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Learning Impact Blog


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

Special Blog from AACC Annual Convention @Comm_College ‪#AACCAnnual

Regardless of what your view on how “liberal” a program of study at a college should be, it seems to be a fair assumption that colleges should help qualify students for a good job and great career. Especially considering the high debt loads that students in the U.S. are incurring to get a college degree – they need a good job to pay for it.

What is the role of interoperability in educational data? As I have posted elsewhere, IMS is working diligently on interoperability of both big data and small data. We are aligning ourselves closely with the needs of institutions leading the charge on competency-based education credentialing. And, we are strong supporters of the U.S. Department of Education and White House “My Data Button” initiative.

Today I had the privilege of moderating a panel on “closing the gap” between college offerings and the world of work. Our distinguished panelists were:

Debra Derr, President, North Iowa Area Community College

Richard Carpenter, Chancellor of Lone Star College System, and Chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges

Shah Ardalan, President, Lone Star Community College, University Park

North Iowa Area Community College and Lone Star College System (Houston) represented a great range in scale in this conversation, with NIACC being a small community college and LSCS being one of the largest and fastest growing in the U.S.

However, despite the range in size, the best practices were in agreement:

  1. Understand what your student and faculty expectations are with respect to use of technology and technology innovation.
  2. Partner with organizations who have knowledge and expertise to avoid having to reinvent the wheel in terms of deploying new technology.
  3. Build close ties to local industry to understand the needs of employers.
  4. Provide better resources to help students understand employment opportunities, and in general what in the world their degree is qualifying them for.
  5. Move more toward competency-based programs and student documents (evidence of competencies) that can be owned by the student to be used in their quest to match career opportunities.

Richard Carpenter challenged the audience of community college leaders to transform what colleges can do for students by enabling students to “own the student record.” This is a massive paradigm shift from the last 40 years of institutions being the owner of the student data.  But today’s panel questioned whether this is good enough for the future.

Obviously there is nothing wrong with institutions being the keepers of authoritative records about student achievement. The problem occurs when students and parents realize that they have paid for an education for which they have little to show except a transcript. Thus, the challenge by Chancellor Carpenter, and echoed by the other panel participants, is that institutions need to help students understand opportunities, create and organize the artifacts from their learning according to critical competencies, and ultimately enable students to “take this with them” throughout their lives.

Lone Star College has championed a new service called the Education and Career Positioning System – which has been launched as an online service for students in which they can own their data.

IMS Global has been working hand-in-hand with Lone Star on this initiative because we believe this is an absolutely critical element of the IMS Open Digital Innovation Revolution in Education, namely opening up the campus systems so that students can connect their academic accomplishments to career and academic opportunities. Obviously IMS open standards can play an important role in opening up the data and artifacts created in a myriad of educational software for export to the student record: the one owned by the student of the future.

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A special featured keynote by Bob Mendenhall, President of Western Governor’s University at Learning Impact 2013

It really doesn’t matter who you talk to in the education field. Literally all agree that doing a better job of understanding competencies is the way that education needs to move. It’s about what you know and what you can do, rather than what course you took and what grade you got in that course.

Western Governors University (WGU) is the recognized leader in competency-based non-profit higher education in the U.S. We are very pleased that President Bob Mendenhall will be joining us at this year’s Learning Impact 2013 to tell the WGU story and participate in a panel on higher education leadership.

As we do with many of our keynotes at Learning Impact we have published a brief interview article with Bob.

In some respects this is sort of a “coming out” for WGU in that they have been replacing proprietary integrations (those very popular “open APIs” that every vendor likes to promote) with open standards-based integrations using IMS LTI. As the article mentions, WGU has quietly replaced 20 such custom integrations with LTI over the past several years, with probably 30 or so more to go!

Which brings us to the very critical link between competency-based learning and open interoperability standards.  The reason why WGU has so many different applications to integrate is because the best resources in different fields come from different providers.  You might think this circumstance is unique for WGU. It is not even today, but less so in the future. That’s because your departments and faculty want to use these sort of resources – or will be wanting to – and, if they are doing so now they are probably doing it WITHOUT INSTITUTIONAL INTEGRATION AND SUPPORT.  Sorry to get loud there, but frankly we are finding that many educational CIOs need to be woken up to both the challenges and opportunities (for better service) to departments and faculty. Well, in a nutshell, IMS standards are all about enabling this – just as is happening at WGU.

There is more information on how to join this open digital innovation revolution, including two special programs to aid higher ed involvement/adoption (called THESIS) and K-12 involvement/adoption (called I3LC).  

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We hope so! And we hope many universities, school districts and suppliers will collaborate on developing it!

See today’s announcement about the launch of a new collaboration to do just that.

Well, we know that the higher ed market seems to want to keep talking about the LMS, last week’s announcement from MIT and Stanford not withstanding. But, some of us are moving on. For those of us that have been attending Learning Impact the last several years (and, yes, don’t forget to sign up right now for this year’s because space is getting short!), we already know what the future of the “LMS” is (and that the term LMS is a bad name for what it has been or what it will be).  We also know what the general roadmap for digital learning resources is and how this evolution is intertwined with the evolution of the LMS. That’s because the LMS is evolving into a disaggregation of features and resources that come together easily and seamlessly for the needs of teachers and students.

The last few years have popularized, in the consumer world, the app store model. The app store in the consumer context is as much, or more, about controlling purchasing paths and revenue distribution as it is about software that the user interacts with (like iTunes). I have about eight Apple computers in my home and have been a user of Apple since the Lisa. What a stroke of genius Steve Jobs had in envisioning Apple computers at the center of home entertainment/personal digital lifestyle! And, iTunes was the delivery mechanism to make getting the digital resources easy. And, as we know, the 1-click buying, downloading, installing experience has evolved from computer to mobile devices of all shapes and sizes. Hooray!

Success of this model has lead to a lot of imitation by other large consumer-oriented companies and creating similarly vertically integrated buying experiences. To succeed at this you’ve got to have a massive point of sale presence. Amazon became the leader in e-Books. And, Google has the primary competitor to iTunes for mobile devices.

Ease of use/convenience in getting digital resources, evolving to the very popular apps (software applications) has made these vertical stores very appealing. Problem is that they also tend to lock the buyer in to a specific device or family of devices. If I want to switch from iPhone to Samsung Galaxy Note II – which I recently did – I have to start over again with the apps (Yes, the Galaxy Note II is a much better phone than the iPhone - sorry Apple!).

Of course, there are now mobile applications focused on the education segment: as our friend Robbie Kendall Melton from Tennessee Board of Regents has probably the best collection! Problem is that these vertical app stores have created a nightmare for teachers and students who generally need something that cut across many different types of devices (think BYOT). And, in order to make the user experience seamless and productive, educational apps typically require exchange of information (think user data and/or analytics) with other software in the educational enterprise (yes, like an LMS or whatever the LMS evolves to).

So, IMS finds ourselves in an interesting position in that we are going to need to enable a model in education that is not Apple, Google, Amazon (or any proprietary vertical marketplace approach) centric.  The app store project is, at it’s beginning, a collection of universities that are working to define and build a reference implementation of an app store based on open standards, that any content provider can participate in.  The advantage of building apps that utilize the open standards (think APIs – but vendor neutral) is that they will be easily integrated into a seamless teacher and student experience (yes, think 1-click). Now, will it be a gigantic app store with zillions of resources? Probably a smaller set of resources that are much more manageable for each course (while some are in love with the “learning objects in the sky” concept it is not what most faculty have time for).

The IMS educational app store project is in a top-level design phase now – with the expectation that there will be mock-ups and wireframes to discuss at the upcoming Learning Impact. From there we will herd the cats and begin building. The idea is NOT that IMS would maintain some sort of app store.  The idea is that institutions and/or suppliers will collaborate as they see fit in providing institutional or supplier-specific versions that may or may not be coordinated with peer implementations. Contact us if you'd like to get involved.

Briefly back to Apple, Amazon, Google – sorry to have to pick on you guys. But, for education it’s time to move to the next logical phase of the app store concept. The good news is that you can utilize the open app store APIs (or others can) to link the proprietary applications built for your stores into the open educational app store should the educational community wish to do so. It would be much nicer if you would spend a little bit of time and effort to engage or even contribute to the project – but we realize you are very busy making money with your vertical platform strategies and probably won’t help out the education segment.

IMSappstore

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Answer: Yes you can. Really dumb.

For evidence see Wired Campus: Stanford U. and edX Will Jointly Build Open-Source Software to Deliver MOOCs

We usually try to show restraint, but every once in a while something comes across the bow that is so completely stupid - well, it has to be addressed.

Here is what I posted as a comment to the above article:

This idea is completely brain-dead. Note to self as Stanford alumni: no more contributions to Stanford fund - as they obviously have plenty of money to waste.

Look - LINUX was based on Unix - which was a very well-baked operating system based on at least 10 years of wide adoption.  How do you create "the LINUX" of anything from a completely new platform?

And, oh by the way, the LMS market is moving to one of interconnected applications based on open standards, namely IMS LTI. This is the model that every one in the know has been talking about, and implementing, for the last three years. I know - I run IMS.  We've gone from 0 to over 150 certifications of open standards based products in three years and the curve is accelerating. You can see the many examples here:  http://developers.imsglobal.or...

So, the idea of building a platform that is all encompassing in terms of functionality - even if it is open source - is completely the opposite of where the market is moving.

Finally, when you can't find a business model, build something and give it away for free - and pretend you have a business model. When you're living off grants and endowments its a good strategy for delaying the inevitable: failure.  Unfortunately that money could have been used for something useful.

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An LTI-based prototype for a Student Progress Dashboard

At the last IMS quarterly meeting in February 2013 at Lone Star College in Houston we spent a lot of time on analytics. Analytics is a pretty hot topic in education these days. In fact, in HED the hype has been off the charts for about two years now. At EDUCAUSE 2011 analytics was the savior, At EDUCAUSE 2012 the hype was more muted - but still strong.

Why? Economics. Retaining one student is worth substantial dollars. Retaining many = mucho dollars. Not to mention national goals for graduating more students - which has a broader impact on any national economy as the delta in wages over a lifetime is large between degreed and non-degreed people.

One of the problems with the term analytics is that it is VERY broad. At our quarterly meeting we had a parade of companies (large & small) as well as very well-informed individuals working in the analytics field.  We learned that there are at least three levels of analytics applicable to education:

  1. Learning analytics: Data analysis that helps students improve learning outcomes.
  2. Academic/program analytics: Data analysis that provides information of what is happening in a specific program and how to plug holes or otherwise adjust.
  3. Institutional analytics: Data analysis that helps make decisions about how to improve at the institutional level.

There is also a fourth level - an even higher level at which governments might crunch numbers to understand a statewide or national level. Since we don't consider ourselves to be part of the government in IMS, this fourth level is not too interesting to us.

There are some great companies doing some great work in analytics. Companies like Oracle, Desire2Learn, LoudCloud, McGraw-Hill and Civitas Learning - all of whom presented at the IMS quarterly.

And, of course one of the things we have learned previously about domain-specific adaptive tutor/homework applications, like Pearson My-Labs, is that they can make use of data collected across many institutions.

The use of analytics to crunch, and potentially correlate, data from what might not appear to be related things, has appeal to many. For instance, one of the claims made by the CEO of Knewton at the U.S. Whitehouse Data Palooza event last year was that the Knewton product would be able to predict how well a student would do based on what they had to eat for breakfast! That sort of data would be very interesting to Frosted Mini-Wheats, as well as some parents.

Crunching large amounts of data from many sources and then figuring out which data is most useful/predictive is often referred to as making use of “Big Data.”

But, there is also “Small Data.” Small data tends to be more localized, and perhaps, immediately actionable (see non-education article on Why Small Data May be Bigger than Big Data). As Mark Milliron said at Learning Impact 2011, “Students are good with collecting data on them if it can actually help them as individuals.”  This makes a lot of sense to us at IMS.

Now, of course, data interoperability can potentially aid analytics because agreed upon data definitions used across many tools/products should be easier to compare. Analytics is a really important focus area for IMS - and will be a key focus at this year's Learning Impact 2013 conference May 13-16 in San Diego.

The sort of “holy grail” of data interoperability is an agreed upon “learning/progress map” that all tools and assessments could populate. Some are working on that very issue today (see for instance the Dynamic Learning Maps collaborative that is participating in IMS via CETE at University of Kansas). However, while it is relatively straightforward to agree on some types of data – like for instance assessment item results data as in QTI/APIP or usage data on things like e-books – the state of the market is that student learning models and data is in its infancy. Therefore, many tools will be producing analytics information that makes sense within the tool, but not more generally. IMS wants to put in place standards that encourage that type of innovation through variability, as well as the type of standards that capture things everyone can agree on.

To enable more use of small data in education, it occurred to us that it would be very cool if it was easier for students or teachers to simply see all of the progress data in one place – even though the tools are all separate. What a major step forward it would be for a student to work in several tools and be able to see how their results compared. So, we decided to see if LTI could be used to enable a Student Progress Dashboard that is a mash-up of many dashboards from independent tools. We see such a dashboard as displaying the unique analytics capabilities of any tool – whether or not data definitions are agreed to – and, whether or not the tool provider is willing to share such data. We think this very simple idea is empowering and will complement the progress we are making on defining agreed data fields when we can.

And, now we have a very simple prototype to show one version of the concept – using tools that are not especially analytical in nature – but ones we had lying around.  If you go to this screencast by Stephen Vickers you will see the very first IMS-enabled Student Progress Dashboard prototype. We expect this to be a standard feature to be supported in LTI going forward and want to see lots of riffing on this in the LTI community! Let us know what you think! And, tool providers, start your engines!

Note that we may not be able to tell how well a student will perform based on what they had for breakfast, as perhaps Knewton can, but, we can perhaps make a combination of tools – tools available today – more actionable for students or teachers!

Student_Progress_Dashboard_Prototype

IMS LTI-Enabled Student Progress Dashboard Prototype

 

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Yesterday we released the IMS annual report for 2012. Knock on wood, IMS has experienced seven years of steady growth. We have been very lucky in many respects, but it has been the steady support of the members and ability to change of the IMS staff that has made this growth possible.

There have been MANY headwinds along the way. A close second in that list - second only to what I'll call "jealousy" of several other failing organizations in this space that have attempted to dissuade support of IMS by completely misrepresenting what we do and how we do it - has been a knee-jerk reaction of many organizations of being negatively predisposed to joining "yet another" organization/paying membership dues. Memberships is one of the first things to be scrutinized and cut in any well-managed organization. And, there is good reason for that. In my days at Collegis I was the one doing the cutting!

Quite frankly, in IMS we are open to any model that works. By "works" we mean that actually provides the means to enable a high quality open platform - owned by none, but implemented by all - that education needs so desperately to focus investment on great products and innovation. And, in this post I'm going to tell you why we have concluded that a membership model is the best way for all concerned to achieve this.

1. Membership dues to IMS result in something of tangible value getting created - something that if done right provides huge value to the industry. IMS is truly evaluated on its ability to effect change in a very tangible way. The membership dues to many organizations are typically providing access to some amount of networking or reports that are published - reports that typically never vetted over time to see if their advice were correct or not.

2. Because there are many/diverse members paying dues and contributing to the tangible product in #1, the resulting products are supplier neutral and bring value to an entire industry (note: how the organization is set up in terms of participation, work activities and approval is very important factor in achieving this). Note that a foundation or grant sponsored project does not provide the same sort of neutral product - regardless of how the work is licensed.

3. Members of substantial numbers will only support an entity that is providing a fair and neutral process to not only create standards, but to evolve and maintain them for the changing needs of the marketplace over time. Sooooo many business models are not sustainable. Membership models, assuming that the organization is responsive, can be.

4. Commitment to the standards and the process is critically important. Membership, if done correctly, brings commitment. The leadership of the organization are committed to serve the members and the members are committed to the joint work product.

5. Stakeholders of different types and sizes get an equal vote. If the membership organization is set up appropriately institutions, government entities and suppliers can work on equal footing even though they may be paying very different membership dues. They each get one vote regardless of what they are paying, thus allowing for broad participation and a high quality product.

6. Requiring skin in the game is a good thing. It is very difficult to achieve any of the prior five things without a true commitment from true industry leaders. Requiring payment of membership dues from participants that can (special accommodation can always be made for participants who might be under financial hardship), along with a legal membership agreement to adhere to the member-approved processes, is absolutely the best way to ensure that all the activity will result in actual market movement.

7. Commitment from members results in better ways to do things. IMS has made a very large number of changes over the last seven years. Just about all of those changes were ideas from the members. I'd like to tell you that we are organizational geniuses here at IMS and came up with all this ourselves.  But, the truth is that we just tried ideas that the members had and have kept the ones that worked. And, because this is an organization set up to serve the members, they can decide to take this in any direction that they think makes sense - a very important consideration given that standards are evolving from paper specs to reference implementations to who knows what?

During the last seven years we seen at least a half dozen standards activities in this space attempt to start and die. There are several other organizations and initiatives that are hanging on just barely in terms of needed financial support. One of the reasons that IMS began publishing the annual report was to provide transparency into how well our model was working. When we started publishing the report we had no idea that we would have seven years of growth ahead of us, and, there is no guarantee of growth from here.

But, if you're looking for an organization that is creating tangible change for the better and is clearly gaining momentum - and you are willing to understand that this is "not just another membership dues organization" - well, you have come to the right place! Myself and the IMS staff consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to wrk with the many individuals and organizations noted as key leaders in IMS in the later pages of the annual report.

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This post is the letter to IMS stakeholders contained in the recently released IMS Global Annual Report for 2012: Leading the Digital Innovation Revolution in Education . Join us at the Learning Impact conference, May 13-16 in San Diego to provide your leadership to the cause!

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Dear Supporters of IMS Global, We are pleased to present the IMS annual report for calendar and fiscal year 2012. Maturity and adoption of IMS interoperability standards reached record levels in 2012. This support from the IMS community resulted in record levels of revenue, membership and net assets, as shown in the accompanying chart.

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Over the last 15 years, education has adopted many “point” examples of innovation in which technology has played an enabling role. Today’s “hottest” innovation is the MOOC (Massively Open Online Course). Will it be another point innovation or, instead, an educational paradigm “shifter?” Neither is certain, but we are certain that the least risky strategy for scaling up educational opportunity while affordably improving learning outcomes is to tap into the inexorable march of technical innovation. For this strategy to succeed, institutions must be free to select innovative applications from a variety of sources and integrate the resulting foundation of new and legacy applications. The need for agile integration and interoperability has never been higher and, thus, IMS standards and certification never more strategic.

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The goal of the IMS work is to enable innovation through a broadly affordable, vendor-neutral open “platform” – owned by none and implemented by all. IMS open interoperability permits the systemic integration of applications from diverse sources into a seamless, agile and information-rich educational experience, within the institution and across the Internet through its partners and suppliers. MOOCs are but one current example of an innovation that draws on the leverage inherent in IMS open interoperability.

In 2012 the IMS community provided overwhelming evidence that open interoperability can provide a cost and time savings on the order of 10-100x, compared to current, widely used integration approaches. These benefits accrue to suppliers and institutions, all while enabling a more seamless, and thus more productive technology experience for students and faculty.

IMS launched the “Open Digital Innovation Revolution” campaign at EDUCAUSE 2012 to highlight that systemic change enabled by open interoperability can have revolutionary consequences in terms of the rate of adoption of innovative digital content and applications. Moving into 2013, IMS is accordingly focused on Open Digital Innovation as a core strategy upon which to build the education markets of the future. Indeed, an emboldened breed of leadership is already emerging from the IMS community of suppliers and institutions. These bold, but practical leaders seek to amplify the value proposition of an open interoperable core platform as a means to shift today’s education paradigm towards future learning needs. The IMS board and organization are grateful to these bold leaders, who are truly leading the scalable and sustainable future of education!

Rob Abel, Ed.D., Chief Executive Officer

William H. Graves, Ph.D., Chairman of the Board

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