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LTI Advantage: Higher Impact for Better Teaching and Learning

EdTech Revolution Leaders article header

November 2019

LTI Advantage: Higher Impact for Better Teaching and Learning

Thanks to Blackboard, D2L, Instructure, and other IMS members for contributing to this feature story.
 

Can leading edtech suppliers in a highly-competitive market collaborate on providing greater choice of innovative digital content and learning tools to faculty and students at any institution?

Yes, they can—and they did with LTI® Advantage, an open-standard initiative from IMS Global Learning Consortium. LTI Advantage brings an innovative, contemporary, and scalable new technology standard to realize the power of a learning management system (LMS) and the wide variety of digital learning tools and applications available to the educational market through dynamic, real-time connections and interoperability. The standard solves the problems of cobbled and disjointed user experiences, lack of visibility, granularity, and flexibility in reporting progress when using multiple tools, and concerns for the security of data. The launch of LTI Advantage marks a pivotal moment, providing a new level of plug-and-play integration and interoperability in increasingly complex digital ecosystems and enabling innovation in the design, use, and evolution of teaching and learning environments.

Because learning management systems are the core of teaching and learning in the digital age, the leading LMS platform companies needed to come together, supported by IMS and its 545+ members, to collaborate in the development of LTI Advantage. In an unprecedented move, three leading LMS providers—Blackboard, D2L, and Instructure—joined forces within the IMS community to meet the challenge. Together, they developed a new LTI solution that focuses on improving student success metrics through a richer learning experience that facilitates personalization, easing administrative burdens for instructors, and removing technical barriers for all users.

“From the inception of Canvas, our team has been committed to supporting an open education technology ecosystem,” said Melissa Loble, SVP of Customer Success and Partnership at Instructure. “This aligns perfectly with the efforts of IMS Global to develop and evolve standards across the industry.” Instructure’s support of LTI extends to hosting EduAppCenter.com, a website designed to encourage startups, innovators, and learning tool providers to create apps that leverage LTI to work across LMS providers. This means less time integrating one-off technology and more time designing tools and curriculum for new ways of learning.

For Blackboard, LTI Advantage provides the necessary sustainable openness and industry best practices to deliver user privacy and secure plug-and-play interoperability, enabling deeper integration of enrollments, assignments and grades, and digital content and resources within a course. The result is an unprecedented richness and diversity of the course experience between LTI tools and Blackboard.

“LTI Advantage paves the way to more reliable, personalized, and deeper integrations among learning platforms and tools,” says Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer at D2L. “The extensions allow for flexible, yet secure passing of user, assessment, and resource data—and it’s built to respond to the needs of the market allowing new extensions that can be added to the LTI Advantage suite.”

In 18 months, from kickoff to final specifications, the development and launch of LTI Advantage occurred rapidly. Notably, Blackboard, D2L, and Instructure worked closely together through their development cycles to ensure that their individual implementations were finished quickly, with a great emphasis placed on alignment with the specification and working interoperability. None of the key initial LTI Advantage implementations were completed in isolation—they were all tested in real-time with one another to ensure they would work seamlessly together. The development was facilitated by a strong organizational commitment from IMS, including a visible prioritization of the new specification within the IMS organization and the establishment of a Champions Program for early content and tool certification, recognizing them as leaders in next generation integration and interoperability, and promoting their advocacy for open standards adoption in support of teaching and learning innovation.

 

"Some tools consider themselves to be interoperable through LTI, but we do not consider them to be compliant until they are certified and appear in the IMS Product Directory."

—Nick Thompson, Assistant Director, UCLA Center for the Advancement of Teaching

 

“We are proud to be among the first leading technology providers to collaborate on and meet the rigorous requirements of LTI Advantage," said Jim Chalex, Vice President of Teaching and Learning Product Management at Blackboard. "Open standards are at the core of our edtech platform approach, and we look forward to continuing to work with our partners and the developer community to realize the full potential of LTI Advantage."

“We’ve enjoyed actively participating in the working group involved in the development of LTI Advantage, alongside many of your favorite tool providers and our fellow LMS providers, said Loble from Instructure. “It’s exciting to see the community coming together for the betterment of education as a whole.”

Two other LMS platforms, Sakai and Moodle, were also early adopters of LTI Advantage. Dr. Charles Severance, PMC Chair of the Sakai Project
, states, “Sakai sees LTI Advantage as extremely beneficial because it greatly increases the number of tools that can be built without resorting to the use of proprietary APIs. This means tools can work with all conforming LMS systems without custom programming, which is invaluable to LMS systems with a smaller market share. It also means that open-source tools we build to plug into Sakai will easily plug into any LMS. Additionally, we can add more functionality for schools using Sakai without modifying the core Sakai code base and thus increasing reliability and reducing costs, while still meeting the faculty need for innovative features and tools.”

Sander Bangma, Moodle LMS Product Manager said, “We are pleased to be one of the early adopters of LTI Advantage. Moodle strongly believes that open standards are the way forward to provide access to and deliver quality education to the world. LTI Advantage is aligned with that vision and facilitates integrations with other learning tools, apps and digital resources that enable knowledge sharing through innovative solutions. The combination of Moodle and LTI Advantage will provide access to tools that empower educators and improve learner outcomes."

The latest version of Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI) also emerged from this initiative, adding an industry-standard security framework in addition to its industry-leading integration. IMS certification for LTI 1.3 is required for the LTI Advantage services. The services are certified on an individual basis, meaning content and tool providers can certify for the feature services their product supports to enable better teaching and learning experiences. LTI Advantage is also extensible, providing for inclusion of future useful services identified by the community.

 

"We will look back in several years and realize that the release of LTI Advantage was the moment where the LMS marketplace was truly transformed into an ecosystem of cooperating platforms and tools. The close alignment of design, engineering, and security efforts by the major vendors for the past several years is why LTI Advantage has the unprecedented scope, quality, and support at its launch."

—Dr. Charles Severance, PMC Chair, Sakai Project

 

LTI Advantage has received strong support from higher education institutions, with many formally endorsing and requesting IMS certification of the new specifications in an open letter to ed tech suppliers. Among early institutional adopters are the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Highlights of their implementations include:

IMS Center of Excellence for LTI: UCFThe University of Central Florida, an IMS Contributing Member, is recognized as an IMS Center of Excellence for LTI Advantage. As a Center of Excellence, UCF has formed a community of educators, developers, researchers, and vendors with a passion to nurture and grow trusted and secure NGDLEs. They explore the value proposition of LTI Advantage and are building a set of best practices that empower better teaching and learning for faculty and students through innovative digital learning. They prepare faculty and staff to adopt standards-based ed tech tools through professional development opportunities, such as webinars and hackathons. They also share sample code, instructional how-to’s, and other tips to help institutions get started with LTI Advantage.

UCF is planning to implement LTI Advantage in several ways to promote a better teaching and learning experience. Action Icons, a tool developed inhouse, improves the learner experience and provides consistency across online courses by allowing faculty to quickly and easily insert accessible icons that cue students to do something, such as read a passage in a book, watch a video, or complete another learning action. UCF will be upgrading Action Icons to LTI Advantage. They are also in the planning stages of using LTI Advantage with LTI Advantage certified Canvas—the UCF LMS.

University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is another IMS Contributing Member and an early implementer of LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage. Nick Thompson, Assistant Director of UCLA's Center for the Advancement of Teaching, oversees a complex digital environment consisting of platforms, tools, apps, and open-source resources. Thompson views LTI Advantage as key in developing a rich digital ecosystem that promotes innovation in teaching and learning, stating that interoperability among platforms, tools, and apps provides more instructional choices for faculty and a more robust learning environment for students.

Because of the benefits of LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage, UCLA has moved up the schedule for upgrading their version of Moodle to LTI 1.3 by one year, scheduling it for summer 2020. In addition to using vendor-created and open-source tools, UCLA builds proprietary plug-ins, and after the Moodle upgrade to LTI 1.3, the plug-ins will be platform agnostic and interoperable so they can be shared with other platforms in the University of California system.

UCLA recently began requiring tools and apps to be LTI 1.3 certified or to make a written commitment to the upgrade. After the Moodle upgrade in the summer of 2020, all apps and tools that integrate with the LMS will be required to have LTI 1.3 conformance certification. According to Thompson, “Some tools consider themselves to be interoperable through LTI, but we do not consider them to be compliant until they are certified and appear in the IMS Product Directory.”

Hear What IMS Institutional Leaders Are Saying About LTI Advantage

 

Over 25 tool providers joined the push for early adoption and are now IMS certified for LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage services. A complete list of early adopters is available at imscert.org. Cengage and Turnitin are among the early adopters and shared highlights:

Cengage has been an IMS Global Contributing Member since 2000 and is deeply involved in developing open technology standards through participation in project groups and Product Steering Committees. They are standards-driven in their product development, seeing technology standards as the path to resolving gaps in the market. They feel that LTI addresses much of what has been missing in the market for integration. Prior to LTI, all Cengage integrations had to be accomplished through time-consuming and costly custom APIs. With LTI Advantage, any remaining gaps in integration can be handled through extensions.

Cengage sees the increased, industry-standard security with LTI 1.3 as quickly becoming a check-the-box requirement for institutions. Their customers are starting to ask for LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage services. They see other internal benefits from early adoption in both time and cost savings, such as a decreased learning curve for sales reps and decreased support costs because all integrations work the same way. They also see a significant gain in efficiency for customers who transition from one LMS to another LMS.

Turnitin, another IMS Contributing Member, saw the need for early adoption of LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage. The security and privacy of their users’ data is of utmost importance to Turnitin, and they view early adoption of LTI 1.3 as part of a deep organizational commitment to their customers. They were happy to partner with IMS to ensure secure transfer of student data and are receiving many inquiries about data security from institutions as well as other vendors.

Their customers are discerning purchasers, so Turnitin has also committed to the improved workflow provided by LTI Advantage services. Feedback from users in the field has been that the administrative workflow is now straightforward and seamless, with a much easier integration process than earlier versions of LTI.

Interested in taking teaching and learning to the next level through adopting LTI Advantage?

IMS Global provides a complete set of resources for both institutions and suppliers interested in LTI Advantage and the increased, industry-standard security of LTI 1.3. General information and public resources are available at LTI Advantage Overview. Resources for institutions are available in the LTI Advantage Toolkit. Additional resources and support for implementation are available for IMS Global members. If you have questions or would like to speak with someone at IMS Global to learn more, please contact us.

 

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