small world even when meeting people new to me. And the food & wine was delicious. The train travel back to Cape Town took a bit longer than the schedule said it ought to be, but I recommend it nevertheless.

Conference notes from EKAW 2014

Yet another successful International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management 2014 (EKAW’14) (in Linköping, Sweden) has just concluded. It was packed with three keynotes, long ans short presentations, posters and demo session, and related workshops and PhD symposium. Big thanks to Patrick Lambrix for the excellent local organisation, and to Stefan Schlobach and Krzysztof Janowicz for putting an interesting programme together! The remainder of the post touches upon some highlights.

Invited talks

The first keynote was by Pascal Hitzler, who talked about ontology design patterns (ODPs) for large-scale data interchange and discovery. He emphasised the need for principled use of ODPs, including the development of a theory of patterns concerning generic vs specific modelling patterns, developing pattern languages and tools, and understanding and formalising relationships between patterns. It sort of did set the tone, and ODPs were a recurring item of the conference. Oscar Corcho gave a reflective and very entertaining keynote on ontology engineering (slides on slideshare). Not to mention the language and tool wars (DL and Protégé won), are you an alpha (philosopher—one term a day), beta, gamma, delta, or epsilon (schema.org contributor), or a ‘savage’ in the brave little world of knowledge management? He identified five deadlocks on communicating the message to ‘the masses’ (ontology reuse, inferences, lightweight vs heavyweight, tooling, multilingualism) and four recommendations; the one missing being on what to do with multilingualism. A lively discussion followed, and references to some of the aspects raised were returning throughout the conference and probably will afterwards as well. The third keynote was by philosopher Arianna Betti, who was basically putting forward the question what we can give her for helping her in the digital humanities on tracking scientific ideas, as described in humanities texts, over time—toward a computational history of ideas. The view from outside in a way was describing some requirements for us and generated some brainstorming afterward, as it does not seem unfeasible to do. A brief handout with some more precise ideas on where models would fit is available via here twitter account (direct link).

Papers

Unlike in my PhD student years where I typically tried to read at least a third of the papers before going to the conference, I’ve gotten in the habit of selecting papers to read based on the titles and presentations, and I haven’t read yet the ones I’m mentioning now, but they seem worth mentioning anyway (obviously with my bias and interests, daily intake-capacity, and time constraints writing this the evening before departure in the very early morning).

Several people at UCT are looking into crowdsourcing, and there were two papers about that, being one using pay-as-you-go alignments [1] and one Protégé plugin linked to CrowdFlower for ontology development that despite the CrowdFlower costs, ended up to being cheaper than a few manual experts [2]. Somewhat related to that is Klink UM for extracting hierarchical and similarity relationships based on user feedback [3], and when we’re at it with relationships, there’s a paper on finding (improving) the semantics of relations, being DBpedia’s wikiPage wiki links [4], as well as how object properties are used in ontologies [5]. The latter discovered that object properties are used quite differently when using ODPs vs not using ODPs: the former more often reuses a property and constrains it in an axiom, the latter uses more subtyping and domain and range axioms, and the latter appears to be computationally more efficient (so there are some interesting trade-offs to look into). Other considerations in modelling included further works on anti-patterns with results from real knowledge base development [6]. Related to my own talk about the stuff ontology, was the paper on supply chains and traceability of datasets [7], which we possibly can combine in some way. The paper on clinical guidelines [8] will be passed on to one of my students, who’s trying to build one tailored to a low resource setting with less-skilled health workers, and we probably also will follow up on the study question generation paper [9] that used a knowledge base and template questions to generate natural language questions that the system also can answer, therewith automating to some extent interactive learning by the student. The latter also won the best demo award. The best paper award went to the paper on adaptive knowledge propagation in web ontologies [10].

The other activities

A conference would not be complete without some social event(s). There was even an extra social event the first evening: ice hockey, which was fun, not only because it was the first time I watched such a game in a stadium, but also because there’s a lot of action and it never gets dull, and to top it off, the Linköping team won. Really impressive was the ‘movie’ at Norrköping’s Visualiseringscenter, being the “cosmos 3D” interactive show narrated live by the centre’s director Prof. Anders Ynnerman. We were treated on a trip through space—navigating from the ISS to the outer boundary of the universe—that was all based on current data and scientific evidence. This was followed by a walk-and-play-around in the rest of the centre, and a tasty dinner where Patrick made a fun story out of the talking frog joke. As per usual, it was also a great opportunity to meet colleagues again, discuss, and plan follow-up research, as well as meeting new people and finally meeting others in person whom I only knew by papers. The next EKAW will be in 2016 Bologna, Italy (statistically less cold and dark than here, though the lights have their charm).

References

(note: in time, people will have their papers on their home pages; for now, most links are to the Springer version)

[1] I.F. Cruz, F. Loprete, M. Palmonari, C. Stroe and A. Taheri. Pay-As-You-Go Multi-user Feedback Model for Ontology Matching. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 80-96.

[2] F. Hanika, G. Wohlgenannt and M. Sabou. The uComp Protégé Plugin: Crowdsourcing Enabled Ontology Engineering. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 181-196.

[3] F. Osborne and E. Motta. Inferring Semantic Relations by User Feedback. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 339-355.

[4] V. Presutti, S. Consoli, A.G. Nuzzolese, D.R. Recupero, A. Gangemi, I. Bannour and H. Zargayouna. Uncovering the Semantics of Wikipedia Pagelinks. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 413-428.

[5] K. Hammar. Ontology Design Pattern Property Specialisation Strategies. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 165-180

[6] V.K. Chaudhri, R. Katragadda, J. Shrager and M. Wessel. Inconsistency Monitoring in a Large Scientific Knowledge Base. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 66-79

[7] M. Solanki and C. Brewster. A Knowledge Driven Approach towards the Validation of Externally Acquired Traceability Datasets in Supply Chain Business Processes. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 503-518.

[8] V. Zamborlini, R. Hoekstra, M. da Silveira, C. Pruski, A. ten Teije and F. van Harmelen. A Conceptual Model for Detecting Interactions among Medical Recommendations in Clinical Guidelines: A Case-Study on Multimorbidity. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 591-606.

[9] V.K. Chaudhri, P.E. Clark, A. Overholtzer and A. Spaulding. Question Generation from a Knowledge Base. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 54-65

[10] P. Minervini, C. d’Amato, N. Fanizzi and F. Esposito. Adaptive Knowledge Propagation in Web Ontologies. EKAW’14. Springer LNAI 8876, 304-319.

VocabLift to learn some isiZulu, Shona, French, and English words

While I’ll be at EKAW’14 to network, present the stuff ontology, and support SUGOI, some of my students will hold the fort locally at the African Language Technologies Workshop (AFLaT’14) on 27-28 November in Cape Town. One of the two posters & demos I contributed to is about a cute tool that two 3rd-year students—Ntokozo Zwane and Sungunani Silubonde—designed and implemented as their capstone project for software engineering, which they called VocabLift (zip). The capstone groups’ task was to develop a tool that can help someone to learn vocabulary in a playful way, which had some leeway to be creative in how to realize that.

The context is that everyone has to learn vocabulary over the years, from basic words in primary school to scientific terminology at university, and any time when one is learning a new language. Besides memorizing ‘boring’ lists of words from a sheet of paper, there are more playful ways to do this, like the multi-player dictionary game and hangman, or single-player memory cards game from the EuroTalk DVDs. There are indeed many word games online, e.g., for English, and learning a foreign language on duolingo, but there is less for multilingualism and the languages in Southern Africa. EuroTalk DVDs for Zulu, Shona, Swahili, Yoruba and a few other African languages do exist, true, but at a cost and they are inflexible in a teaching setting. Enter VocabLift, which is both technologically interesting and for the target languages chosen: isiZulu and Shona, and English and French. Conceptually, it is based on natural language-independent root questions that are mapped to the language of choice, so another language easily can be added, and, unlike the usual ‘closed’ world of the computer-based language games, a teacher can add words to the dictionary, making it in principle adaptable to the desired level of language learning.

Currently, VocabLift has three games: the Picture Matcher, Vocab Trainer, and Word Tetris. In Picture Matcher, the name of the object in the picture has to be provided by the user, with as objective to improve memory and spelling in the chosen language; a screenshots for avocado in isiZulu and pineapple Shona are shown below.

avocado in isiZUlu, right before selecting 'confirm word'

Avocado in isiZulu, right before selecting ‘confirm word’

Pineapple in Shona, after I clicked 'I don't know'

Pineapple in Shona, after I clicked ‘I don’t know’

Vocab Trainer tests the user’s ability to recall the word given in English in the target language; screenshots for green in isiZulu and gray in French are shown below.

Choosing the right word for 'green' in isiZulu (the answer also can be found further below in another screenshot)

Choosing the right word for ‘green’ in isiZulu (the answer also can be found further below in another screenshot)

Same story, and just to show it works for French, too.

Same story, and just to show it works for French, too.

The third game, Word Tetris is included so that the user can learn to match the word to the picture. The user has to type the word associated with the picture before it falls below the bar; a screenshot is shown below (I lost points due to trying make nice screenshots, really).

Halfway playing 'word tetris'

Halfway playing ‘word tetris’

One needs to be logged in as administrator to add words (admin 1234 will do the trick) and use the tool in ‘dictionary mode’, as illustrated in the next two screenshots.

Adding terms, having selected to add it to the isiZulu dictionary

Adding terms, having selected to add it to the isiZulu dictionary

Cellphone was added (and you also can find the answer to 'green', above)

Cellphone was added (and you also can find the answer to ‘green’, above)

VocabLift has been implemented using JavaFX and XML, making the tool platform-independent (click the VocabLift.jar file once the downloaded zip file is unzipped). I’ll readily admit it is very well possible to add more features, adapt it to have it running also on a mobile, or refine the HCI, and some educational technologies researcher may want to investigate whether this or something like it improves the learning outcome significantly, but it was a fun software engineering project over a timespan of a mere two months (with other parts of the course being taught) and words surely can be learnt (at least I have, and so did the students).

The AFLaT’14 poster and demo session runs from 15:30-16:30 on the 27th and will remain available during the breaks on the 28th as well, and Ntokozo and Sungunani will be happy to demo it for you and describe more details about it.

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