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Learning Impact Blog


Community leadership for more effective use of technology in service to education

Editor's note: this is a guest post provided by Steve Kessinger, Director of IST, Bluefield College.

Online learning continues to evolve, keeping even the most accomplished educators on their toes. There are numerous tools and resources available to supplement online education and I'm sure your faculty, like ours are becoming more interested in these resources. They also expect them to be fully integrated within the course.

The technical challenges to a small school like Bluefield College can be overwhelming which is why we were excited to hear about the Learning Tools Portlet in Jenzabar e-Learning. So many vendors have boasted “sure, we integrate with your system” but what that really translates to is “we integrate with your system as long as your IT guys spend 6 months in a cave banging out code”. We have a total staff of 3.5 FTE; we just don’t have time for that. Using the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard, we now have the ability to integrate a number of solutions that we once thought were beyond our capability. And it’s easy!

It only takes a simple click to get started (+ Add a new learning tool).

User Window within Jenzabar JICS for Integrating an LTI Tool/Application 1 of 2

Then, all we need is a link, key, and secret provided to us by the vendor and we’re ready to go.

User Window within Jenzabar JICS for Integrating an LTI Tool/Application 2 of 2

We’ve even started recommending LTI compliance to vendors. It’s a real return on investment for us and for them. We get the advantage of being able to integrate a number of tremendous products into our learning environment and we don’t have to use our limited resources on custom integrations since LTI is so easy. It’s also advantageous to the vendor since it allows them to serve other Jenzabar e-Learning customers and other LTI compliant LMS solutions. We’re currently testing LTI resources and we’re hoping that we can have some of these tools incorporated in courses for the Spring.

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Yesterday IMS announced the public draft release of LTI 2 at the IMS quarterly meetings in Nashville.

Here is what it's all about:

Whereas LTI 1 has revolutionized (by 10-100x – see the revolution blog post) the time and cost of integrating digital content and resources into learning platforms at a pretty basic level, LTI 2 takes that same revolution at least 10x more to enable much more sophisticated and deeper integrations – with therefore even greater gains in speed and cost compared to today's proprietary integrations.

Public draft release means that IMS is encouraging public feedback and collaboration on alpha implementations.  Within the IMS member community we will be enabling such prototyping with a software implementation of an LTI consumer (in Ruby) developed by Vital Source.  Many thanks for Vital Source for leading the evolution to LTI 2 (along with Pearson, Blackboard and Cengage) and providing this software to help accelerate implementations!  The license for this code is purely for non-commercial use at this time because the next step to finalizing LTI 2 is for the IMS member community coming together to put in place a conformance certification program. Once the conformance certification program is in place, we will release any prototype code (that provided by Vital Source, improvements made by other members, or by others in other programming languages) with our IMS “traditional” Apache 2 open source licensing to encourage commercial implementation. We’re thinking that conformance certification may be ready in 3-6 months time – but this is entirely dependent on the contributions from the IMS community.

LTI 2 has been under development for about 5 years.  Originally LTI 2 was envisioned as the “industrial strength” enterprise version of LTI. In fact, at one point in time what is now LTI 2 was the only true LTI.  The current LTI 1 was a result of a simplified subset and implementation approach of LTI 2 – resulting in the infamous Dr. Chuck Severance led evolution of first Simple LTI, then Basic LTI – and what is now LTI 1 and the most recently released version LTI v1.1 (which supports outcomes reporting back to the consumer).

Thanks to a series of very good decisions made by the IMS member community, LTI 2 today is much easier to implement than was once envisioned! For standards, easy is essential!

Of course, the value of LTI 2 to the education community – and how soon that value manifests itself – will depend on how quickly various “learning platforms” become LTI 2 consumers. If you have “LTI 2’d” your application it still needs LTI 2 platforms to run in.  One of the great things about LTI is that it enables many types of software to be consumers of applications. Anything can plug into anything with LTI. (see LTI catalogue to see that some applications that are both consumers and tools).

LTI 1 will be supported indefinitely at this point.  In fact, there is much activity in developing LTI 1 extensions (see extensions web page).  The IMS members made the brilliant decision at the IMS quarterly meetings in Ann Arbor in August 2012 to ensure that all LTI 1 extensions would be created in a way to feed right into the more extensible LTI 2 architecture. We expect that most platforms will support both LTI 1 and LTI 2.

LTI has many advantages over LTI 1. Some of these are detailed in the briefing paper written by Stephen Vickers via JISC CETIS.

LTI 2 provides a more sophisticated and extensible platform for providing deeper integrations, and greater support for services and events. For example, tool providers will be able to specify where their links should appear in the LMS and provide support for user-selected languages. LMSs may notify tool providers when a course is copied, archived or restored to allow more dynamic messaging and updates between systems. LTI 2 builds on LTI 1 by incorporating more sophisticated outcomes reporting and a rich extensions architecture. LTI 2 uses REST and JSON-LD to deliver this new functionality.

IMS LTI Roadmap presented early in 2012 by Dr. Chuck

To me, what is exciting about LTI 2 is that we should be able to transition IMS certified products to a model of “negotiated services.”  What negotiated services means is that IMS certified product A and IMS certified product B will be able to communicate about which IMS standards they support and configure themselves accordingly. This capability brings our mantra of “plug and play” to a whole new level.

At a very basic level, what this means is that if there is a mismatch in terms of what version of an IMS specification supports (versus the connecting tool) tow connecting products support it can be discovered automatically and adjusted.  At another level what LTI 2 means is that the goofy list of export formats for content (when exporting a course) could go away: the exporting software can communicate with the accepting software and negotiate the maximum interoperable subset. Many of the IMS specifications involve optional levels of functionality – specifications like Learning Information Services (LIS) and the Accessible Portable Item Protocol/Question and Test Interoperability (APIP/QTI).  Ultimately, LTI 2 will allow the support of these services to be negotiated between certified applications.

Last week at EDUCAUSE CourseSmart announced a new analytics dashboard for users of their e-Textbooks.  The CourseSmart analytics dashboard is LTI 1 enabled. What this means is that it can use LTI 1 to plug into an LMS or other LTI consumer. However, what about the transfer of outcomes using LTI? CourseSmart is, in fact, participating on our IMS e-textbook task force who are undertaking defining LTI extensions for passing “back” usage data. But, we expect that analytics information will be an area of differentiation for suppliers. In other words, we don’t expect all suppliers to agree.  One of the things that LTI 2 could enable is a negotiation of what data will be passed. For instance, one of a few designated schemas of agreed data or even custom schemas held in a registry. Thus, LTI 2 will put in place a foundation for enabling interoperability even for product-specific schemas. Pretty cool!

My thanks to the IMS members for the dedicated work on LTI 2! Stay tuned.  

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The annual EDUCAUSE conference is a bit of a marker for IMS. Once a project within EDUCAUSE (begun in 1995), IMS spun out in 1999 as its own non-profit member consortium.  So, we try to have a presence each year at the conference and take stock. Adoption of IMS standards is exploding across K-20 right now: Common Cartridge, Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), Learning Information Services (LIS) and Accessible Portable Item Protocol (APIP).

Rob Abel, IMS Global & Derek Hamner of Learning Objects Talk IMS Revolution

It’s been interesting to see the evolution of IMS over the past few years at EDUCAUSE from a techie topic to now a strategy topic as well. As the world economy slowly recovers, digital content and apps make their way into education, and a growing wave of excitement and investment in new companies and products, some of the institutional leaders are asking the right strategic question: how do I better serve my customers in this new world

This year at EDUCAUSE for the first time (in the next several years I expect) we began referring to IMS as a “revolution.

One of Three IMS Revolution Banners at EDUCAUSE 2012

In my humble opinion, it is the type of revolution that education needs: one that solves some immediate tactical issues, improves efficiency from day one, but also puts in place a strategy that enables better service from IT to the end-users in this increasingly digital and mobile world. Most importantly it is a revolution focused on impact of technology in improving the success of the teachers and students.

It’s helping to enable and catalyze change in education that IMS Global is most interested in – but, we are interested in sustainable change. Change that is not a fad or blip in the long history of educational institutions, but rather a new foundation. The specific change we’re interested in making happen is to drive the time and cost of integration of innovative digital content and applications in the education space as close to zero as it can get. If we do that – as an IMS community – many good things follow: a more open market, more innovation, more expenditures on educational technology versus other less innovative things, less waste on every supplier and every institution “reinventing the integration wheel.”

Here are my top five takeaways from this year’s conference as it relates to the IMS mission – which are based on a combination of things talked about openly at the conference as well as privately:

IMS Adoption is Accelerating

  1. The IMS revolution is viral now with most HED suppliers. We were showing the chart of growth to over 125 IMS certifications issued in the last couple of years and my rough guess is that this is about 50% of the actual adoption of IMS in the market. At this point, if a supplier is not in some way taking advantage of the 10-100x cost and time advantage of IMS (see IMS revolution blog post) – well, they are at a significant disadvantage. It is pretty hard to find an education-focused supplier that is not on board – whether they are actually an IMS member or not.  The suppliers that are not are typically the large “non-educational” companies that have development groups that basically don’t care about education. This category of companies is really missing the boat because with a little amount of work they could really endear themselves to our education market – but it is just the way they are set up: the development organizations within them are focused on non-education needs and that typically means their own proprietary platforms.
  2. CIOs that are "leaders of change" get the IMS value proposition – and because there is a critical mass of them, we will start to see more institutional policy supporting adoption of standards – in fact, we already are. 10x-100x improvement in cost and time of integrating digital content and apps would seem to be a total no-brainer. But, let’s face it, most edu CIOs run more on fear of uncertainty than they do opportunity for making change happen. So be it.  If we needed 100% or even a majority of CIOs to get the benefits of standards and why they actually need to do something about it – well, let’s just say I would have thrown in the towel a long time ago.  IMS has a core group of true leaders, some CIOs and some in executive positions focused on educational technology in institutions that get it and are helping us roll out an initiative called THESIS (Technology in HED in Support of Innovation for Student Success). This program will be a collaboration of leaders to lead institutional adoption. In IMS almost seven years now I have found that any size or type of institution (or school district or state) can lead but it depends on having someone in charge who is capable of truly leading.  It’s the people in charge that matter and not the size or type of institution.
  3. Some apple carts are going to get upset in the short term (1-3 years). This is why IMS is a real revolution. Some suppliers make money from integrations being “difficult or perceived as difficult.” However, once a cat is out of the bag it is hard to put it back in. One way or the other IT is going to become “easy” in the education segments. It has to. Most colleges and school districts – even those perceived as large – are small in terms of technical resources. The users are not technical.  They need simple and easy. The good news is that there is a lot of opportunity for suppliers in making the revolution happen.  But, this is not just a supplier apple cart issue.  This is also a CIO apple cart issue – the one’s that have said to me: “We already have people that do custom integrations, so more efficient integration doesn’t save us anything.”  Oops. Wrong answer! If a CIO or other technology executive is focused on the customer (students, teachers, even administrators), as opposed to their own or somebody else’s job security, they will embrace this change. However, see point #2 above. I can only tell you that this is a change that is going to happen – it’s as predictable as the outsourcing of email was – so, in the longer run embracing and moving with it is probably a better career strategy for all concerned.
  4. There is a lot of concern about the amount of private equity in this marketplace. Everyone seems to get it (somewhat to my surprise, I might say) that private equity firms are typically “not friends of investing in innovation.” All I can say is that ultimately, if this turns out to be true (and I sincerely hope it does not), it will create more opportunity for up and coming innovative suppliers. In either case open standards from IMS are going to play a huge role.  What most people don’t get is that the “giant” suppliers in education are really pretty small. Of the $1.4 trillion revenue annually in the U.S. related to education (2012 estimate), well, only 3% is spent on technology of any kind.   Another way to think of it is that if you looked at the operating budgets of all 4000 universities in the U.S. – it is estimated to be about $535 billion.  Since there are very few educational suppliers or education segment suppliers within larger companies that ever make it to $1 billion annual revenue, well, it's clear that the “big dog” in this market are the institutions themselves. The institutions are really, in the big picture of things, the primary “suppliers” of revenue-producing goods (non-profit, for-profit or whatever). This is an important follow on point to 1-3 above in that higher education institutions are potentially in “control of their own destiny” when it comes to greater innovation and getting technology that meets the needs of teaching and learning. They do, however, need to coordinate to some degree. Reality is that this is what groups like IMS are good for – and in our case I’d say it is all the better because supportive suppliers are around the table. It is the whole community of institutions and educational suppliers that are going to create the future. I hope!  The alternative is Google or Apple come in from the outside and take over.  Think iTunes U equals the primary distribution point for education. What a nightmare! Lock-in is tolerable for individuals, but not institutions.
  5. “Happy talk” keynotes are inspiring, but leave us a little empty after all is said and done: Many points of light do not get us to a bon fire of change! It’s fun to watch the inspirational tweets when someone like Clay Shirkey speaks. Of course, it’s good to feel good and empowered that we can do it! We can be innovative!  We can stick it to the man! Etc. Me too! I’m sure there is a positive subliminal effect from this sort of thing.  A little more sobering was this year’s data from the man with data about higher ed IT, Casey Green, which included the chart shown below that shows a very large discrepancy between the perceived return on IT investment among college presidents, provosts and CIOs. I encourage you to get more information at CampusComputing.net. The one sentence summary is that where CIOs may think they are getting reasonable return on the investment in IT, well, their customers, ah, not so much. The bottom line, IT needs to do better - either in terms of communicating the value or providing the value, or both.  Since few, if any, IT shops are getting more resourced going forward, well, it really is a time to “do better with less.”  Notice I did not say “more” – because this is really about giving customers what they want/need – not about more mindless technology expenditures.   I really don’t know any other way to make this happen than to become less reactive and more thoughtful about where things are going and putting in place a better operational foundation going forward. That, of course, is what the IT leaders involved in IMS are doing – and I’m pleased that our organization has a very clear value proposition and ROI with respect to institutional participation.  10-100x cost and time savings on integrations is a big time “better.”
Campus Computing Survey Data on IT Investment Effectiveness
 

And there you have it.  A lot of this IMS open digital innovation revolution stuff is of the famous “think globally and act locally” kind. There are definitely some things out there that help you (in the singular sense) and help you (in the plural sense). That would be the IMS revolution. The revolution will not be televised.  Made possible by the IMS member organizations.  

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We’re talking about the IMS Open Digital Innovation Revolution in Education this week at EDUCAUSE 2012 Denver.

Here’s what it is all about:

After several years of IMS community effort (led by the IMS Global Contributing Member organizations), we are now seeing evidence of a 10-100x improvement in the cost and time of digital technology and content integration based on the IMS standards, collectively known as the Digital Learning Services Standards (Common Cartridge, Learning Tools Interoperability and Learning Information Services).

So, at EDUCAUSE this year, we are shifting our communication focus a bit toward institutional tech leaders (CIOs, academic technology, online learning leaders).  Why? So they can take full advantage of the revolution and engage in sustaining the open digital revolution and taking it even further!  See the IMS agenda at EDUCAUSE 2012 here.  (Note: There will be free IMS revolution T-shirts at most events thanks to the organizations that have sponsored the various sessions).

IMS will be introducing the THESIS Initiative at EDUCAUSE 2012 with the goal of helping institutions adopt and lead the Open Digital Innovation Revolution

Since this is a public blog and I don’t have the time to get official permissions I will simply state some of the quotes we have heard in recent weeks from serious implementers of IMS:10x-100x improvement? Yes.

“It used to take us 6 months to do a custom integration – we now have that down to a phone call and will soon eliminate that.”

“Typically it would cost us $200,000 to translate our content to for use in another platform, now its about $20,000.”  

“Over the last 7 years we have done many integrations into our LMS – and the time required per integration ranges from 300-600 hours – with IMS it is down to 5 hours.”

“We made our new LMS purchase pleased to know that IMS conformance means that we will never be held hostage to our course content again.”

“We did an analysis of costs and we have found that using IMS for integration has cost us 8-10x less than our previous approach.”

Folks – this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Most importantly, not only is cost and time being saved, but the end-users: students, professors, administrators, are getting a better user experience – more seamless and requiring less manual effort to enter logins and enter data. And, the net-net for more efficient investment in and lower barriers to educational technology innovation is dramatic. Collectively we ALL need to invest on providing great digital education tools - not reinventing the integration wheel over and over and over and over.

Why do we need an “open digital innovation revolution” in education? Several reasons:

  1. In education we do not have 2-3 dominate platform and/or content suppliers that provide everything and therefore you can pick one and go digital (vice Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft in the consumer world).
  2. In education we need very efficient IT to support a diversity of teaching methods, disciplines and age groups.
  3. In education many of the most innovative ideas and technologies occur “from the inside out” – the education community are co-creators of the content and the applications.
  4. In education we have one of the most diverse ecosystems of open source software and open content, which increasingly need to come together with proprietary solutions. The future of education technology is not about one way or the highway - it's about diversity of supply sources.
  5. Cost and scale is an issue: Technology really does need to help education and educators become more efficient - wasting time on custom integrations is bad policy

The 10-100x cost and time improvement that the IMS open standards will enable the digital education world in the way that it needs to be enabled to succeed in the ultimate goal: better educational experiences widely obtained.  You are falling 10-100x behind the curve as of right about now.

However, do not fear– adding your product to the revolution actually doable and pretty easy! It actually saves you time and money and does not hurt your brain. We find that 92.6% of brains really like it! (Note: I made that number up – my anecdotal evidence is actually 100% of brains like it!).  And, it’s not too late – in fact, this whole digital education thing is really just starting.

Here is a chart graphing two indicators of the revolution.  One plot is the growth in IMS conformance certifications issued the last few years. As you can see, this is greater than 125 now and an accelerating curve. You can take a look at the plug and play LTI tool catalog here.  The other plot is the growth of IMS members since 2006.

The open digital innovation revolution has very solid momentum!

I think the key points about the IMS open digital innovation revolution for education are:

  1. In the digital age institutions will require much more efficient and effective integration of a wide variety of digital content and applications
  2. IMS open interoperability standards provide an open foundation for 10-100x cost/time reduction to achieve a seamless interface to enterprise systems
  3. IMS standards as an institutional or product strategy radically improve the ability of the education community (suppliers and institutions) to focus on innovation
  4. Your organization can support this work in a variety of ways – helping to ensure its success and accelerate its progress

To the last point, at EDUCAUSE 2012 we will also begin to introduce our higher education THESIS Initiative (Technology in Higher Education in Support of Innovation and Student Success). We will be providing more information on this – it’s a way for institutions to implement the open digital revolution in terms of putting in place a policy and a strategy.  Stay tuned!

Really all that the IMS Global Learning Consortium provides is the place for like-minded organizations around the world – who want to support the Open Digital Education Innovation Revolution – and who understand that to get there a collaboration to remove unnecessary friction and accelerate progress is a good thing – suppliers, institutions, government organizations alike.  If you agree with the stuff in this post, you and your organization should be joining in! And hope to see you at EDUCAUSE 2012 or the IMS Quarterly Meeting the week after (Nov 12-15) in Nashville.

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