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Learning Impact Blog

IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | October 2021

 

"Clarity" —John Mayer

 

Some Challenges to Consider as We Continue to Grow a Healthy EdTech Ecosystem

Having completed a very successful Learning Impact 2021 virtual conference, and looking forward to our upcoming in-person meetings, including our K-12 Leadership Retreat (in Denver, 10-11 November) and our annual Digital Credentials Summit (in Atlanta, 28 February through 2 March 2022), I’ve never been more hopeful and optimistic about the IMS community cause of enabling a vibrant, innovative, open edtech ecosystem.

However, I’ve also never been more concerned about a confluence of factors I hear about from the IMS members that may slow our progress.

First, let me cover some of the many things to consider on the optimism side of the equation.

We’ve reached new heights in so many ways. Our community and the market highlighted the power of open standards-based ecosystems during the pandemic. Both the number of products going through IMS certification and individuals participating in IMS exceeded 6,000. IMS standards are used in the most widely used edtech products on the planet, positively impacting nearly all students and teachers in the USA and growing in many other parts of the world.

The IMS work agenda has never been more vibrant, relevant, and horizon-expanding (in terms of supporting/encouraging new educational models). IMS provides a new generation of tools to help edtech participants troubleshoot and converge the use of open standards in practice. Probably most importantly, everything we have achieved is based on a rock-solid technical process and financial foundation.

On the not-so-optimistic side of the equation, there are three factors that I am hearing from IMS members as potential sources of drag. First, there has been an impressive number of mergers/acquisitions/roll-ups/IPOs among edtech suppliers. While these are pretty “normal” in a growing market, they also can bring much uncertainty. Second, the “great resignation” and general post-pandemic uncertainty mean more attention on just keeping the lights on. Third, over the last several years, there has been growing confusion caused by well-meaning but not exceptionally expert organizations responding to funded initiatives—leading to less clarity and transparency when it comes to adherence to open standards. We know from many examples that when organizations are funded to advocate or implement interoperability, it rarely results in a solution that helps maintain or sustain open standards.

Image from IMS Annual Report CY2020 - young student in a classroom with backpack smiling

Again on the positive side of things, it is wonderful to see so much leadership in K-12 evolving to more personalized and equitable education. There is renewed interest and focus in higher education on enabling digital transformation to meet the many challenges going forward. It is an honor and privilege to work among so many leaders who are trying to improve education and willing to put in the time and effort to work together to lift up themselves and others. Might I suggest that we take a moment here to remember that the future we seek is dependent on achieving and maintaining a healthy edtech ecosystem based on open standards? And please remember that the impact we seek from open standards should be readily apparent: better user experiences, greater choice of products, lower cost integrations, faster integrations, richer data, actionable data, greater trust between institutions and suppliers. These benefits come at no additional cost because there is a return on investment for all stakeholders as the market opportunity for edtech increases.

I’m confident that the IMS member community will navigate the challenges mentioned above and many more in the coming months and years, just as we have from the beginning.

That said, as someone who has put decades of my life into this mission—and fully acknowledging all our progress—I believe that now is a time when we will need to collaborate even more closely to ensure clarity and transparency in achieving open standards-based interoperability in edtech.

 

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IMS Chief Architect Dr. Colin SmytheIMS TECH TALK

Contributed by Dr. Colin Smythe, IMS Chief Architect

 

The IMS Security Framework 1.1: Security for All IMS Service-Based Specifications

Providing secure access between edtech systems and learning resources is essential. We've published many service-based specifications for edtech interoperability, including Learning Tools Interoperability/LTI Advantage, OneRoster, and Comprehensive Learner Record. Addressing secure data exchange, authentication, and authorization are important parts of our specifications. These needs are not unique to edtech, but some of the most vulnerable users in society make extensive use of edtech systems and resources.

In May 2019, IMS published the Security Framework 1.0. This framework established the set of security patterns and techniques approved for use in an IMS interoperability specification. Experience has shown that security requirements change continually, and a solution that works today may become vulnerable tomorrow. In August 2021, IMS published the Security Framework 1.1, which included new security features and some refinements reflecting the two years of experience gained from using the original version. The Security Framework places IMS in a very strong position with respect to best practice adoption and adaptation. Nevertheless, we already know that it will need a further revision in the next 18-24 months.

The IMS staff are not experts in security but IMS member organizations, presently over 675, have experts in just about every area of technology. So, we have been able to bring their expertise together to create the IMS Security Framework.

Security concerns cover all market sectors. Several other standards organizations have created solutions that have very broad adoption. The approach by IMS when creating the Security Framework is to adopt this best practice and adapt it to meet the specific needs of edtech interoperability. We achieve secure communication by requiring the use of Transport Layer Security (TLS) as defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Request For Comment (RFC) 8446. Providing authentication and authorization is more complicated. Authentication is the confirmation that a user is who they claim to be while authorization gives those users permission to access a resource. In the IMS specifications, there are three scenarios for which awe must support authentication and authorization:

  • Web services-based information exchanged between systems where there is an established trust relationship (OneRoster is a typical example)

  • Web services-based information exchange between systems where there is no established trust relationship (Comprehensive Learner Record is a typical example)

  • Moving users between edtech systems that may or may not have an established trust relationship (LTI Advantage is a typical example)

Therefore, two third-party specifications have been adopted:

  • OAuth 2 defined in IETF RFCs 6749 and 6750
  • OpenID Connect from the OpenID Foundation and which is built upon OAuth 2 to provide authentication

One of the problems when combining specifications from several sources is to create a consistent terminology. In the Security Framework we have used the established IMS terminology as our basis and have been careful to explain how this is mapped to the terminology used in the third-party specifications. 

In version 1.1 several functional additions have been made due to the requirements from new IMS specifications. These additions are:

  • Support for access token refresh as part of the OAuth 2 Authorisation Code Grant workflow
  • Support for access token revocation (using [RFC7009] as part of the OAuth 2 Client Credentials
  • Support for access token and/or refresh token revocation (using [RFC7009] as part of the OAuth 2 Authorisation Code Grant workflow
  • Support for dynamic client registration to simplify the use of OAuth 2 using [RFC7591] and [RFC7592]
  • Support for dynamic client registration to simplify the use of OpenID Connect [OPENID-DCR] and [OPENID-DIS] for systems based upon LTI
  • Definition of the use of a service discovery endpoint and the Service Discovery Document (SDD), based upon OpenAPI (JSON) file format, for obtaining a description of a service provider's service capabilities

Apart from a few bug fixes and corrections the new functionality added in version 1.1 is backwards compatible with version 1.0. Therefore, migration from version 1.0 to 1.1 is expected to occur as part of the natural revision cycle on a per IMS specification basis.

IMS Security Committee

The IMS Security Committee has been given the responsibility for maintaining the Security Framework. This committee brings together some of the IMS technical staff with experts in the field of security and edtech systems from the IMS Contributing Members. This committee provides IMS with awareness for state-of-the-art security best practices and insight into how organizations should apply these practices. The Security Committee also has responsibility for undertaking an annual security audit. This is a formal review of how the Security Framework is being applied in the IMS specifications as well as reviewing the effectiveness of the Security Committee itself. The audit report contains a set of short, medium, and long-term recommendations, which should be completed in the twelve months following the publication of the report.

The IMS architects are responsible for ensuring that the various specification working groups use the Security Framework appropriately. Before submitting a specification to the IMS Technical Advisory Board (TAB) for a vote on Final Release, the specification must be submitted to the Security Committee for formal review. If there is anything that may be contentious, then it is recommended that the specification is sent to the Security Committee for formal review as part of the creation of the Candidate Final Release process.

What would constitute being contentious? The use of the patterns defined in the Security Framework are not mandatory, but if other approaches are to be used, clear justification must be made: this includes when there is a decision not to include the use of security in the specification. In some cases, the security requirements for a specification may not be covered by the Security Framework. Therefore, an update of the Security Framework would be undertaken to include the new capabilities required by that specification. These new patterns would then become available for other IMS specifications. The annual security audit provides the final mechanism for evaluating the ways in which every IMS specification makes use of the latest version of the Security Framework.

 

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Monica Cougan, Manager of Strategic Relationships and Initiatives at CatchOn October 2021 | You Need Data to Know How Much It Helps Your District

Contributed by Monica Cougan, Manager of Strategic Relationships and Initiatives, CatchOn

 

Simplify and Strengthen Your Data Strategy to Assess EdTech Efficacy and Help Ensure Data Privacy Compliance

You won’t find too many educators who don’t know they need detailed data to make the most of their edtech investments, but that doesn’t mean everyone knows just how helpful data can be—or exactly which aspects of district performance data can help boost.

Assessing the true efficacy of edtech has long been a challenge for most districts because they often don’t have the complete picture of what tools and resources are actually being used, by whom, and for what purpose. The data that most districts have on edtech usage and efficacy is siloed, and it’s difficult to see the whole data story. CatchOn provides the tools and learning analytics that make it easy to convert that data into an accelerant to change.

Making the most of all available data can have a transformative impact because, when it comes to districts’ edtech, so much is on the line: in 2020 alone, American school districts spent more than $35 billion on hardware, software, curriculum resources, and networks; now, more than ever, districts are trying to fully understand both the return on—and impact of—those investments, while also monitoring digital assets for privacy compliance. 

But just how much can data analytics help districts? Because we at CatchOn are in the data analytics business, we decided to gather some data about how helpful district-wide student-level data can be: we prepared a study of diverse school districts, gathered data about how they were using CatchOn, and analyzed that data to prepare a report.

Read on to find out just how helpful data analytics can be for your district.

Our Study

To find out how powerful data analytics can be for educators, CatchOn partnered with Digital Promise, a national education nonprofit organization, to conduct a pilot study of seven school districts that are part of Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools.  The primary objective of the study was to understand the potential and power of data to support key district needs. We believed that because CatchOn granted administrators better information about how various digital products were being used by students and teachers, the solution would empower districts to improve their edtech strategies.

Our Findings

We found that access to the data analytics within the CatchOn platform can have a profound impact on districts’ edtech strategies. Here are some key findings:

  • 100% of the leaders from the Digital Promise pilot school districts report that reviewing their CatchOn data helps them identify gaps in student engagement that can indicate inequity.
  • 100% of the leaders from the Digital Promise pilot school districts say that their CatchOn data is valuable for informing their ROI analysis on technology investments.
  • 100% of the leaders from the Digital Promise pilot school districts believe that their CatchOn data is valuable for supporting their district’s online learning initiatives.

The districts we surveyed also believed that CatchOn’s data analytics would help them over the long-term with three critical operational benefits. Districts reported that CatchOn:

  • Supported messaging efforts to the community about product choices.
  • Supported utilization analytics with access to regular and timely data.
  • Helped educators ensure they were effectively monitoring product usage, achieving privacy compliance, and following all their requirements.

Our Conclusion

From this initial study, the evidence suggests that CatchOn provides districts the data and analytics they need to attain better educational results, achieve high-level implementation for their investments, and monitor compliance to keep their staff and students safe. CatchOn does so in part through third-party badging that helps districts align with the privacy standards of leading education organizations such as IMS Global.

“Through the strategic and effective use of data, school leaders can make informed decisions regarding budgets, curricula, resources, staffing, and other supports for students,” concluded Dewayne McClary, Digital Promise’s director of the League of Innovative Schools. “Data disaggregation is a powerful tool that allows school leaders to be more intentional about their decision-making and address educational inequities that have plagued student achievement and opportunity for far too long.”

Based upon the Speak Up Research Project’s findings from the 2020-21 school year, 90% of district administrators say their district has successfully implemented a one-to-one device program for their students in which students can use their devices in school and at home. Further, teachers report a 20% increase in their integration of digital content within everyday instruction in the 2020-21 school year compared to the previous year.

Taken together, these findings suggest that as long as districts wish to invest in edtech, it is well worth their while to invest in effective data analytics to evaluate and hone those efforts. Doing so will help boost student performance, promote educational equity, protect student data, and save districts money.

Because after all, the more districts know, the more they’re empowered to secure transformational results.

 

Special Offer for IMS K-12 Member Districts

All of us at CatchOn greatly value our partnership with IMS Global! As part of our partnership, CatchOn is offering this exclusive offer to IMS K-12 member organizations:

  • A 60-day trial of CatchOn
  • Waiver of set up fees for the district-wide implementation of CatchOn on all school-owned devices upon purchase

Click here to learn more about this exclusive offer.

 

Monica Cougan is the Manager of Strategic Relationships and Initiatives at CatchOn and ENA, where she leverages more than 35 years of experience in education and technology to help schools make the most of new technology. She has been an evangelist for the adoption of technology as a transformative educational tool. Monica has extensive experience helping K-12 school districts implement programs that foster systemic change.

 

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