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Databases And Search Engines: Tools For Reuse Of Course Materials

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.320.1 - 6.320.9

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Paper Authors

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Tony Louca

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Edward Gehringer

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Session 2358

Databases and Search Engines: Tools for Reuse of Course Materials Edward F. Gehringer, Tony M. Louca North Carolina State University {efg, tmlouca}


We have developed software for creating databases of course materials on the World-Wide Web. The goal is to allow instructors at different institutions to share materials and develop them jointly. Our first two databases, in computer architecture and object technology, comprise thousands of problems and lectures downloaded (with permission) from course Websites around the world. The database is searchable by classification or fulltext string.

To populate the databases with up-to-date material, we started by building a list of course Websites. Using several sources, we came up with a list of 73 sites in computer architecture and 40 sites in object technology. However, only a minority of the instructors have allowed us to use their material. To provide access to a larger amount of material, we are extending our search capability to include material on the Web as well as in the database. Users of the database will not, of course, have an automatic right to reuse and adapt material that is not in the database; however, they will be able to ask the copyright holders for permission individually.

The search engine that we are integrating with the database finds course Websites by searching a filtered set of educational domains for sites containing keywords characteristic of course material in the target discipline. We present preliminary results of using this search engine.

1. Introduction

With the advent of the World-Wide Web in the early ’90s, instructors began to place course material on line. In 1995, academic attendees from the International Symposium on Computer Architecture indicated great interest in developing a Website of reusable course materials. By 1997, approximately half of the object-technology (OT) instructors attending a workshop organized by the first author had developed course Websites. Contributions were sought, and approximately 500 problems were obtained from nine different contributors. The database went online in 1998. In the beginning, questions were inserted by cutting and pasting them into a browser interface to the database. To automate this time-consuming process, a set of Perl scripts was developed. The scripts would take a URL pointing to the course Website and a regular expression. Based on the regular expression, the script would download all the homeworks (or other course material) it found and try to separate them into individual problems. Then, these problems would be inserted in the database. These scripts, however, often required user intervention and did not keep track of where the material had been loaded.

2. WebAssign

The database schema and search functionality of our database, on the other hand, were robust from the outset. Material is stored [1] in WebAssign [2], a Web-based multimedia exam and homework-grading system developed at NCSU. This gives our course database the search

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Louca, T., & Gehringer, E. (2001, June), Databases And Search Engines: Tools For Reuse Of Course Materials Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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