One of the exciting things about being a semantic technologist is the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of things as companies revamp, revise, and renew their infrastructures for the Web 3.0 world.

That’s the position that Keith DeWeese finds himself in. DeWeese recently moved from The Tribune Company, where he led efforts in applying semantic technology to the publisher’s content (see story here), to Ascend Learning, a company that provides technology-based education products with a focus on the healthcare sector.

There, as principal content architect he is again championing the power of semantic technology for online content. “What’s cool is that Ascend is in a state of redefining what it does, how it works, its whole platform,” DeWeese says. Ascend wants to be able to take people from the beginning stages of their career, when they’re learning the basics, and work with them throughout their life, so that as they progress in their careers and become more knowledgeable about their profession or specialization and work toward different exams, it’s got the tools to engage with them at that part of their lifecycle.

“It’s really great because there’s an openness and willingness to try different approaches to making content available to end users.”

Ascend, which offers tools including assessments, multi-media remedial content and video-based real-life simulations in streaming online, interactive online content, and printed formats, wants to take the traditional concept of technology-based learning further than it’s been, to unleash the power of connected content. That’s where the semantic “secret sauce” comes in.

“Content at the atomic and granular level will not be connected not just to similar content but related content that might provide a bigger knowledge picture of what a student is learning or capable of learning,” says DeWeese. In other words, it’s all about the Knowledge Graph. “We want to really explore and come up with some version of the Knowledge Graph so a student can get a high-level view of where he is at in terms of learning a certain discipline and also where remediation is needed, and give that same view to an instructor.”

On the practical level, the journey will involve connecting its content to extant standards and to other repositories of knowledge to create the comprehensive learning experience. “Right now we really are at the point of a lot of standardization – standardizing our content, vocabularies and processes,” he says.

There’s a great deal to be learned as the adventure begins – including reviewing content and seeing where controlled vocabularies might be necessary, or where Ascend can use natural language processing to automatically apply descriptive metadata to content, or where it needs other descriptive metadata that can t be automatically applied, DeWeese says.

“It’s not entirely clear to what extent we will use the abilities of certain tools, especially those labeled semantic technology apps,” he says. XML exportability is a must, whatever direction it goes, however. “I want to be able to take whatever we create or develop and get it into a format that can easily be ingested by other tools to help us make those connections between our content [and other sources],” he says.

Being in an organization like Ascend that is open to change matters a lot, since, as DeWeese notes, there is definitely a learning curve to move things in this non-traditional direction. “It’s always a challenge when you talk to people and start using words like semantics and ontologies and all that,” he says. “But at the end of the day it’s just categorization and making associations between categories and classes and so on.” It’s always good when you’re talking to developers to make that connection, he notes, because they are used to dealing with classes. “We are just trying to speak a common language here as we work together.”

DeWeese is learning a new language too – the language of the health and medical education space so he can make informed decisions going forward.

Another bonus of his role at Ascend, he says, is getting to work in a really important field where semantic technology can add huge value. “I think it’s incredibly valuable in this space because I always go back to the nomenclature that has to be considered and am finding that the nomenclature is just so rich,” he says.

From the various ways parts of the body can be described, to the evolving terms for identifying a medical condition, to the connections among different systems in the body – not to mention the treatment protocols and the pharmaceutical and pharmacological aspect – “it’s all a bit dizzying, but in a good way,” he says.

There’s so much potential for what semantics can do, once everything is tagged and relationships are enabled. “Suddenly you can go from surfacing something that may just be about the cardiovascular system to a student to, once you’ve done the ground work and made associations, leading them on a path to learning more and more about how to handle certain situations, what medicines to use, what processes or approaches to use in an emergency situation,” DeWeese says. “So really I think when we talk about how semantic technology is used to create kind of a big brain, the medical and health area combined with education is just ripe [for that].”

DeWeese says nursing is a specific focus right now for vocabulary development, with more to come. But at least it’s all under the same rubric. “I’ve worked in media working across so many domains of knowledge that it’s good to be able to specialize,” he says.