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Learning Impact Blog

IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | October 2019

"Let me take you on a little trip, my supersonic ship's at your disposal, if you feel so inclined—The Kinks

"I am struck by how similar the secular and strategic trends are in both HED and K-12 moving forward." —Rob Abel, Ed.D.

It's been a lot of miles and a lot of smiles the last 30 days or so—IMS Japan Society Conference, IMS Europe Summit, EDUCAUSE, OESIS/PIVOT announcement—but I'm pleased to report that IMS is on the right track and doing the right thing.

Since the last newsletter, I've been in more meetings than I can count with both higher education and school leaders. I am struck by how similar the secular and strategic trends are in both HED and K-12 moving forward:
  • In the coming years, enrollment will be going down along with government financial support. 
  • The already increasing watchful eye on cost and student debt will grow.  
  • These trends will increase competition, requiring greater distinction/differentiation in conjunction with increasing pressure on the costs of doing business.

In IMS, I see the leaders who are ready to embrace these challenges as the impetus to evolve education to a more authentic, passionate, equitable, and productive future. Low cost, high-value interoperability that works out of the box is essential to provide a foundation for meeting these challenges. I don't see the hype in the IMS community. I see steady progress in tackling the tough issues with thoughtful, sustainable solutions backed by unparalleled support coming from over 540 sector organizations.

  • LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage (Innovation at the Speed of Now) has become the foundational interoperability specification for higher education. Its world-class security model and ability to configure app integration and exchange data in real-time—all easy to implement given the reference implementations available from IMS—means that LTI Advantage will rapidly take the place of existing LTI implementations and expand adoption even further.

  • OneRoster has become the foundational interoperability specification for K-12 education. OneRoster 1.2 features the LTI Advantage security model and a host of improvements. Via the 1EdTech testing system, districts and suppliers are now able to characterize their OneRoster integrations fully and check for compatibility in a low cost, scalable fashion that has never been available in the past for any interoperability standard.

  • Edu-API and Integrated Analytics. At EDUCAUSE, IMS showed outstanding progress to put in place a set of APIs that solve the provisioning needs of HED—a HED broader version of OneRoster—while also providing a critical foundation for real-time analytics. At this point in the market evolution, it is essential to support Caliper and other data formats. The formats are not the issue. The issue is scalability, openness, and privacy protections of the architecture.

  • Caliper Analytics continues to grow in usage, including in K-12. On this trip, a supplier showed a real-time global map showing Caliper events— over 15 million a day! But...the situation with the use of data for teaching and learning purposes is going to be a long road (as we have been saying for some time now). The dangers of biased exploitation by teachers or administrators or lock-in from your favorite vendor are too great right now, IMHO. LTI Advantage and Caliper will seek to provide the insurance that individuals and institutions need concerning these dangers.  

  • The IMS App Vetting and Privacy Program is the right thing in the right place at the right time. IMS has not only vetted over 2,500 edtech products based on a HED/K-12 community-developed rubric, but we are also proceeding to turn the rubric itself into a community-managed process. Indeed, it is the community process—suppliers and institutions working cooperatively—that differentiates the IMS work from all other privacy work to date. The other difference maker is that it is simply better at understanding the privacy ramifications.  Unfortunately, despite the numerous state laws and model contracts based upon them, they seem to fall short in some pretty basic areas that apply to an educational ecosystem. Not to worry, though, as the IMS rubric complements and makes this other work better and has the added benefit of being something everyone—teachers, students, and parents included—can understand. 

  • IMS CASE (Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange) Network is real, is working, and is already being used to reduce the lock-in and lack of innovation perpetuated by current proprietary approaches to align content to state learning standards. While many pieces need to come together to unlock this puzzle fully, it is clear that state and district leaders get it and are going to make it happen.

  • 1EdTech is rapidly moving forward to support the OneRoster APIs, LTI Advantage, Thin Common Cartridge, and CASE Network. No more guessing whether the integrations will work out of the box, what features are supported, and what metadata is included. 2020 is going to be an exciting year for standards-based interoperability thanks to the investment by IMS and key supporters in 1EdTech.

  • IMS continues to lead the world of assessment forward with a full set of developments. IMS QTI 3.0 is nearing public release—and has been widely hailed as yet another breakthrough in terms of accessibility, rendering, and support for technology-advanced and custom interactions. IMS is also in the process of releasing a Computer Adaptive Testing specification and a Proctoring specification. Add to this an extension to OneRoster to support Assessment reporting. IMS is working closely with CCSSO and other states/national agencies to help with the transition to this new version.

  • The IMS digital credentials work—namely Open Badges 2.0, Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR), and CASE, as a way to capture the frameworks—is opening up what I believe is needed most for the future of education, i.e., better ways to capture student achievement and for learners to tell their story to enable a lifetime of opportunity. 

  • IMS is cutting across K-12, HED, and corporate and informal learning. There was a time 20 years ago when it was clear that each of the sub-sectors in the learning space had to be treated independently without going insane trying to figure out the nuances. I would have been the first one to tell you that. But today, it is no longer true. In fact, overcoming the largely artificial barriers between sectors is key to getting to the new models we need in the future.

To summarize: We'll take this planet, shake it round. And turn it upside down. My supersonic rocket ship.

Okay, so that was really just more lyrics from the song. Stay safe, and Happy Halloween!

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | August 2019

"One is the loneliest number." —Harry Nilsson

"Without ongoing leadership and commitment from end-user and supplier partner organizations working together, no amount of standards-making or APIs will achieve the return on investment the education sector requires to lift all stakeholders toward educational innovation and impact." –Rob Abel, Ed.D.  
 
In the last Learning Impact blog ("Commitment and everything that goes with it"), I wrote about how achieving plug-and-play integrations in educational technology is best supported with a "pay to play" committed membership model. 
 
One can be a very lonely number when a single institution or school district faces the daunting task of supporting the innovation needs of all faculty and students while at the same time addressing cost and resource constraints. We often look to our fellow organizations to share knowledge and experiences we can trust. That is the norm. However, is it good enough? Alternatively, are we still mostly alone when it comes to the actual implementation of our institutional ecosystem? So a related question is, are we utterly reactive to developments in the marketplace, or are we helping to influence the developments in the market? It is tough to influence market direction as a single entity acting alone.
 
However, "one" can be a mighty number in the sense of "E Pluribus Unum," a Greek phrase that means "from many, one." E Pluribus Unum is well known as the motto of the great seal of the United States as they were forming from a set of independent colonies. At that time, the need for one coordinated effort from many colonies was not a nicety, but rather a necessity.
 
I think it is clear that if we want to propel education innovation and effectiveness for all students to the next level that an "E Pluribus Unum mentality" among the stakeholders is a necessity both in HED and K-12. Without ongoing leadership and commitment from end-user and supplier partner organizations working together, no amount of standards-making or APIs will achieve the return on investment the education sector requires to lift all stakeholders toward educational innovation and impact.
 
The 1EdTech ecosystem initiative created by the IMS Board of Directors was first announced in concept at the 2018 Learning Impact Leadership Institute in Baltimore. The idea behind 1EdTech is simple. Education leaders care about having a reliable ecosystem of innovative products they can configure to their needs efficiently and effectively. It is the ability to achieve one seamless ecosystem from the many diverse interests of end-users and suppliers that is the goal. 1EdTech focuses on ensuring we collectively achieve the end goal.    
 
While some of us wireheads know that the best way to get interoperability at scale across a highly distributed market (in terms of lack of a dominant set of suppliers) is having a really good set of standards that enable plug-and-play integration and a committed community that makes them a reality in practice. That, of course, is what IMS is all about, but the reality is that most education leaders are not going to care about tech standards. So even if they care enough to ask for standards, it is only a first step because even standards that undergo a rigorous community and testing process (like IMS Global's, which is the only one of its kind in the education space) have a wide variety of implementation in practice. Some of that variation is built into the standard for flexibility, but even more variability comes from incorrect implementation.
 
Fifteen months after the announcement, 1EdTech is now becoming a real thing beginning to be used by several of the world's largest edtech providers and by an early adopter set of school districts. All indicators so far are that 1EdTech can provide tremendous value to all stakeholders.
 
1EdTech right now is software that enables suppliers and institutions to efficiently, accurately, and transparently manage data movement. For school districts, 1EdTech is enabling them to achieve transparency into data movement and supplier requirements for data. For suppliers, it enables them to clearly articulate their requirements for data one time that can be used by all school districts to understand compatibility. For the IMS community, it is enabling us to understand, remediate, and evolve the standards so that they are truly plug-and-play in practice.
 
1Edtech is also likely to become a services integration strategy for a set of related IMS activities, like the CASE Network. The idea is that IMS has developed and will develop "utilities" that are for the purpose of understanding the fit of a product into a standards-enabled ecosystem. Today a person needs to be an expert on a wide variety of standards and yet the results in terms of plug-and-play integration are not as good as we would hope. Tomorrow, 1EdTech utilities will enable education sector participants to understand which products work together, what data they exchange, what features those data exchanges enable, and whether the exchanges are based on open standards. End-users will not have to be experts on LTI, Caliper Analytics, OneRoster, QTI, CASE, and other standards to get the benefits of a robust ecosystem of interoperable products.
 
The other area that 1EdTech will have a profound impact on is data privacy. IMS is already providing leadership in privacy through the IMS App Vetting and Privacy program that has been used to vet over 2,000 products so far. 1EdTech provides the transparency of data movement that allows all stakeholders to work together on privacy issues—and for parents and students to protect data as desired.
 
Wouldn't it be great if taking the high road were also the easy road? The 1EdTech design is based upon input from a broad array of IMS members—and I believe 1Edtech will make the lives of suppliers and institutions much easier than it is today in terms of ensuring digital on day one and instructional impact.  At least that is what we see so far.
 
Something like 1EdTech is only possible because of extraordinary leadership. I especially want to thank the initial set of school districts that are putting in the extra time and effort to help us get this right. We're keeping this pretty low key on purpose to ensure we get it right before scaling it up. So far, it looks like 1EdTech is something that the IMS members will be very proud of and we hope to have all of you benefit from it as soon as possible.
 
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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | July 2019

"Commitment, and everything that goes with it"—LeAnn Rimes

“This is the type of collaboration where the parties commit to a long game of development, adoption, and ascertaining of impact.” —Rob Abel, EdD.
 

In the last blog (“Won’t you give me a reason why?”), I wrote about one of the ongoing challenges of achieving effective use of technology in teaching and learning, namely that a “how” or “what” without a clear “why” typically leads to low adoption, low impact, and lack of sustainability. Leadership in edtech—whether at the institutional level or the sector level—requires achieving clarity of “the why.”  

The “whys” in edtech have quite a range in terms of their profundity, ranging from the straightforward need to support faculty in what they want to do, to how do we leverage data in a way that is fair, unbiased, and effective? Thus, collaboration with peers/colleagues you can trust can help refine the whys. 

When you are a person responsible for making edtech happen at scale, the whys very quickly lead to the hows and whats. The hows and the whats may simply be a matter of choosing among the market options and learning from the choices made by your peers. Again, collaboration you can trust is helpful.

But, what if the “why,” “how,” or “what” is more significant than you can solve on your own? What if they require substantial movement/change in the market? For instance, how do we provide support for a wide array of innovative tools desired by faculty and students via seamless integration while at the same time ensure high quality, actionable, transparent movement of data? Achieving the answer to that requires a committed collaboration that is about creating significant marketplace changes. IMS is all about enabling those changes by attracting a committed, trusted, and effective collaboration of institutions and suppliers who are dedicated to the proposition of high-performance plug-and-play interoperability using open standards.

This is the type of collaboration where parties commit to a long game of development, adoption, and ascertaining of impact. It requires long term involvement among committed partners—those that can move and sustain market change. It’s essential to understand what this is not. It is NOT throwing some standards out to the marketplace and hoping that it will change something. We’ve been through 20 years of that, and it hasn’t worked. Worse, it’s actually hurt in terms of the most serious parties pretty much ignoring all standards work because it just hasn’t resulted in an adequate return on investment—custom integrations were still the coin of the realm with at best lip service to “standards” as needed to respond to RFPs.

Today, things are different. They are not as different as we want—we still have a ways to go. But, thanks to the IMS community, there are a set of leaders (spanning institutions and suppliers) that are committed to changing what happens across the sector for the benefit of their own organization—as well as all those desiring to gain critical mass in enabling new models of education. Do we agree on everything? Of course not. But we are genuinely collaborating in a way that has fundamentally changed the technology experience and gives us hope beyond what any of us can achieve on our own, shaping the future of the edtech ecosystem.

More than six years ago I wrote a blog that detailed why IMS Global’s “pay to play” membership model was the best way to enable the changes we seek (Seven Reasons Why A Membership Model is the Best Way to Get to Open Standards in Education). I’m delighted that our impact and growth since then—which were by no means assured—have helped validate those ideas. Thank you for making it all possible!

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | June 2019

"Won't you give me a reason why?"—Dave Mason

Do you ever think about how special the leadership of IMS members is in terms of what your work achieves for the large majority of sector participants who are not IMS members? Rarely in the world of technology has the work and investment of so few benefitted so many.
 
It is accurate to say that there are thousands of education sector organizations that are benefitting from IMS work every single day. IMS work has become so pervasive in the educational technology sector it is increasingly hard to find an educational institution that is not benefiting from the IMS work in some way. While 500+ members is a large number for an organization working on technical standards, it is a very small number relative to the ubiquitous impact we are creating.
 
IMS has had this impact because we focus on transformational leadership for the education sector. Our shorthand name for this over the last 13+ years has been Learning Impact. Transformational leadership—whether at the institutional level or the sector level—requires achieving clarity of the "why."  Yes, there is also the "how" but the "how" is much more effective when guided by the "why." Too much of edtech is "how" and "what" without a sufficient "why." A "how" or "what" without a clear "why" typically leads to low adoption, low impact, and lack of sustainability.
 
For those of us gathered around the IMS table—a table that has grown over 10x (see recently released IMS Annual Report)—it's essential to understand and stay focused on the "why." The end goal includes interoperability and standards but as an enabler of a higher purpose "why" of much needed educational transformation for a new generation of challenges. It is crystal clear that educational systems need to support a greater diversity of inputs and outputs via programs and pathways that need to be invented and scaled, based on new models and metrics.
 
The "how" is large scale digital transformation initiatives that contribute to a shared investment that lifts the entire education sector. Interoperability standards—if they can achieve plug and play—are an essential foundation for scaling at low cost. The shared investment and return for all participants in a single connected ecosystem is the foundation for transformation across the sector. Absent a shared investment with a shared ROI it is very questionable whether we can rise to the challenges of the future.
 
The "what" in IMS is you – the IMS member community. IMS is leadership from the education sector for the education sector. You (institutions and suppliers as equal partners in IMS) evolve the "why" and the "how"—because IMS is your organization—funded, resourced and led by you. In the IMS model, the members share the expense and the decision making equitably and sustainably. Thus, IMS is primarily an investment and development partnership, if not the largest in the edtech space, among the largest. We are, surprisingly to many, not solely a standards organization (even though we are better at standards than any other organization in the sector). IMS is very happy to leverage standards created elsewhere if they help achieve the "why."
 
My sincere hope is that you and your organization will take advantage of the unique opportunity IMS has to offer in terms of leadership in educational transformation, as well as the very critical foundation of interoperability standards required to enable it. IMS Global's community model is effective, sustainable, and getting better every day as we bring on extraordinary staff and leadership from across the sector. Please contact any IMS staff member if you'd like to get more involved!
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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | March 2019

"Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby"Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Some things you don’t want to miss—and this year’s Learning Impact Leadership Institute in San Diego, May 20-23, should be at the top of your list. Learning Impact (#LILI2019 if you tweet) is IMS Global’s main event for the year, and it is different from any other event.  
 
Perhaps Learning Impact is closest to the ASU GSV Summit in terms of uncovering where educational technology is trending across K-12, higher education, and corporate learning.  However, Learning Impact is smaller, more intimate, and features honest exchanges among lighthouse institutions and leading suppliers about how technology can and will make a difference in the future of education and learning that don’t typically occur at other conferences. Only at Learning Impact, leaders share and debate how to collaborate to make personalized learning and educational pathways a reality and how to leverage the growing ecosystem of innovative products made possible by IMS members
 
After 13 years of growth, IMS is off to its best start ever in 2019—and event sponsorship from the world’s leading educational organizations has reached record levels. Learning Impact is simply the best way to accelerate your knowledge of where edtech is going in a way that will help your organization succeed—whether you are an institution or a supplier. You'll build close partnerships, gain unique insights, and learn all about the groundbreaking work of the IMS community. Hope to see you there!
 
 
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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | March 2019

"There's no easy way to be free"—The Who

To me, the best thing about an organization like IMS Global Learning Consortium is that it is made up of leaders who are willing to do the hard work of creating the connection fabric that will enable the next generation of education. Wow—that was a mouthful—so let me break it down.
 
Whether we’re talking the USA or other parts of the world, the educational systems of today were codified roughly 100-150 years ago in a quest to create an efficient, effective, and trustworthy solution to the requirements generated by the challenge of the transition to the industrial age. Only future history will bear this out, but I believe that we (society) are on the precipice of (some would say finally!) enabling the foundation for a significantly more personalized, but yet still efficient, effective, and trustworthy, educational system.
 
In IMS I think we not only share this vision but are rolling up our sleeves and working together on some of the key enabling components. As Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” While of course it is very important to hold ourselves to a much higher bar than has historically been the case around “standards” in the educational sector—namely zero-cost, zero-time integrations enabling substantially better faculty and student experiences—it is just as important to be enabling the key dimensions of the next generation educational fabric.
 
Through the organic leadership of the IMS members we continue to focus on these five evolving areas that need to be different in order to create the next generation:
  1. Adaptive curriculum: More effective, more efficient, more connected to life purpose.
  2. Integrated assessment: Assessment that aids talent development and student success rather than as a summative sorting mechanism.
  3. Advancement in educational delivery: Learning platforms and environments that provide the foundation for better faculty and student experiences.
  4. Effective educational credentials: This needs a better “name”—but the bottom line is that educational credentials based on the Carnegie Unit—as successful as they have been as a trust mechanism—are far too limited.
  5. Analytics for improvement: A scalable foundation for and use of data that helps students succeed and institutions improve.
I’m not sure if I/we have these categories completely right or what else is missing. But I wanted to thank you—the IMS members—for shaping them and doing the hard work of making them become a reality!
 
I am hoping to share my views on this evolution—views that have come primarily from the IMS member work – in my opening talk at this year’s Learning Impact event in San Diego, May 20-23. Hope to see you there!

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | February/March 2019

I recently had 24 hours of intense IMS activity appearing at both the EDUCAUSE Learning Institute (ELI) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) conferences on the same day in different parts of the Los Angeles area.  During the trip, I spent a few hours in taxis observing LA’s famous stop and go traffic.
 
At both of these conferences, we had packed rooms of education sector leaders—higher education at the first and K-12 at the later—with a high level of interest and engagement in IMS work. I couldn’t help but think that 10 years ago we would have been fortunate to have a few interested people operating on the fringes of the mainstream in similar sessions. Or more likely not even have had sessions at these gatherings at all. We’ve come a long way!
 
The ELI panel was especially interesting because it was focused on “Collective Action for Digital Transformation.” And really the theme of both meetings was that we are at a point in education that without collective action—institutions and states working in a collaborative way with each other and with multiple supplier partners to solve some key infrastructure issues, i.e. interoperability—we just can’t get to where we need to go. The 1-on-1 interaction between a buyer and a seller, which is so important and essential, just will not move us to a better future very fast.
 
People gotta move. Yet thousands still sit in stalled LA traffic every minute of every day. Why do they/we accept this state of things? Well, they/we need to be shown a better way and how to get there. 
 
This is why it is so important for IMS members to be leaders in taking collective action and teaching the world of education how this can be done. Not just talking to one another or sharing good ideas in papers, but working together collectively to accelerate key process and infrastructure needs while creating the incentives to the market that will get us to a better place faster.
 
Thank you all for your leadership in creating how we can collectively work together for a better future of education! And won’t it be great to see where we are 10 years from today?
 
Join us for this year’s Learning Impact Leadership Institute at one of the most beautiful locations right on the harbor in San Diego! You’ll want to be there to see all of the wonderful progress in the IMS community and to be at the center of creating the next steps.
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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | February 2019

In a recent annual review of 2018, from a leading technology industry analyst group specializing in education, there was a summary chart of the “Technology Platform Arms Race” focused on the consumer technology sector.

One of the topics that's always on my mind is, “Does IMS have the best possible model for accelerating and sustaining innovation in educational technology?”

It’s a question whose answer needs to evolve in concert with all the larger goals of the education sector, which are far from resolved despite decades of discussion regarding “education reform.” But we also need to evolve a stable foundation for the future regardless of the current mantra.

IMS is an organization of leaders that are willing to work together to create and shape the future. We’ve become really good at “standards” because this is such a fundamentally missing piece to effective collaboration and return on investment for all stakeholders. The challenge to us as education sector stakeholders is whether we can get beyond the normal reactionary focus on the many shiny objects that are the trees.

The “forest” to me is the goal of enabling institutional leaders to enable what I think of as “Achievement with Distinction.” My own personal opinion is that we are clearly at the beginning of a macro trend that will evolve educational systems from emphasizing “sorting/ranking” to emphasizing “talent development.” I don’t know how long this transition will take—probably at least a couple of decades. But I really don’t see any other direction for education to go to address the inequity, personalization and societal needs that are very clear as we sit here today.

From a technological perspective, the IMS Global view is that it is the full range of education sector stakeholders that “owns” the evolution of the forest, i.e. the educational technology ecosystem. However, much of the tech world is instead caught up in a platform arms race in which each platform, with their own ecosystem of partners, are the combatants. In this world, the customer gets to make stark choices about which ecosystem to go with and get locked in to. “Standards” in this world are more about enabling a marketplace with walled gardens and “winner takes all” dynamics.

This is not the kind of arms/ecosystem race that we need in the education sector. Best put by one of IMS’s institutional leaders: “It’s the vendor’s job to fit into our ecosystem and not the other way around.” The obvious corollary from this is that a critical mass of cooperating organizations can set the tone for the forest, shaping both it and the trees.

This is what IMS Global Learning Consortium is all about—creating an effective collaboration and investment vehicle that focuses on enabling and accelerating innovation across a very diverse educational sector. It is “our ecosystem” and we are the ones stepping up to shape it for the educational needs of today and the future. In this ecosystem, we are enabling a marketplace where opportunity is created for products that work well with many other products in order to enable the innovative teaching and learning that educational leaders seek. As we enter 2019 let us all recommit our leadership to this very simple but powerful idea.

To help us achieve this focus, IMS is re-orienting the evaluation criteria for the annual Learning Impact Awards competition to a simpler set lf "forest" shaping criteria, namely impact on personalization, impact on institutional performance and impact on ecosystem development. 

Nominations are now open. Finalists will be featured at our annual Learning Impact Leadership Institute May 20-23 in San Diego.

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