Author Archives: RobAbel

About RobAbel

30+ years experience creating high tech products and developing high tech markets. 15+ years experience in the education segment. Since 2006, Chief Executive of the IMS Global Learning Consortium - a non-profit member organization charged with advancing technology that can improve education. Twitter @LearningImpact #imsglobal

EDUCAUSE 2014 (#edu14): The beginning of alignment toward an “architecture for educational innovation”?

“Alignment” is especially challenging in the world of higher education. Alignment of interests and direction is very difficult to achieve within a university structure, which have evolved to what Clark Kerr termed as the “Multiversity” (a collection of diverse communities under one umbrella).

Alignment, it would appear, should be even more challenging across universities.  However, there are forces at work, for instance community interaction via organizations like EDUCAUSE. Indeed, some theorists have postulated that independent institutions evolve to very similar structures not through “top down” leadership but more through practitioner community effects (a theory known as institutional isomorphism). So, in practical terms, one of the reasons why most CIOs at colleges and universities seem focused on similar priorities is because they all talk to and influence each other via groups like EDUCAUSE.

For almost a year now IMS has been talking about something we call “an architecture for educational innovation.” What we mean by that is a community owned, developed and supported set of interoperability standards that make educational applications plug and play with each other and thus allow the focus/investment to be primarily on innovative apps rather than infrastructure. This concept started achieving clarity in the Abel, Brown, Suess EDUCAUSE Review article from October 2013, A New Architecture for Learning.

sdks

IMS Global does not bring all the things needed for the architecture to materialize: Far from it. IMS brings one small but absolutely critical piece, which is an organization via which institutions and suppliers can co-create, evolve and sustain the required interoperability (call them standards if you like – but ease of interoperability is what is required, versus standards per se). Organizations such as Internet 2 bring the cloud-based infrastructure that is so critical to offloading the infrastructure concerns. Organizations like EDUCAUSE Learning Institute and the larger EDUCAUSE bring the leadership needed to make it happen.

Here are my (admittedly subjective) take on some of the notables from EDUCAUSE in priority order (most important first), with the relevance to beginning alignment toward an architecture for educational innovation:

  • Unizin:  The first of it’s kind consortium among large R-1 universities to enable sharing of content and data announced adding several new members. This is a very serious effort, reflected by the $1 million membership fee for each university, and at the heart of this effort is reliable and efficient interoperability to enable the sharing regardless of what products are used.
  • EDUCAUSE Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE): A new, potentially well-funded effort (sponsored by the Gates Foundation) to envision and take tangible steps toward enabling a more comprehensive view of what today would be the learning management system (LMS).  It is clear from the focus group of 50+ leaders that occurred at #edu14 that interoperability  and the flexibility and access to data needed to improve instruction is clearly among the top three enablers for this effort. And, this interoperability will go well beyond the LMS (which despite its many detractors is typically the most open and interoperable system on campus today).
  • Diana  Oblinger: Diana received numerous well-deserved recognition at what will be her last EDUCAUSE as CEO per announced 2015 retirement. Diana has turned out to be a great fit for EDUCAUSE CEO, leading an enormous rise in stature over the last six years.  However, the real news item here is that during Diana’s tenure EDUCAUSE revenues of more than doubled to over $35 million annually. How many commercial product suppliers have had that level of success during the same period? As with the prior two bullets regarding Unizin and NGDLE this success can be interpreted as increasing leadership from the institutions in driving the direction of technology.
  • Campus Computing Survey: Once again “assisting faculty with the instructional integration of information technology” was ranked most important. The future of educational IT is not about “locking the faculty down” – it is about enabling better, more innovative instruction.
  • Kuali project:  There was hubbub at EDUCAUSE about this well-known open source ERP project adding a commercial spin-off which included questions about what would remain open source.  In the architecture for educational innovation diversity and innovation go hand-in-hand. This includes (very importantly) diversity of business models. We see the evolution of Kuali as just one more example of the need to find a path that leads to sustainable innovation. If you’d like everything with respect to education to be free, then please begin with your own salary.
  • Mobile-first products: In the last few weeks, including at EDUCAUSE, I’ve spoken with at least five suppliers relatively new to the education space, touting their “mobile-first” strategy – meaning the solutions were built from the ground up to support mobile devices as the primary interface with the ability to work well in the “consumer world” of diverse platforms, apps, etc.  How this consumer world interoperates with the more closed world of educational systems and institutions is a problem that requires agreed upon interoperability to address enable at scale. There is great opportunity for those organizations that can work with IMS to begin to plug some of these gaps – and it is beginning to happen.
  • Gartner Group:  Albeit not released at EDUCAUSE, Gartner’s July report on the Hype Cycle for Education covers something called “Exostructure Strategy” –  leveraging interoperability to enable more friction-less partnering – whose description includes several IMS standards as the enabling technology – as having transformational potential.  Since Gartner has had literally zero interaction directly with IMS, it is clear that this is a trend that their institutional and supplier members are telling them about.
  • University of Central Florida: We were blown away by UCF’s LTI app development work – and their leadership in getting the message out on how institutions can and should be realizing the architecture for innovation/exostructure strategy!

What do you think? Beginning of alignment toward an architecture for educational innovation?

Here are the intro slides from our IMS panel session on the topic.

 

Slide01 Slide02 Slide03 Slide04 Slide05 Slide06 Slide07 Slide08 Slide09 Slide10 Slide11 Slide12

 

Can the Education Sector Lead Learning Tech Impact (and Tech Stds)?

Many thanks to Michael Feldstein of the e-Literate Blog for the insightful post on IMS progress entitled The IMS Is More Important Than You Think It Is.

Michael and Phil Hill have been so successful with the e-Literate Blog because of their intimate understanding of the education technology sector.  The funny thing about the title of this recent blog post about IMS is that even I, as the guy sort of in charge over here at IMS, often have the same sentiment – namely that IMS may be more important than even I think it is!

To explain I will highlight a few statements from Michael’s writing and elaborate a bit – all under the category of sort of a teachable moment. The key foundation here is to understand that when we reorganized IMS beginning eight years ago we took a pretty radical approach (while trying not to appear radical) of turning a technical standards organization upside down. So, rather than focusing on standards for educational technology as the most important thing we took to heart that standards are only a means to an end. That end is what we termed “Learning Impact” which is the impact that technology can have on transforming/improving education and learning. If that seems a bit ethereal to you, it’s not: The event Michael wrote his impressions from is our annual meeting called the Learning Impact Leadership Institute. This is NOT a meeting of standards geeks (even though we all have a bit, or maybe a lot, of that in us) but rather a meeting of those wishing to lead educational transformation.

Michael: “I have long argued that the development of technical interoperability standards for education are absolutely critical for enabling innovation and personalized learning environments. Note that I usually avoid those sorts of buzzwords—”innovation” and “personalized learning”—so when I use them here, I really mean them.”

Rob’s elaboration: Michael gets that IMS is all about innovation, but lot’s of folks misunderstand what goes on in a standards organization like IMS. Some standards are about picking one of several options of a technology already developed. My favorite example is picking a gauge to standardize railroad tracks. However, IMS standards are for technology that is new. These type of standards are all about enabling distribution of innovative practices and technologies. Thus, some will fail but others will enable wider innovation.  Working in IMS is as much or more about defining the innovation and enabling it as it is about locking down a potential standard.

Michael:  “But arriving at those standards often feels . . . painful, frustratingly slow, and often lacking a feeling of accomplishment. It’s easy to give up on the process. Having recently returned from the IMS Learning Impact Leadership Institute, I must say that the feeling was different this time.”

Rob’s elaboration: We’ve figured out a few things over the years that have helped improve the process of developing standards. First we try to separate the participants into groups that emphasize different things. Some folks like to work on developing specifications. Most, however, prefer to implement. Others, especially institutional types, like to work on reviewing to understand and ensure the benefits and resulting policies. The trick is to create some separate spaces and bring them together at the appropriate times. IMS is far from perfect at orchestrating all of this – but we are constantly working at it.  When it all comes together and you have the institutions and suppliers all working together toward the same end it is truly a beautiful thing. I think probably Michael sensed some of that at the meeting.

Michael: “The first indicator that things are different at the IMS these days is the health of the community.  Membership has quadrupled. Interestingly, there was also a very strong K12 contingent at the meeting this year, which is new. This trend is accelerating. According to Rob, the IMS has averaged adding about 20 new members a year for the last eight years but has added 25 so far in 2014. Implementations of IMS standards is also way up.”

Rob’s elaboration: To us IMS is an organization that enables the education sector to collaborate in the leadership of educational and learning technology. Seems like a strange thing to say, but as I pointed out in a 2007 EDUCAUSE Review article (see Innovation, Adoption and Learning Impact: Creating the Future of IT), the education segment does not invest much R&D compared to other segments and without collaboration every institution (all very small businesses – even the largest) spend most of the time and effort they do invest in reinventing what their colleagues at other institutions are doing. This is still a lesson that we are all learning. But, our approach to IMS has been to lay this out to the sector and basically say, “Hey, we can give you a platform for collaboration, but it’s up to you to fund it and make it succeed.” If you’re not supportive it will fail, if you are it will succeed. So far, IMS has grown from a very small standards activity to being on par with the largest and most stable in the world including horizontal and vertical standards organizations.

Michael: “The IMS is just knocking the cover off the ball in terms of its current and near-term prospective impact. This is not your father’s standards body. But I think the IMS is still just warming up.”

Rob’s elaboration: One does get the sense that despite very strong growth the last eight years that IMS may be accelerating.  My personal view is that there is an enormous opportunity for institutions and suppliers in the segment to shape the future right now as digital support for learning and education is accelerating. The concept that is the foundation of IMS, namely that true cross-platform plug and play apps, content and data in support of greater personalization, more distinctive educational programs and more effective educational programs, is a game changer. And, this is truly a charge that educational institutions can and should lead.  After all, who should be inventing the future of education? And, I also expect that much of this IMS work is going to make its way into more horizontal application across other industries (not education only) and the general web.

The Real Lessons from InBloom

Not more than a couple of weeks after my blog post on Gates’ Foundation LRMI and its motivating program InBloom it was announced that InBloom will be “winding down.”

InBloom strictly speaking is a non-profit corporation set up by the Gates Foundation  to provide open source software to implement a data collection system at the state level capable of collecting and analyzing data from (what was hoped to be) numerous educational applications at the district level providing information on student progress. Before the InBloom non-profit was “spun out” the work was incubated under the auspices of the Gates Foundation via a project called first the Shared Learning Initiative (SLI) and later the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC).

We use the term “InBloom” here to represent the entire sequence of work from inception that led to InBloom inclusive, not just the non-profit corporation work.

The stated reason for the wind down of InBloom has focused on one potential adopter – the state of New York – where InBloom has been highly criticized because of potential data privacy issues.

However, I think we need to remember that InBloom was highly touted by the venerable CCSSO (Chief Council of State School Officers) – representing virtually all the U.S. states, funded by the Gates Foundation to the tune of $100-200 million (starting from the initial Shared Learning Infrastructure / Collaborative) and endorsed by at least a half dozen states at the formation of InBloom (with the hope that many, many states would adopt), not to mention support from major industry consortia like SIIA.

The reality is that the SLI/SLC/InBloom ended up being rejected by a much larger body of potential participants than the state of New York. Therefore, focusing on New York alone and the single issue of data privacy doesn’t fully capture the key lessons that many of us already knew and must now solidify based on the InBloom experience.  After all, education is about learning and if we can’t learn from our experiences then it speaks volumes about our education.

From the perspective of IMS there were numerous fundamental mistakes made in the planning and execution of InBloom.  Here are some of the key ones:

  1. Spending a lot of money to reinvent the wheel usually doesn’t make much sense. While better use of data in education is a good thing there was not anything that was a breakthrough technically speaking from InBloom. Many, many suppliers could have provided the InBloom capability  (which was basically a data warehouse).   It appears that Gates decided to pick one favored contractor because they were impatient and/or not wanting to work with existing industry providers.  In addition, pretty much every aspect of InBloom was already covered in existing education sector interoperability standards – and this was completely ignored.
  2. You can have a lot of people around the table, but if they aren’t the right people the net result will probably be wrong.  It certainly seems like Gates decided to focus on the states/CCSSO because of the power position they had in terms of adopting the Common Core standards. The problem is that state government is generally not where the “rubber hits the road” in terms of student learning. Yes, there are many caring administrators at the state level who want to do the right thing, but it’s in the schools and the school districts where better learning and teaching needs to occur. It doesn’t take much experience engaging with the K-12 sector to understand that there is a huge divide in most states between the states and the districts. To the districts the idea of sending data to the state and expecting something good to happen is a very big stretch of the imagination. The people that are the good teachers are too busy helping students learn to get involved in pie in the sky projects.
  3. “Small” (read:) actionable data is much more important than big data in education. Readers of this blog have already read what IMS has learned from engaging with the education sector today and a general understanding of where we are in the evolution of education systems historically speaking.  The future of education is not about big or massive. The future of education is about diversity and distinctiveness. The future is about using data to help individual students by putting it in the hands of someone that cares (the student, the parent, the mentor, the teacher).
  4. Working with the education sector is likely to produce a better result than trying to end-run it.  InBloom was an attempt to end-run districts, existing suppliers, and, yes, existing standards organizations like IMS Global. To be honest, most we have talked to perceive InBloom as a Microsoft style (or any dominant vendor) platform play (no offense meant here to Mr. Gates as we would doubt he had anything to do with the strategy). It goes like this: We will give you the platform and then dominate the market. The problem with going it alone is that existing collaborations in the education sector that are worth their salt (we like to think that IMS is one of them) provide a huge base of historical knowledge as well as existing base of collaboration that helps guide things in the right direction while actually getting there faster and cheaper.
  5. Open source is not open standards – and to build collaboration it is open standards that work best.  Lot’s of folks have been reiterating this for a long time now. It’s so very simple really. With open source you have code that includes things like APIs. But those APIs are evolved by a single controlling entity and not governed by a community. Thus, the controlling entity drives it. This is why the world has numerous standards organizations of all shapes and sizes. Open standards define standards that any party can use, can be implemented in a variety of APIs/programming languages and that are evolved and governed by a defined and legally bound community process.

We hate to see good money wasted in IMS – as we work very hard for the membership dues we collect. Wasting of $100-200 million is pretty inexcusable in our world. In fact, it’s very sad to think what good that money could have achieved.

Our sincere hope is that leaders in this sector – including those that had a hand in InBloom– do not hide behind red herrings like privacy issues in one state. Leaders in education need to learn from their mistakes and course correct. The InBloom mistakes were numerous and fundamental – and pretty visible right from the start. What about data privacy, wasn’t that a core issue? We don’t see it that way. The data privacy concern was just a symptom – not the root cause.

While IMS never saw InBloom as a direct competitor, the reality is that in the time it took to spend that $100-200 million on InBloom – IMS continues to grow organically and has issued over 280 conformance certifications for interoperable learning platforms, tools, applications and resources – and is now building data collection capability via open standards (Caliper) into all of these.  Hmmm . . . kind of sounds like a shared learning collaborative of some kind since there are over 240 collaborating organizations in IMS. Investment required to get here: Less than $10 million spread among 240 members.

Interesting contrast in approaches and results.

 

Critical Milestone Met: Conformance Certification by Leading e-Assessment Product Suppliers

Today’s IMS announcement of the first group of winning products and organizations to undergo conformance certifications for QTI and APIP is a very, very big step for e-assessment interoperability worldwide. IMS certification seal

For years, no decades, the majority of e-assessment suppliers worldwide have been riding for free on the back of the IMS Question & Test Interoperability TM (QTI TM) specification. QTI has been a labor of love and importance within IMS and led by organizations such as SURF, JISC, University of Cambridge, ETS, BPS Bildungsportal Sachsen (BPS) and University of Pierre & Marie Curie.

These organizations, other than ETS, are not household names in most of U.S. education sector. But they tirelessly carried the load of developing really the world’s only viable interoperability standard for digital interoperability of tests, test items and associated results.

About two years ago the U.S. decided to invest in the Common Core learning standards for K-12 and also launched the Race-to-the-Top Assessment program to encourage states to cooperate on designing and delivering new electronic assessments in conjunction with the Common Core. Shortly ahead of that IMS collaborated with a group of U.S. states to define an evolution of QTI called APIP TM (Accessible Portable Item Protocol TM)which consists of QTI plus some new features to address requirements for special needs students. And, the Netherlands also began partnering with IMS to develop a countrywide initiative to evolve to e-assessment starting with one particular test (similar to the U.S. SAT or college entrance).

These investments in e-assessment have led to a dramatic rise in participation in QTI and APIP in IMS. If you look at the IMS membership list today it is arguably the who’s who of leading assessment organizations, certainly in the U.S. but also perhaps worldwide. The IMS APIP/QTI work over the last 2 years has been co-chaired by Measured Progress, ETS and Pearson with heavy involvement from McGraw-Hill CTB, ACT, Pacific Metrics, NWEA, Data Recognition Corporation and a variety of other assessment industry heavy weights. And in the Netherlands CITO has been leading the charge.

Life has been good. But market development and adoption of standards is always a kind of “chicken and egg” sort of thing.  As mentioned at the very beginning of this post worldwide assessment suppliers of many stripes had been talking up QTI for a very long time. Problem was that every supplier had their own version of QTI and therefore very little interoperability ensued. As we have discussed in other posts, this type of standardization does not deliver on the actual cost and time reduction that standards need to deliver on in the digital world. If conformance to a standard still requires lots of custom programming to get interoperability, well, then it isn’t a very good standard.

Thus, realizing this issues of “loose standards” running rampant in the ed tech sector the IMS members decided to get serious – and also save themselves lots of time and money in redoing integrations – by implementing IMS conformance certification. As we have discussed elsewhere, IMS conformance certification is not a marketing program (although those that go through it obviously do have the right to market that fact) but more of a “UL certified” designation of getting through a testing program. The conformance certification is much more than a “final test to the specification.” The conformance certification program is actually critical to evolving to the best possible specification for the needs of the marketplace. Typically only by going through the testing can the specification be refined and improved.  IMS has seen this process work over and over again with all our specifications the last several years.

The problem is that many vendors often kind of “hope for a miracle” many times with specifications. They hope that even without going through implementation and testing that magically a specification will work.  I think anyone that has ever developed software and does a little projecting of that experience on to a specification – that essentially must bring together the development process/experience of numerous software products – will realize that a good specification requires development participation and feedback from multiple vendors. The IMS conformance certification process – and ongoing developer community and related specification evolution (we call it an APMG: Accredited Profile Management Group) – is that “hub” where the development experience of the multiple suppliers comes together into a great specification.

It’s really a very simple concept but it is greatly complicated by the realities of new markets and new product development where suppliers are challenged to respond to the needs of their project deliverables and the needs to cooperate on the standards testing and evolution.

All that background so that you know that what IMS announced today, that five leading organizations have now completed conformance certification for APIP/QTI across a range of product types, is a huge step forward for the e-assessment community. By “community” we mean the suppliers and the states and end-users of e-assessments.  In addition to the leadership shown by the suppliers listed in this post, this milestone has required exemplary leadership from the end-user organizations that have been key partners in this, namely Maryland, Minnesota, WIDA, Smarter Balanced and the College Voor Examens Netherlands.

http://www.imsglobal.org/apip/alliance.html

We are still relatively early in the adoption of high quality e-assessment worldwide. But what today’s announcement proves is that leading supplier and end-user organizations can come together to enable all the many benefits of interoperable assessments (for a more detailed discussion of these benefits see What You Need to Know About e-Assessment).

It is now time for those organizations that have either gathered around the IMS QTI/APIP table or been long claiming that they are “conforming” to these standards, to contribute to the community by participating in the conformance certification process.

Today’s announced winners were:

APIP:

Platinum:Educational Testing Service/Computerized Assessments and Learning TOMS v3.0.0.0 PNP system (APIP v1.0 PNP Core Compliant) and Sample Students’ Instances v1.0 (APIP v1.0 PNP Content Core Compliant)

Gold:Pacific Metrics Unity v1.9 (APIP v1.0 PNP Core Compliant, APIP v1.0 Item Test Bank Import Compliant)

Silver:Computerized Assessments and Learning Test Delivery system v2.3 (APIP v1.0 Delivery Entry Compliant)

QTI:

Platinum:BPS Bildungsportal Sachsen GmbH ONYX Testsuite v5.3.1 (QTIv2.1 Authoring Compliant, QTIv2.1 Delivery Compliant, QTIv2.1 Item Test Bank Compliant)

Gold:Northwest Evaluation Association Formative Assessment Item Bank v14.1 (QTI v2.1 Item Test Bank Compliant) and NWEA SCIP v14.1 (QTI v2.1 Content Compliant)

The winners will be honored and presented with their awards during the Learning Impact Awards ceremony at the 2014 Learning Impact Leadership Institute 5-8 May 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA www.imsglobal.org/learningimpact2014/.

Here are some links to addition press releases regarding this important milestone:

ETS Assessment Management System Provides Standardized Platform to Manage Statewide Assessments

Pacific Metrics’ Unity Platform Earns IMS Global Learning Consortium Assessment Conformance Certification

http://www.imsglobal.org/apip/alliance.html

Hap’s Got Apps! FAQ regarding the IMS Connected Learning Innovation Community and Challenge

IMS announced today the winners of our first (of what we expect to be many) annual connected learning innovation challenge (aka app challenge – but this is a bit of a misnomer because the challenge is as much about platforms and tools as apps). And, our eternal hats off to Instructure Canvas for creating the idea for an App Challenge and conducting the first ever last year in conjunction with their annual conference.

We say “Hap’s got apps” because Hap Aziz is the IMS wrangler for this emerging education and learning app community.

Here’s an FAQ about the challenge, including plans going forward.

Q: How many entries and how many winners were there?

A: There were 22 entries and 5 top apps were selected as the winners.

Q: Where can I see the entries and the winners?

A: The winners are summarized in the press release and on the App Challenge Winner web page.  The winners and the other entries are also listed toward the bottom of the LTI certified product web page. You can also sign-up to get the (roughly) monthly CLIC (Connected Learning Innovation Community) newsletter here – which will have features on the winning and other notable apps as well as community news.

http://developers.imsglobal.org/catalog.html

Q: Who chose the winners and how were they chosen?

A: Many thanks to a panel of expert evaluators , primarily institutional leaders, but a few suppliers, who developed a rubric for the evaluation. My understanding is that there was excellent convergence on the winners.

Q: Are these “apps” like the kind of apps available on Google Play or iTunes?

A: No – these IMS app challenge apps are generally a lot better because they are powered with LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). That’s because these are apps that can connect into over 25 different learning environments/platforms including all of the major learning management systems. Thus, these are “cross-platform” apps, unlike Apple or Google apps which generally only work on Apple. Or Google. In addition the IMS app challenge apps exchange highly useful information with the over 25 learning environments/platforms, such as user information, rosters, progress data, etc. So, the IMS app challenge apps are real enterprise learning apps and not the sort of limited individual user apps  people download to their mobile device from PlayStore or iTunes.

Q: “Could” mobile apps such as those downloaded from Google Play or iTunes become IMS LTI Apps?

A: That’s a bit of a complicated question because it involves software architecture and software architecture limitations of the operating systems involved, but the general answer is ‘yes’. The web-hosted “back-end” of mobile apps as well as the apps themselves could potentially leverage LTI (and/or other IMS standards) to connect to learning environments/platforms. To date we have not had any great examples of this but it is only a matter of time before it will happen.

Q: Was there money or other recognition involved in the Challenge?

A: Yes, each of the top five will receive a $1000 prize and also will be recognized at the IMS Learning Impact Leadership Institute May 5-8, 2014 in New Orleans.  There will also be a plenary panel and entire track on connected learning at the event, facilitated by Hap Aziz, with many of the entrants and evaluators as participants.

Q: Where did the money come from?

A:  A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the organizations that were financial supporters of the challenge and community. They made it possible.  Cengage Learning, Ellucian, Follett, Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, Instructure Canvas, McGraw-Hill Education, Oracle, Pearson, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Vital Source.  The initiative requires ongoing support and if your organization would like to sponsor in the future, please contact us at leadingchange@imsglobal.org.

Q: Were you pleased with the quality of the entrants and winners?

A: Very much so. The winners were a mix of small (including tiny) and larger organizations. The top vote getter, Hoot.me, was an extremely innovative combination of the educational enterprise with Facebook. This reflects a trend in which innovative faculty want to take advantage of existing non-educational applications, but couple them with their campus software platforms.  And, all five of the top winners were similarly highly innovative in terms of what they enable faculty, students and/or administrators to do – and that’s what this is all about – making innovation easier!

Q: Isn’t a non-connected app just as innovative?

A: Nice try, but not really. “Innovation” is not just about whether an application is novel.  It also has to be useful (in fact some definitions of the word take into account adoption/usage as a critical aspect of innovation). Apps that are easy to access and use are a lot more useful in the education space than those that aren’t. Having to enter student roster data or having separate logins or going to a different URL for an app is not at all cool. But, more importantly, these extra steps detract from the innovativeness. Faculty and students need to focus on learning and not on configuring software.

Q: Is the IMS Connected Learning Innovation Challenge going to become an annual thing?

A: Yes. We are on an annual schedule of app boot camp for developers at our August quarterly meeting, promotion at Fall EDUCAUSE, promotion at Winter EDUCAUSE ELI and announcement of annual winners during the run-up to the annual Learning Impact event in May.

Q: Is IMS going to do more to make it easier to find apps than the current LTI catalog web page?

A: Yes. The Connected Learning Innovation Community is also sponsoring the Community App Sharing/Store Architecture (CASA) project. Indeed, CASA is more than a whitepaper!  It is open source software that is being developed by a collaborating group of IMS HED institutions, led by UCLA and the University of California System.  CASA is a breakthrough. It’s a peer-to-peer app sharing architecture that will enable institutions or suppliers to partake in a network of  cross-platform educational app sharing. The very first public demonstrations of CASA will occur at the IMS Learning Impact Leadership Institute May 5-8, 2014 in New Orleans. For more background on CASA see this post.

Q: Is the Connected Learning Innovation Community (CLIC) meant to be an open source community?

A: Yes. IMS expects that for those institutions or suppliers that wish to share and collaborate on open source apps, tools or platforms that implement the IMS standards CLIC will evolve into a vibrant software collaboration. We like to say that this is like “an open source community on steroids” because the software developed will run cross-platform. So, whereas the current open source collaborations like Sakai and Moodle have been and will continue to be great, this is a different kind of community that adds a completely new dimension of cross-platform/cross-community.

Q: Where is the K-12 community in this?

A: IMS expects that K-12 institutions and/or states will begin to participate – it’s only a matter of time and resources.  HED has taken the lead here because HED institutions are developing lots of LTI apps on their own. And, HED is more used to these sort of development collaborations. But K-12 is coming.

 

Why Does IMS Global Learning Consortium Publish an Annual Report?

Today IMS released our annual report for the calendar and fiscal year 2013.   See the press release.  See the annual report.

IMS annual report 2013 cover

Producing an annual report is a lot of work – and these days when it seems like very few people have time to read one might ask why do we take the time and effort to do this?

We first published an annual report for the year 2009 – so 2013 is the fifth edition.

IMS annual report 2009 cover

I think there were really two catalysts that got us to publish the report.

The first was that after I came into IMS as the CEO in 2006 it became obvious that not even the Board of Directors much less all stakeholders in IMS were getting accurate financial data and other metrics on the organization. First we corrected the situation for the Board but then the Board also vowed that we should be providing this information to the members and the stakeholders.

The second catalyst was Jan Posten Day, who at the time was with Blackboard, and is now with Pearson. As a member of one of our leadership committees in IMS Jan was adamant that IMS should have an annual report. At the time Jan suggested this we were struggling to keep the organization afloat and I pushed back on the idea because it just seemed like we could not pull it off.  But Jan’s insistence made an impression on myself and the other staff – and I think it was within a year or so that we dug deep and got out the 2009 report.

As you will see in this year’s report, IMS has been growing nicely now for eight consecutive years.

ims growth through 2013

 

In fact, even though there has been quite a bit of churn in the member base over that time, the consistency in the net growth has been a little scary. It’s scary because we have looked long and hard and have not found any other similar growth pattern in organizations similar to IMS. Indeed during this same period most other organizations classified as “standards consortia” have generally been flat to declining. And, if you look at the historical patterns for standards consortia they tend to grow very rapidly when first originated and then flatten or tail off.

So, IMS is an organization in unchartered territory. In my mind it is all about leadership in terms of which way it will go. IMS has provided a viable organization for those organizations, institutions and suppliers, who wish to evolve an unprecedented collaboration to new heights. Or, those afraid of the disruption that IMS is enabling may slow it down. Everyday I see forces on both sides of that equation and think it’s going to be very interesting indeed as we go forward.

However, I assure you that, means willing, IMS will be publishing the report whether or not the results are as rosy as they have been.  Indeed when we began publishing the report we had no idea that the chart data would keep going up for the next 5 years!

But, here’s why I think the report is useful and why you should give it a look:

  1. In one relatively short document you get a full view of the work of IMS – which is not easy to see if you are focused on one or a few IMS initiatives.
  2. You can see how the organization is doing in terms of building momentum and in terms of financial strength.
  3. You can get a great a very summary of the major thrust of IMS and the key initiatives – and a concise commentary on why we are doing what we do.
  4. You can see the individuals and organizations that are leading IMS.
  5. It is a format that can be easily shared with someone else whom you might want to introduce the organization to or update on IMS progress.

IMS architectiure

Hopefully the experience of perusing the report should give you a sense that IMS is indeed a non-profit organization worthy of your support because IMS is changing the education and learning sectors for the better.  And, if you look at the range of initiatives that IMS is undertaking you can feel pride in that your support has made this progress possible. I assure you that without your support this work would not have happened – not only not have happened in IMS, but most likely would not have happened anywhere. IMS is that unique in the leadership and collaboration for progress to the education and learning sectors.

As with most “things IMS” the annual report is a testament to leadership. Not the leadership of the IMS staff, but the leadership of the IMS members, both organizations and individuals (like Jan Day above) who are insistent that we must do better in enabling the next generation of education and learning!

IMS community

 

Does IMS Have a Strategy?

Please excuse the long time since the last blog folks.  IMS is adding a lot of new members and staff supporting an unprecedented array of exciting initiatives – which has kept yours truly very busy the last few months.

We are now in the final push toward our annual Learning Impact event, May 5-8 in New Orleans, USA. While this is also a busy time we’ve got a great chance at the event and before to be talking about where we are and where we are going in IMS. We hope you will join the conversation! Consider this a first installment.

The (perhaps) provocative title of this post is actually one that we are sometimes asked. After all, IMS is very much a “bottoms-up” meritocracy, like many other organizations that develop interoperability standards. Most of the ideas in IMS, and certainly the best ideas, come from the individuals that are participating on behalf of their member organizations.  And, IMS is a true membership organization (legally organized as such) that provides a level playing field for organizations of all sizes – a construct that we think provides a very good structure for what we do as previously described here. So, when the members speak – we listen – and usually act.

IMS does have a strategy. IMS has an elected Board of Directors that helps formulate the strategy. But, the strategy is very organic, flowing and dynamic. New ideas brought forward by the members go through a certain “due diligence” that occurs by putting the idea in front of key stakeholders – those most motivated to act – and adjusting accordingly (including sometimes putting on the shelf until further interest). Having much experience in the venture capital world I will tell you that it is much like the funneling of ideas/business plans that every VC firm goes through in terms of the process of looking at the risks and opportunities involved.

So, the resulting IMS strategy is a function of bubbling up, testing (against the critical concepts of adoption and learning impact) and organizing into something as coherent as we can make it given what is actually happening in the sector and various sub-segments.  And occasionally adding some key missing pieces that for whatever reason have not bubbled up – like for instance members not willing to share in an area that is actually good for them to share.

For several years past this process unfolded into an IMS strategy centered on what we have called the “Digital Learning Services” standards, focused on (but not limited to) Common Cartridge, Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) and Learning Information Services (LIS).

The strategic theory behind the DLS focus was that together these standards would solve a very large percentage of the integration challenges in/with the education enterprise.  And, in fact, while different pieces have evolved and been adopted at differing rates, we think this thesis has largely turned out to be on target.  See the accompanying charts on growth in IMS membership during this strategy and growth more recently in the conformance certifications that are the market adoption proof point.  Notice the 97 certifications in 2013 – almost 2 a week. So far in 2014 we are averaging close to 3 a week. In other words, this strategy is still taking hold, but clearly it is taking hold in a big way!

IMSmembergrowth

 

IMScertgrowth

 

IMSpackagegrowth

 

However, the IMS strategy has definitely shifted beyond DLS in the last year or so. First of all, e-assessment, an area IMS has had some activity in for a long while via QTI (and a subset of which is covered in Common Cartridge) became a hot area. The very simple idea that electronic assessments if done right are much more affordable and scalable than paper assessments coupled with the very obvious idea that there should be open formats to enable the e-assessment ecosystem of suppliers and states has come of age (both in the U.S. and other nations such as the Netherlands). Second, now that the IMS DLS standards are working – radically reducing cost, time, complexity of seamless integration – our attention is naturally now turning to what can be enabled with the standards.

While there may not be complete agreement in the IMS community (given its size and diverse nature) over what we should be enabling with the standards, here are the current thoughts – and thus, the strategy going forward:

  1. The power of LTI (first v1 and now v2) to reduce cost and time of achieving seamless integration by 10-1000x will soon lead to 1-click integration.  IMS-enabled applications will be auto negotiating which IMS services are supported – thus revolutionizing the ease with which standards-based applications will be incorporated into the teaching and learning process.
  2. #1 enabling a very diverse open ecosystem of new types of learning platforms and applications and potentially rearranging the ordering of  integrations – very much an “app to app”  model of cooperation with or without a learning management “system” in the middle.
  3. Merging LTI with the IMS work on student information (LIS) and course planning and scheduling (CPS) exchange to continue to open up the educational enterprise via easy to use standards.
  4. Establishing and growing the “educational app community” – like an open source community on steroids that builds things that work across platforms (the “things” may be open source or not, but there should be tools to enable this that are open source). This is a remarkable new type of community indeed – suppliers and institutions working together across platform – kind of like the worldwide web but focused on the education vertical.
  5. Enabling what most refer to as e-books or e-texts as a highly interoperable format across a wide variety of e-readers/mobile devices for the needs of learning and education.  See EDUPUB.
  6. Making instrumentation / measurement of learning activities easy to enable collection of analytics – big and small data. See Caliper Analytics.
  7. Including everything we’ve learned and are learning about e-assessment across #4-6, meaning that we’ve got the standards to enable innovative assessment apps, enable assessment in e-text and the enable easy instrumentation of assessment in learning platforms and apps (via Caliper and the outcomes standards developed on QTI/APIP).
  8. Utilize the standards to create an open source reference implementation for a peer-to-peer app sharing framework that can be used to do, well, what it says – share apps with trusted partners and encourage using standards to do this – thus, the enabling of a standards-based “app store” or “app sharing” equivalent to iTunes, etc. See CASA.

Perhaps though, most importantly, IMS is making great progress with our end-user/institutional led groups to ensure that all of these initiatives are in fact getting them where they want to go.  Our K-12 district advisory board (I3LC) continues to grow and our new HED connected learning advisory board is shepherding the app community, the app sharing architecture, analytics and competency-based learning initiatives.

Hopefully you will see the evolution of the IMS strategy in the above. The IMS community is making change happen in some very substantial ways and I invite you to partake at the May 5-8 Learning Impact event – where the breakout tracks mirror the strategy areas above and the plenary sessions undertake the broader discussion  of “why” we are doing this in terms of the emergent models of education that we wish to enable.

IMSLearningImpact

2013 LIA Report

How is the IMS Learning Impact Report different than the Horizon Report?

Today IMS Global announced the release of the Learning Impact Report. The Learning Impact report endeavors to provide an analysis of the winners of the IMS Learning Impact Awards (LIAs).   The LIAs have been an annual global competition since 2007. However, this is only the 2nd report – the first was a brief summary analysis released in 20102013 LIA Report.

As opposed to awards for the latest and greatest products the LIAs are based on evaluation of use of technology “in context” at an institution, a state, or sometimes across an entire nation or continent. The context provides evidence across eight dimensions of impact that experts use to provide ratings that are used to select the winners.  The judges select the winners – IMS does not. The idea behind the analysis provided in the Learning Impact report is that by looking across the winners in the current year, as well as historically, can provide some insight into the types of projects, initiatives, and R&D that is having impact or impact potential.

The other important factor to understand is that IMS as an organization has over 15 years of history of being on the leading edge on pretty much every type of educational technology, including learning management, e-portfolio, e-assessment,  learning design, etc.  Thus the entries are somewhat over representative of developments ahead of the general market.

The net-net of these factors is that we thought that there might be some interesting information  obtained by looking across the medal winners and the finalists (those selected to come to the Learning Impact conference to be considered for a medal). It is certainly very interesting to simply attempt to ascertain the high impact “project categories” – which we had to develop ourselves by looking across the nominations (as the submitters did invent these project categories nor were they asked to submit in a project category).

We are hoping now to be able to release the Learning Impact report annually, largely because of the institutional leadership behind it (please contact me if interested in becoming involved in the annual report).

Even though I feel that the above explanation is fairly obvious with respect to the uniqueness of what the Learning Impact Awards focus on, I wanted to provide here a bit of an excerpt from the Learning Impact report that helps explain how it is different from probably the widest read report on new technologies in the education space, namely the Horizon Report.  Here is that excerpt:

In terms of comparison to other reports there may be a temptation to compare the Learning Impact Report to the annual Horizon Report(s), of which there are K-12, HED and regional editions. However, because the Learning Impact Report takes the approach of focusing on project types rather than attempting to identify specific technologies and their adoption timeframes (as is the nature of the Horizon Report), the two reports are quite complementary.  The reader of this report and any version of the Horizon Report can draw their own conclusions by comparing and contrasting the information provided. To illustrate, the following bullets are a couple of examples of how this Learning Impact Report could potentially help clarify technologies placed in the “one year or less” time to adoption horizon from the 2013 Horizon Report.

  • Massively Open Online Courses: The Learning Impact analysis would see MOOCs as a type of “Blended Learning Optimization” project. As shown in Figure 3A, these types of projects have not yet achieved mainstream effectiveness in the opinion of IMS. That does not mean that there is not a particular instance of a MOOC that has been effective. What it does mean is that from IMS’s perspective, based on the cumulative evidence, the widespread, high impact adoption of projects in this category is not apparent in the near term. Thus, we would potentially modify the Horizon Report’s findings by pointing out that (a) there are many variations of the Blended Learning Optimization concept that institutions should be considering depending on their goals (some examples of which are given in this report), and (b) these are not easy projects to implement at this point in time.
  • Tablet Computing: Tablets have definitely exploded onto the education scene. From IMS’s perspective we ask if indeed they are being leveraged to improve Learning Impact? In the 2010 Learning Impact Report we identified the category of Mobile Learning Resources as being in its early stages. However, in the current report we have eliminated that category because literally all other project categories need to in some way encompass the requirements of mobile devices. IMS has also seen some very innovative and high scoring projects that have had tablets as a primary platform, some of which are now appearing in the Platform Innovation category, but may also appear in other categories depending on the project focus. However, improving Learning Impact specifically from the deployment of tablets typically requires an adjustment of teaching and learning models as well as technology being integrated in new ways. Therefore, we have primarily seen pilot projects that require substantial resources to put in place. Thus IMS would conclude that while tablets are a given, achieving substantial impact requires further development.

Finally, it should also be noted that in the production of this report IMS takes advantage of a unique viewpoint of the educational technology landscape facilitated by a flourishing collaboration among many of the world’s leading educational technology providers and institutions occurring in IMS’s many face-to-face meetings worldwide.

To enter the Learning Impact Awards competition look here.

IMS: Enabling innovative new products

One of the great things about the annual EDUCAUSE conference is hearing the many stories about how IMS standards have enabled innovative new software applications to easily integrate into the educational enterprise. You might think that IMS knows everything about every application of IMS standards. I’d estimate that we typically know about 1/3 of what is actually occurring “out there” – just based on some off the cuff measurement by how often we are surprised or not surprised by something we hear about.  The very weird thing is that sometimes the things we don’t hear about are really big adoptions of IMS.

Anyway, please let us know what you are doing so we can help get the word out!

Ray Henderson has recently posted this blog: My Investment Thesis for IN THE TELLING about a start-up he has invested in called “In the Telling.” As you can “tell” by the name the product has something to do with “stories.”  The more mundane name for what is being offered here is “flipped classroom” – use the out of class time to watch the lectures, use the in the class time for more meaningful interaction.

Problem is that getting students to do anything out of class is a challenge these days. So, In the Telling provides a unique approach that helps the instructor create a story with narration. In essence they are creating a documentary of sorts that is more compelling than a simple lecture.

I have not seen any of the output of In the Telling yet – but the idea is very intriguing.  As someone who has bought more than my share of “great lectures” on various media in which I never made it past the first 30 minutes . . . well, I think better ways to teach is what we need to be investing in.

But, the crowning achievement with respect to IMS comes in the following words from Ray’s blog:

COMPATIBLE WITH ALL MODERN LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS: The Company designed their solution assuming that the launch point for most learner experiences would begin within an LMS. This is, after all, the way most assignments are made. The platform is built using the IMS Global’s open standard for systems integration—Learning Tool Interoperability or “LTI”—which most modern LMS platforms now natively support. Students can initiate sessions with the platform just as they might with any other assignment, and the same basic usage statistics recorded by the LMS are preserved.

IMS is very proud to be a part of enabling the rapid rise of innovation in the edtech community!

 

IMS: from 10-100x Revolution to Connected Learning Innovation Challenge!

Today, in preparation for EDUCAUSE 2013 in Anaheim next week IMS has announced the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge!

The Connected Learning Innovation Challenge will feature IMS’s first ever “app challenge” and the establishment of a community of institutional and industry leaders that want to be at the forefront of encouraging a much more diverse and innovative future for educational technology – in real practice at real institutions – not as hype, but as tools that support what teachers and students want to do within the academic enterprise. Note: Kudos and salutations to Instructure Canvas to organizing the first ever LTI app challenge last May-June!

The motivation for the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge is described in a just released EDUCAUSE Review article, A New Architecture for Learning,  that I was fortunate enough to be able to collaborate on with Malcolm Brown, head of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative and Jack Suess, VP of IT and CIO at University of Maryland Baltimore County. The article talks about what we as an educational community need to do to enable greater innovation in the connected age and introduces an unprecedented commitment of cooperation among some of education’s leading associations to help make it happen.

1 of 3 IMS Revolution Banners at EDUCAUSE 12

IMS Revolution Banner at EDUCAUSE 12

Last year at EDUCAUSE 2012 we introduced the IMS 10-100x Open Digital Innovation Revolution.  Is the revolution over? Just the opposite my friends – the revolution is burning like wildfire across K-20 education.  As of EDUCAUSE 2012 there were a cumulative 126 IMS conformance certifications. Going into EDUCAUSE 2013 that number is 210! Holy Toledo!  All conformance certifications are listed on IMSCERT.org.  It took roughly 3 years to achieve 126, but in the last year 84 new conformance certifications were achieved! And, the LTI catalog keeps growing – there are about 20 certified platforms now and a myriad of tools/apps.

So, how does the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge relate to the IMS Revolution? The “revolution” is like the paving of the road. As more platforms and applications are based on open standards and can work together with 10-100x less integration cost and time than before, well, then a lot more attention can be put into innovative vehicles to use the roads!  So, the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge – CLIC – is the logical evolution of the revolution –  focusing on what most people care about: great technology that can support or enhance teaching and learning.

To help understand CLIC, or to explain it to your colleagues, I’d like to provide the following talking points from my perspective (you can also visit the CLIC web pages here):

1. CLIC is about institutions working together to figure out how to enable and sustain support for a diverse set of teaching and learning applications (or non-educational apps favored by faculty and students) that can no longer take 6 months to happen. Thus, CLIC is a collaboration to make something happen that many are institutions currently trying to do on their own – but makes more sense to work on collectively.

2. CLIC will accomplish #1 through a few very targeted outputs/activities:

  • Competitions to identify and financially reward innovative apps and platforms supporting connected learning
  • Open source sharing community for sharing things that submitters and/or institutions wish to share, such as tools, frameworks, apps, app gateways, etc. Open source “things” built on standards can be utilized cross platform – so, this is the first ever cross-platform open source initiative anywhere!
  • A facilitated leadership community via listservs and newsletters to keep all interested parties abreast of the happenings, organize the core advocacy/leadership and enable organic growth. There will be app evaluation activities and other community milestones. As an example of organic growth, whereas IMS will be conducting large-scale challenges we will encourage regional/institutional level challenges in conjunction with tech fairs institutions or others may already be conducting.

3. CLIC is NOT an IMS membership program. To lead, support or follow CLIC your organization does not need to be an IMS member. I’m sure lots of IMS member organizations will be supporting CLIC, and, of course the IMS members made all this possible. But, think of CLIC more like the original IMS initiative organized by EDUCAUSE back in the mid-1990’s. CLIC is a collaboration to make something happen without having a whole lot of formality behind it at the start other than the activities themselves. IMS has the chops to facilitate this, but we want it to go in the direction that the institutional leaders who get involved want to take it in terms of something more formal (or not).

Now, I’m going to say right now, from day one, that getting the most out of CLIC for the educational community will take leadership from institutions. Educators and their institutions are going to transform education with innovative technologies – and the CLIC community should be very productive for those wanting to help lead that charge. IMS can facilitate CLIC and put some legs underneath it – but we need institutional leadership, guidance, ideas and resources in terms of time and even financial contributions for those institutions that can. The other nice thing that IMS can bring is a way to sustain and continue the progress that CLIC makes.  IMS is a solid organization that has a track record of sustaining and evolving innovative technical work even as leadership is handed off and evolved among institutions and suppliers. If you represent an institutional interest in CLIC, I hope you will consider becoming an institutional advocate as some of your peers are – and we are very thankful indeed – we should really be able to get 100 institutional advocates for CLIC!

Finally, if you have not had a chance yet to view the short 3-minute video compilation of comments from Dr. Charles Severance of University of Michigan describing some of the motivations behind CLIC I highly encourage you to go to the CLIC landing page and view the video in the top left corner!