NSDL Documentation Wiki

Announcement: The operation of NSDL has been transferred to ISKME's OER Commons (effective December, 2014) - Read the news release.

This documentation describes the policies, procedures, and services that existed while NSDL was operated by UCAR.

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Dublin Core - the nature or genre of the resource


  • NSDL usage - the nature, function or typical use of a learning or teaching resource
  • Field usage - strongly recommend; always include the broad-group term when using finer-level terms
  • Number of occurrences - repeat the field as necessary

Controlled vocabulary terms and definitions

Terms are in bold italics. Definitions are included. The name/organization listed in brackets after a definition is the source of the definition. A hierarchy is implied in this vocabulary, with eight broad-group terms encompassing finer-level terms. When a finer-level term is used, repeat the type metadata field to include the corresponding broad-group term.

  • Assessment Material- material that enables evaluation or measurement of progress, development, ability, skill, understanding, knowledge, aptitude, achievement, or an opinion/attitude (use for: webquest, building a concept map, lab report, survey, questionnaire, open-ended question, or take-home questions)
    • Answer Key - a correct solution or response to a question, problem or test
    • Portfolio - a collection of student work that demonstrates academic progress or knowledge acquisition over a period of time
    • Rubric - statements describing the abilities, knowledge, or understanding of a content area in order to reach a certain level of mastery
    • Test - an oral or written examination comprising questions, exercises, and/or problems that measure the skill, knowledge, capacity, or aptitude of an individual or group; may or may not include an answer key
  • Dataset - visual, factual, or numerical information that comes from a sensing device, whether instrument-measured or human-observed; describes both unprocessed, "raw" information as well as information already organized into lists, tables, or databases
    • Database - information held electronically and organized for rapid search and retrieval by a computer
    • List/Table - factual or numerical information arranged for ready reference and interpretation by users
    • Observed Data - visual, factual, or numerical information generated from human observations or in-situ instrument measurements
    • Remotely Sensed Data - imagery generated from measuring devices that are not in direct contact with the medium they are measuring (use for: radar or satellite imagery)
    • Trial - one of a number of repetitions of an experiment
  • Event - a non-persistent, time-based occurrence [Dublin Core]
    • Award/Recognition/Scholarship - monetary or honorary acknowledgement bestowed for merit, research, performance, study, writing, or other professional/educational endeavors (includes honorarium or stipends)
    • Broadcast - media presentation (audio, video and/or text) prepared and intended for a wide or specific audience, often with limited or controlled audience participation, occurring on a certain date and often archived for later use; may lose relevancy over time (use for: concert webcast, podcast, newscast, or talk show)
    • Call for Participation - time-sensitive invitation for contribution, involvement or input on a product, event, or project (use for: call for papers, call for input, testing, feedback, formative evaluations, or collaborations)
    • Conference - physical or virtual meeting of broad or tightly focused appeal targeted for a specific academic and/or professional community and typically sponsored
    • Exhibit - a non-permanent display of artifacts, images, or resources organized around a particular theme or topic
    • Learning/Research Opportunity - activity whose primary object is professional/academic development and practical research experience; may or may not include a stipend or honorarium (use for: field project, course, internship, mentoring, tutoring, exchange, or college credit opportunity)
    • Job - position for which participants receive remuneration (pay for work done but not a stipend or honorarium) (use for: postdoc, internship, fellowship, assistantship, or research associateship)
    • News - general information or announcement that loses its immediate relevancy after a short time (use for: newsletter, press release)
    • Workshop - short-term meeting or interaction, typically with a well-defined outcome like professional-skills development
  • Instructional Material - resource or learning object intended to facilitate teaching or enable learning
    • Activity - non-laboratory material designed to stimulate learning and help students develop particular skills, specific knowledge, or reflexive habits of mind 
    • Annotation - a comment, review, graphic, question, tip, or link associated with an existing resource and providing further explanation, expansion, and/or reaction
    • Case Study - resource offering intensive analysis of discrete, or a combination of, peoples, locations, environments, objects, time periods, or concepts
    • Course - a set of teaching materials (generally for instructors) or learning materials (generally for students) intended to achieve a range of objectives over an extended period of time
    • Curriculum - a program of study which may or may not include assessment material
    • Demonstration - a resource that exposes the nature and requirements of a procedure, process, or principle by manipulating real objects (term is distinct from Simulation in that demonstrations have real objects in them as opposed to representations)
    • Experiment/Lab Activity - a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact [Compact Oxford English Dictionary]
    • Field Trip - excursion to a place to gain firsthand information, knowledge, or experience (use for: descriptions or plans for field trips, virtual field trips)
    • Game - an interactive environment in which participants compete, strategize, play, role-play, troubleshoot, or make decisions in order to learn a subject or skill
    • Instructional Strategy - a guideline, pedagogical description, or tip for effective teaching and learning
    • Instructor Guide/Manual - resource for teachers regarding the use of learning materials with respect to educational objectives, classroom management, materials development, assessment, and additional reference material
    • Interactive Simulation - a representation of a system, process or environment where learners control and manipulate variables or other objects to affect outcomes (use for: applet, mathlet)
    • Lecture/Presentation - audio or text record of a speech or a unit of instruction organized and delivered by an instructor for the purpose of informing a group about a topic
    • Lesson/Lesson Plan - resource to support students' learning of specific concepts, skills, or content; often includes teaching instructions, educational goals, learning objectives, and procedures
    • Model - a mathematical or physical construct intended to study or represent a real-world system or phenomenon
    • Problem Set - series of tasks or questions posed to the student, as in homework or other assignment (use for: worksheet)
    • Project - individual or group activity or problem that supplements and applies classroom studies and often results in a product
    • Simulation - imitative representation of a system, process, photo, setting, or principle (note that the imitative nature of Simulation distinguishes it from a Demonstration, which employs real objects)
    • Student Guide - resource for learners to help facilitate learning and comprehension of subject matter content (use for: lab manual, study guide, workbook)
    • Syllabus - plan showing the structure of a particular course, including course description and objectives, grading policy, materials, assignments, lesson sequence, and course calendar [iLumina]
    • Textbook - resource providing comprehensive materials for specific topics (use for: chapters or other typical book components) [ENC]
    • Tutorial - resource that provides guided information about a specific subject
    • Unit of Instruction - a set of teaching materials, generally for instructors, or alternatively learning materials, generally for students, intended to achieve specific and focused objectives over a limited period of time such that units often constitute a Course
  • Reference Material - specialized information intended to be used as an authoritative source or to stimulate topical research
    • Abstract - condensed version or summary of a larger piece of work outlining major points and conclusions [DLESE]
    • Article - generally nonfiction writing communicating ideas, concepts, results, or facts; often, but not always, part of a monograph, journal, magazine, or newspaper (use for: essays, information sheets, pamphlets, brochures, preprints)
    • Bibliography - a list, often with descriptive or critical notes, of writings relating to a particular subject, period or author [Merriam-Webster Online]
    • Career Information - resource describing specific science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) information and/or insight into STEM careers and requisite skills (use for: camps, internship programs, or informational programs which inform and support individuals interested in pursuing STEM careers)
    • Classification Key - resource providing guidelines or methods for identifying, sorting, or categorizing objects (use for: cloud chart, soil chart, taxonomic keys)
    • Educational Standard - level of achievement to which learners or educators are expected to aspire
    • FAQ - frequently asked questions about a topic, organization, or event that are intended to help users
    • Fiction - narrative or verse describing imaginary events, people, or objects (use for: prose literature, novels, poems)
    • Glossary/Index - a compiled or alphabetical list of words relating to a specific subject, situation, text, or dialect that variously include definitions, explanations, page references, or descriptions (use for: dictionary, table of contents)
    • Outline - set of preliminary ideas and thoughts, generally in a list-like format, about a project, paper, or other endeavor
    • Nonfiction Reference - writing describing facts, places, events, and things but not including instructional activities (use for: books, websites)
    • Periodical - materials in any medium issued under the same title with discrete parts or articles, appearing at regular or irregular intervals; may or may not describe materials with peer review (use for: journal, peer-reviewed journal, magazine, serial)
    • Policy - document containing statements or series of steps for a particular way of accomplishing a goal [DLESE]
    • Proceedings - collection of papers or abstracts presented at a specific meeting or event with defined outcomes
    • Proposal - a formal document detailing an intended or future project, recommendation, plan, or idea
    • Report - detailed account or statement, often outlining the results or events of a meeting, endeavor, activity, topic, issue, or study (use for: review, evaluation, monograph)
    • Scientific Standard - information regarding physical constants, units of measurement, expressing uncertainty of measurement, conversion factors, and equations
    • Specimen - an object from the natural world that is intended for study (use for: rock sample, lab sample, cultures, insect)
    • Thesis/Dissertation - research text written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an academic degree (typically postgraduate)
  • Community - a resource that facilitates communications and interactions
    • Ask-an-Expert - resource affording the ability to submit questions to a responsive individual or group possessed with specific expertise in the area of interest
    • Forum - meeting or medium (synchronous/asynchronous) enabling the exchange of views (use for: message board, chat)
    • Listserv - email-based communication that is usually topic-focused and distributed to a member-based group of individuals via a single email address and including the archive of the email list
    • Weblog - a web-based publication consisting primarily of articles or entries, written by one person or a group
    • Wiki - website that allows visitors to add, remove, edit, link, and change content, typically without the need for registration
  • Tool - physical hardware or computer software that facilitates interacting with a resource or accomplishing a task
    • Code - set of computer instructions or scripts that enhance a resource; generally does not stand alone
    • Equipment - physical device or implement needed to interact with a resource
    • Form - formatted document containing blank fields that users populate with data (use for: calculator, online survey form)
    • Numerical Model - set of computer instructions intended to operate on a Dataset in order to understand the natural world by predicting current, past, or future situations given a set of initial conditions
    • Search Engine - mechanism by which the web or a sub-component thereof is searched, prompted by a specific query entered by a user
    • Software - stand-alone tool that provides access, interaction, and the ability to run resources; it does not enhance another piece of software and it is distinct from Numerical Model (use for: data analysis tools, content creation tools)
  • Audio/Visual - representations other than text
    • Graph - visual representation of data with the purpose of providing meaning to the data (use for: pie charts, line graphs)
    • Illustration - visual material used to clarify or annotate pieces of text (use for: drawing, diagram)
    • Image/Image Set - visual material that is not in motion and is not intended to annotate pieces of text (use for: poster, digital image of a painting or print)
    • Map - representation of physical features or data of a discrete area, often done on a flat surface at a point in time (use for: topographic map, soil map, road map, bedrock map, or atlas)
    • Movie/Animation - in-motion, dynamic, audio/visual material played in a linear fashion and often not related to a specific date in time (use for: webcast about a science concept, podcast); (see Broadcastfor concert, performance, newscast)
    • Music - vocal, instrumental, electronically-produced, or mechanical sound featuring rhythm, melody and/or harmony
    • Photograph - image produced by radiant energy, especially visible light (use for: photo, digital camera, or computer generated photograph, slide)
    • Sound - non-musical, non-vocal, recorded auditory material (use for: natural world, mechanical, noise, tones)
    • Voice Recording - recorded material that tends to be descriptive in nature; may or may not be drawn from written texts (use for: audio book, oral history, interview, podcast)

Cataloging best practices

  • Use Type for describing the nature or function of a resource and its general intended use.
  • Choose the dominant type(s) that best describe or fit the resource.
  • If a resource is composed of multiple dominant resource types, repeat the Type field to describe them.
  • However, if a resource appears to have many different resource types (generally five or more), consider cataloging the resource as separate multiple objects (i.e., consider creating multiple metadata/catalog records).
  • When selecting Type(s), choose terms to the finest level of granularity appropriate for the resource. For example, if a resource only applies to a Rubric, then use that. If a resource applies to a few more types in the broad-group Assessment Material, select as many assessment materials as appropriate (along with the broad-group term) or simply select Assessment Material.
  • When using the finer-level terms, like Rubric, include the broad-group term as well (e.g., for Rubric, also include Assessment Material).
  • For large resources, do not choose every resource type encompassed by the resource, choose the representative ones.
  • Do not use Type to describe every way a resource may be used. Focus on the general intended use of a resource.
  • Do not use this field to describe file format (e.g., .pdf, .txt, .mov), physical medium, or dimensions of the resource, use the format element instead.
  • Do not let URL extensions like .com, .org, etc. be a primary influence on the choice of a resource type.
  • Use at least one NSDL Type term. It is good practice to use other terms, from Dublin Core (DCMI) Type listor local collection vocabularies, as well.
  • If the DCMI term Collection is used to describe portal-like resources, collections or sets, use an NSDL term to refine the nature or function of the collection (e.g., a set of images would use Audio/Visual andImage/Image Set; a set of maps would use Audio/Visual and Map; a set of biographies of well-known scientists would use Reference Material and Nonfiction Reference; a digital library would use Tool andSearch Engine and possibly several other broad-group terms).
  • If a Curriculum includes an assessment, do not use the broad-group term Assessment Materialbecause most curricula by their nature include assessment material. (Do, however, use the broad-group term Instructional Material alongside Curriculum, per best practices outlined above.)
  • Items and articles within newsletters may be cataloged separately.
  • For project-like resources that are used primarily as assessments, use the term Assessment Material.

Use and resource examples

  • Include the broad-group terms for all the following examples.
  • Use Voice Recording and Fiction or Nonfiction Reference for an audio book.
  • Use Student Guide for lab manual, study guide, or workbook.
  • Use Map for topographic maps, soil maps, road maps, weather maps, bedrock maps, or atlas.
  • Use Form for calculator or survey form.
  • Use Forum for message board or chat.
  • Use Simulation for applet or mathlet.
  • Use Broadcast for webcast, podcast, newscast, or talk show that occur on specific date in time.
  • Use the terms Remotely Sensed Data and Animation/Movie for satellite or radar imagery.
  • Use Annotation for a teaching tip, comment, or formal review of a resource.
  • Use Assessment Material for non-examination like materials like a webquest, building a concept map, lab report, survey, questionnaire, open-ended question, or take-home questions.
  • Use Fiction for prose literature, novels, or poems.
  • Use Periodical to represent an entire journal.
  • Use Article to represent a single article within a journal.
  • Use Article to represent essays, information sheets, pamphlets, or brochures that are non-career information oriented.
  • Use Career Information for information sheets, pamphlets, or brochures that provide career information.
  • Use Image/Image Set for a poster, digital print, or painting.
  • Use Problem Set for a worksheet.
  • Use News for newsletters and press releases

XML tips and examples

  • For the best search and discovery, use terms from the NSDL controlled vocabulary.
  • When using the finer level terms, like Rubric, include the broad-group term as well (e.g. for Rubric, also include Assessment Material).
  • When using the NSDL vocabulary, indicate it in XML documents by using the 'nsdl_dc:NSDLType' refinement on the attribute xsi:type.
  • When using the DCMI vocabulary, indicate it in XML documents by using the 'dct:DCMIType' refinement on the attribute xsi:type.
  • When using non-NSDL or non-DCMI vocabulary terms, do not use 'nsdl_dc:NSDLType' or 'dct:DCMIType' refinements in XML documents.
  • When mapping between this vocabulary and another vocabulary, attempt to use the finest level of terms first and then use the broader terms like Instructional MaterialReference MaterialAudio/Visual etc. if a distinction can not be made to the finer level.
  • Repeat the XML element as necessary. 

Example 1:  The resource is an online cloud chart.
<dc:type>Cloud Chart </dc:type> (using own term) 
<dc:type xsi:type="dct:DCMIType">Image</dc:type> (using Dublin Core term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Reference Material</dc:type> (using NSDL term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Classification Key</dc:type> (using NSDL term)

Example 2: The resource is a online, college-credit, weather course for K-12 teachers. The site also has real-time weather data. This course is called DataStreme Atmosphere 
<dc:type xsi:type="dct:DCMIType">Text</dc:type> (using Dublin Core term) 
<dc:type xsi:type="dct:DCMIType">MovingImage</dc:type> (using Dublin Core term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Instructional Material</dc:type> (using NSDL term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Course</dc:type> (using NSDL term)
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Dataset</dc:type> (using NSDL term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Observed Data</dc:type> (using NSDL term)
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Remotely Sensed Data</dc:type> (using NSDL term) 

Example 3: The resource is a portal site that has lesson plans, worksheets, and activities for Geometry 
<dc:type>Worksheet</dc:type> (using own term) 
<dc:type xsi:type="dct:DCMIType">Collection</dc:type> (using Dublin Core term) 
<dc:type xsi:type="dct:DCMIType">Text</dc:type> (using Dublin Core term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Instructional Material</dc:type> (using NSDL term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Activity</dc:type> (using NSDL term)
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Problem Set</dc:type> (using NSDL term) 
<dc:type xsi:type=" nsdl_dc:NSDLType">Lesson/Lesson Plan</dc:type> (using NSDL term)



This controlled vocabulary was approved June 8, 2007.

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