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IMS Campus Case Study


Tennessee Board of Regents creates seamless online learning and information sharing with IMS Global Consortium’s guidance and interoperability standards

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When the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) elected to create its online initiative in 1999, the leaders had in mind three key objectives: 1) to provide access for all residents to get a post-secondary education, 2) to reduce the duplication of programs and services, and 3) to maximize the state system’s resources.

More than a decade has passed since that initial launch and the Regents’ Online Campus Collaborative (ROCC) has easily exceeded those original expectations, as well as laid the groundwork for even greater success. Considered among the top five statewide online initiatives in the country, about 15,000 students are enrolled in ROCC programs. A total of six universities, 13 community colleges, and 26 technology centers, as well as continuing education, professional development, and workforce training provide resources for instructional delivery in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

ROCC is truly a collaborative initiative in that all schools within the same categories (technical centers, community colleges, universities) share and offer common programs and degrees (currently there are ten online programs from technical certificates to graduate degrees), adhere to a common calendar, support 24 x 7 technical help for all students, provide virtual student services and virtual library support for all students in the system. This collaborative initiative funds eLearning faculty training, online course development, faculty mentors, online student services, marketing, evaluations, central operations, IT networking, professional development, academies, and conferences for all faculty and staff.

In addition, courses are fully articulated and sequenced with the ROCC Degrees and can be taught by professors from across institutions using content created by a lead institution; approved locally and system wide by faculty curriculum committees; and delivered seamlessly to students without having to transfer courses among the schools. The fact that many students do not live near a residential campus (especially the significant number of out of state and foreign students), online programs enable them to continue their education without the necessity of leaving home.

During the 2010 IMS Global Consortium Conference Panel Discussion regarding the challenges encountered in implementing eLearning Programs, Dr. Robbie Melton, Associate Vice Chancellor of TBR eLearning (who served ten years as the administrator from the inception of ROCC to 2009), noted the need for compatibility among systems, software, and equipment to allow faculty and students to access tools that they need for teaching and learning. “We need for content created in various systems and applications to integrate easily with course management systems (CMS), and other third party vendors. Having systems that aren’t compatible with one another limits our faculty and students from having the tools they need to learn and to teach. We need the ability to integrate content and materials by our partners from MERLOT, Pearson, Cengage, McGraw-Hill, Café Scribe, CourseSmart, etc. into Desire2Learn (D2L), as well as the tools of Tegrity, Wimba, SoftChalk, etc. where it is seamless access to faculty and students without them having to go out of D2L.”

To address this continuous problem, especially with the development of new innovative tools each year, TBR turned to IMS Global Learning Consortium for guidance and support in establishing interoperability standards. IMS is a global, nonprofit, member association providing leadership in shaping and growing the learning and educational technology industries through collaborative support of standards, innovation, best practice, and recognition of superior learning impact.

In 2007, IMS introduced Common Cartridge, which is a technical interoperability standard for exchanging learning content between learning platforms. Common Cartridge enables integration of digital content with stand-alone learning tools, such as adaptive tutors or assessment engines, creating a seamless learning experience for the student and teacher.

Melton said many professors wanted to create lessons for students with disabilities and then distribute this content to various learning platforms across the system in a single format. The problem was that TBR did not have a content authoring solution to support its accessibility goals, nor did they have a solution for distributing this content in an interoperable format across the system. To find a solution, TBR turned to IMS for guidance and direction. Creating a collaboration among TBR and IMS member SoftChalk, IMS is working through a process of how the accessibility content developed in SoftChalk and exported in IMS Common Cartridge can be leveraged for distribution among the various learning platforms across the System.

“There are many learning applications and content providers that fall into the same category, I could go down the list,” Melton said. “And because IMS was able to resolve this problem so quickly, we have five of our campuses that have already called to seek using SoftChalk this semester. We could try working with these companies for a year to resolve some of these problems, but we don’t have the time, the talent, or the technical know-how. IMS knows the questions to ask, the inner workings. And with their help, it’s a win-win, not just for us, but also for the vendors because it opens new doors of opportunity for them.

“We have started a process here at TBR,” added Melton. “Whenever vendors come to us and tell us about their latest and greatest products, we first ask, ‘Do you adhere to the IMS Global Standards? Do you participate in IMS?’ If not, we put them in touch. We want to make sure that their services can integrate with our systems. If they do not, then we want to know their plans for integrating with our systems. Thus, this is where we can refer them to IMS for assistance. Again, the more integration we have – the more learning opportunities for our students. We would not have to worry about modifying new tools to integrate with us (taking time, effort, monies, and delay in offering those services) if we knew that they had met the IMS Standards. Not to mention that this would be a significant cost saving to TBR!”

ROCC offers 10 programs, ranging from information technology, allied health and education, to occupational leadership and professional studies. Programs offered lead to technical diplomas and certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and education endorsements. Melton said that although the initiative was created primarily to serve residents of Tennessee, enrollment is open to students living outside the state as well.

“We’re seeing an increasing interest in students going back to further their education in order to enhance their career paths,” said Melton. “We also are seeing a significant increase in people coming back to complete their full degrees. Where we used to have the debate about whether we offer programs on ground or online, I think most have moved to the concept of all programs, including our classroom-based programs, offering some content and/or services online. ”

In order to keep up with the evolving technological needs of its students, ROCC recently initiated a course redesign to provide scalable, quality digital course content. ROCC is working with content providers Pearson, Cengage Learning, and McGraw-Hill to redesign their programs. Content is being developed using Common Cartridge, which enables the integration of various digital learning resources (e.g., courses, e-books, tests, quizzes, simulations, online discussions, and forums) in an interoperable framework.

“We are looking at new modes of formatting content in terms of simulated games and virtual worlds,” said Melton. “We’re also looking at the use of mobile devices and app technology. Data shows that 97 percent of our students are using their mobile devices for various forms of content delivery. We’re not sticking to the traditional black and white, pen and pencil. Our students are requiring us to provide them on-demand education at their time and place. The explosive and rapid movement to mobile devices again requires compatibility among the devices, as well as the apps. Currently you have two separate systems for mobility devices and apps: Apple products (iPod, iPads, etc.) and Android devices and apps. Why have we not learned that we need systems that can integrate between the two?”

With an eye toward improving student success and increasing retention and graduate rates, TBR offers its more than 200,000 students, those enrolled in both residential and online programs, 24/7 technical support. Since the initiation of the online programs, all students have always had access to the system’s virtual library and access to the system’s Student Services platform where they can do everything from shop the bookstore to find study partners or available tutoring.

In addition to saving TBR valuable time and money, serving as its trusted adviser, and providing a format for launching content into the system more quickly, Melton said IMS also saves faculty and staff valuable time that might otherwise be spent trying to resolve problems integrating content. “Whether it’s an iPad or an Android, vendors can’t block or stop integration. And that’s the conversation taking place throughout all of higher education. Technology is growing more complicated and must adhere to common standards or risk becoming irrelevant. This is why we need IMS, to help the vendors to work together.”

TBR has been an active member of IMS Global Learning Consortium since 2007, serving on various international workgroups and the Learning Technology Advisory Council. In 2008, the collaborative was awarded the organization’s Platinum Learning Impact Award in recognition of the quality of its programs.

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From Innovation to Impact
The mission of the IMS Global Learning Consortium is to advance technology that can affordably scale and improve educational participation and attainment. To ensure that the "Learning Impact" of technology-enabled innovation is achieved around the world, IMS's influential community of educational institutions, suppliers, and government organizations develops open interoperability standards, supports adoption with technical services, and encourages adoption through programs that highlight effective practices. For more information visit www.imsglobal.org or contact info@imsglobal.org