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Learning Impact Blog


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

IMS open standards in educational technology are all about enabling innovation. Innovation means diversity.

Never was that more apparent than on February 5, 2013 at the annual EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference, where to a packed room representatives from UMass Online, Lone Star College Online and University of Michigan described how they were each leveraging IMS standards. For those that could not attend the proceedings have been captured in a just released EDUCAUSE Blog post.

Collaboration Enables Next-Generation Digital Learning

Each of the three institutions are providing leadership in addressing how technology can be better utilized to enable teachers and students. By taking advantage of the IMS standards as a core element in providing these solutions, these institutions are collaborating and reinforcing each other's progress - even though they are all addressing different areas of innovation. Similarly they are collaborating with a very wide range of suppliers who are using and advancing the same standards. Being part of a worldwide community without having to even know who the other participants are (just as happened in the development and growth of the worldwide web) and how they are all improving the future of education is pretty cool!  This is the 10-100x factor in education we call the IMS Open Digital Innovation Revolution.

Come to Learning Impact, May 13-16 3013 in San Diego and join the revolution!

 
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Investing in a Digital Curriculum Evolution Strategy

In part I of this series, Introduction to the spectrum of approaches to evolving to digital curriculum that we are seeing in the marketplace, we described 5 potential benefits of evolving to digital curriculum. We also described a spectrum of approaches that we are seeing in the marketplace to moving the needle to more digital options for teachers and students.

In part II, The Importance of Interoperability in Achieving the Potential Advantages of Digital Curriculum, we described in more detail the importance of interoperability standards in achieving the 5 potential benefits of digital curriculum. The net-net being that unless evolution to digital is based on widely adopted interoperability standards that the digital future is not clearly better than the paper textbook world of today. It may be more fun – but it won’t be better in terms of actually achieving the potential advantages of digital curriculum or evolving to more effective instruction. To help districts and states evolve to digital curriculum and associated delivery platforms based on open interoperability standards, IMS has published a policy note providing RFP language guidance for digital applications and content: Open-Standards Requirements for Digital Content and Application Integration with Enterprise Learning Platforms.

In this part III we’d like to circle back to the spectrum of approaches to digital evolution discussed in part I looking through the lens of “What strategy is going to give most bang for the buck both near term and longer term?After all, every step that a state authority or local authority takes is an investment of precious time and resources - which cannot afford to be wasted. The spectrum is visualized in the following diagram:

 

Each of the three strategies that are illustrated along the spectrum has their strengths and weaknesses, summarized here:

Strategy Major Strength Major Weakness
PDF or e-texts versions of books Potential for cost reduction while retaining familiar textbook model of instruction Lack of innovation, personalization and interactivity
Digital curriculum toolkit Puts onus on digital curriculum suppliers to provide coherent collections of digital assets that are teacher/student friendly Requires evolution to teaching, learning and institutional processes that enable personalized and experiential learning to obtain full benefit
Digital learning objects in the sky Google search is already what everyone does in all aspects of life, why not education? Difficult/time consuming to achieve coherence of instructional materials or the instructional experience

 

 

 

What strategy makes the most sense?  Well, the reality is that all three strategies are going to occur just because they are all options that are out there.  However, we think there is an obvious better choice both now and into the foreseeable future – and that is the “digital curriculum toolkit” strategy.

Why does the digital curriculum toolkit strategy make the most sense? The digital curriculum toolkit is the only strategy that attempts to improve instruction in a realistic manner. Why?

  1. It is much more likely that coherent digital curriculum that can be personalized will come through a combination of working with trusted suppliers/sources combined with institutional created content (noting that his latter category may include some of what comes from the Learning Objects in the Sky).
  2. As discussed in Part II actually achieving the 5 potential advantage/benefits of evolving to digital curriculum requires going substantially beyond the “PDF or e-text versions of books” strategy (even though some resources of those types could clearly become part of the digital curriculum toolkit strategy).
  3. The digital curriculum toolkit strategy seems to fit the “way institutions/states in K-12 do business” in terms of working with trusted providers and taking responsibility for curriculum (albeit that as noted in the above table, to achieve full benefit a concerted effort to evolve instruction to more personalized and experiential models will be required).

If you are in the U.S. you are seeing a huge amount of investment from the Gates Foundation, CCSSO and the U.S. Department of Education in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). So, it might be natural to ask,

“Won’t the Common Core provide the glue that will enable any and all of the three strategies?”

To this we would answer that we are hopeful that it might help, but realistically it is not going to be the panacea that everyone is hoping for. Here are the reasons why the Common Core will not radically change things:

  1. No one can be sure that the Common Core will work. There is already a huge amount of deviation occurring and, some are saying that it is not implementable.
  2. The Common Core, while potentially a positive step for U.S. education, is at best still a “driving while looking in the rear view mirror” approach to educational reform (the Common Core approach largely copies what some other countries have been doing for years).
  3. One can make a very good case that to fully actualize the goals of the Common Core that instruction must be radically evolved to a much more interdisciplinary, experiential approach to learning – and in doing so the Common Core (or any agreed upon set of learning standards for math and language) becomes a relatively small (while potentially important) part of the solution.
To that 3rd point, the IMS Instructional Innovation through Interoperability Leadership Council (I3LC) of school districts and states has recently published a position paper that attempts to put some of the myriad projects and investments made in the last few years in the U.S. by the Gates Foundation into perspective. These initiatives include the Learning Registry (initially funded by the U.S. government, later by Gates), LRMI (Learning Resource Metadata Initiative) and SLC (Shared Learning Collaborative), now InBloom. These projects all share the notion that learning objects or progress can be referenced back to a common set of educational standards, and are generally complimentary, and perhaps even dependent upon success of the Common Core.
 
 
The paper may be viewed as controversial in some circles because it clearly concludes that despite the huge investments from the Gates Foundation in the combined set of projects that they will not enable districts to support evolution to effective instructional reform. In the terms of this blog series, this is because the Gates investments are largely focused on enabling the “learning objects in the sky” strategy. While those investments may indeed help lead the way to enabling that alternative – in which case the Gates Foundation can point to a meaningful contribution – they are not focused on the most relevant strategy: the digital curriculum toolkit.
 
That’s the potentially “bad news.” The potentially “good news” is that organizations such as IMS can work pragmatically across the membership to help “bridge” these strategies. Metadata and federated search are great examples of areas in which the IMS membership will be working pragmatically to make the various marketplace pieces fit.  What pieces need to fit? Here is a diagram excerpted from the position paper.

 

The Importance of Interoperability in Achieving the Potential Advantages of Digital Curriculum

In part I of this blog series on Evolving to Digital Curriculum we covered five potential benefits of digital materials and the spectrum of approaches we are seeing in the marketplace for enabling more digital options for teachers and students.

In part II we will address the roles and importance of interoperability standards in the evolution to digital curriculum. We also discuss a common sense ordering of "putting standards in place" based on feedback from the market.

Now, when we say “standard” we could mean a lot of things, as standards in their best sense mean a voluntary collaboration among education community participants on the technical approach to interoperability as well as a fair/neutral decision-making process. However, the following paragraphs are just as relevant if what we mean by an interoperability standard is one agreed upon way for two applications to exchange information necessary for those applications to work together in well-defined way (in comparison to multiple and diverse ways to accomplish essentially the same thing).

Here is our explanation of the critical role of interoperability standards in evolving to digital curriculum, specifically with respect to achieving the five potential benefits outlined in part I.

  1. Potentially lower cost. Some people seem to think that all digital learning materials should be free because the distribution costs of an additional copy (once the digital version has already been produced) are essentially zero. A very small zealot group of “free software” advocates have come to the same conclusion regarding software. However, for those of us that live in the real world and want to see higher and higher quality digital products, it is very obvious that digital materials will still have a cost associated with them – and the price will be market-driven – meaning it may be lower, or may even be higher than today’s printed books. Regardless, it is very clear that having to reformat digital learning into a wide array of formats to run a wide variety of devices and software platforms (e.g. Apple, Google, Amazon, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Instructure, Moodle, Pearson, Global Scholar) will add cost to the production equation. Even if the set of options in the education space were limited and static this is a daunting situation. It even becomes a “competitive” situation where content providers try to “be the first to market” on newer and sexier platforms with large market share. While this may all seem “fun” to the end users the reality here is that the dollars spent on essentially reformatting and recoding are dollars NOT spent on creating better learning materials. And, the cost of having to deal with the diverse platforms is shifted to the end-users (teachers and students) and the IT departments who must figure out how to equitably support BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology). Unless innovative digital learning experiences are easy to support in the educational context, well, they just won’t get incorporated. Thus, the critical need for interoperability between content and platforms to help remove the cost associated with platform diversity is very clear. While the worldwide web interoperability standards (such as HTML 5 managed by the W3C) and browsers (as the ‘platforms’) go a long way to providing content interoperability, they are lacking with respect to some key additional constructs used frequently in education, but rarely in the generic worldwide web (such as assessment).
  2. More interactive and engaging. It has been very encouraging and exciting to see exciting new learning innovations each year as finalists in the IMS Learning Impact Awards, such as game-based learning, adaptive tutors, social learning and simulations. Some of the most innovative applications come from small start-ups with very limited resources. Unless innovative digital learning experiences are easy for IT, teachers and students, as well as suppliers, to integrate into the educational context, well, they just won’t get incorporated. The hurdles that get in the way are multiple logins, manual transfer of enrollment information, passing of other parameters that enable students to interact in the right groups and so on. If every application and platform accomplishes these integrations with their own APIs (Application Program Interfaces) – all of which evolve over time – well, its difficult to get any reasonable number of tools integrated in the first place, much less maintained over the years. Most IT departments at even well-funded institutions struggle with care and feeding of 3-5 integrations. Therefore, there is a very obvious and critical need for interoperability standards to make “plug and play” of innovative digital tools and learning experiences easy.
  3. More personalized and accessible.  The popular idea of “learning objects” – meaning chunks of content or learning experiences – that can be delivered at the right place and the right time, is not new. This has been the primary objective that people have been envisioning with the explosion of the Internet/worldwide web, as well as before with CBT (computer based training). In fact there have been many products over the last 20 years that have focused on this approach – with adaptive tutors/homework applications perhaps now becoming the most successful in the education context (while still penetrating only a relatively small percentage of the market). The goal is personalized learning. However, in order for this to work when more than one content/application provider/source is involved requires a lot of interoperability to make finding the right resource at the right time tractable for teachers or students. First of all, for highly relevant objects to be “found” there needs to be some agreement on the metadata used to search for them. This metadata not only describes the content, but also potentially the state/progress of student learning, so that the two can be compared. Now, once the right object is found there are potentially the same integration issues as detailed in (1) and (2) above. The other very important aspect of personalization is accessibility. Not only do students have preferences for how they can best learn digitally (audio vs. visual, font size and type, etc.) but the exploding use of a rapidly evolving array of tablet devices both mean that alternative representations of learning objects that fit the user and usage are required. Without interoperability standards to enable user preferences and platform versatility, the development of content and apps becomes much more expensive than today’s printed books.
  4. Producing usable data. As mentioned in (3), a primary foundation of achieving personalized learning digitally is the need to describe student progress. The concept of progress is often thought of as a learner profile and the potential prescribed paths are often referred to as learning maps. As with (3), if the application is completely self-contained and does not provide data to other applications then interoperability is not required. However, if it is desired to have multiple content/applications/assessments work together to help teachers and students, then interoperability standards for activities, outcomes, learner profiles and learning maps become critical. While one can certainly conceive of a data warehouse with a huge amount of data not complying to any standard, the degree to which aspects of student progress can be agreed upon can potentially be more actionable. Of course, this is the goal for standardized testing and other forms of assessment.
  5. Easier to transport. One laptop or notebook computer certainly weighs less and takes less space than multiple paper textbooks. But, if we put all of the learning materials into an accepted format, such as PDF, this would allow us to eliminate the books without making any progress on potential benefits (2), (3) or (4). Worse yet, it is entirely possible that the teacher, student and IT department could end up having to deal with a myriad of platforms (because not all apps and content run on all platforms) AND textbooks. Yikes! More cost, more weight, more space. Thus, an absence of interoperability standards could  and probably is resulting in the worse possible scenario for students, teachers and institutions.
Now, since relatively little interoperability as required for personalized digital learning per the above exists today in the marketplace, a natural question to ask is “where is the best place to start?” Another way to ask this question is “what needs to come first in order to enable evolution over time to personalized digital learning?”
The method for determining such things in IMS is to start multiple threads of action and see which ones the market adopts first. Absent of third-party incentives (such as grants that favor one priority over another) the education community participants are pretty smart about building their future. It is very difficult to achieve market adoption of a “standard” when there is large diversity and competition among approaches. In such cases it is better to consider early developments as potential input to the standards process – rather than as a standard.
The good news is that the answer is clear based on actual market activity. In recent years, the IMS community has overwhelmingly adopted standards that provide basic plumbing to enable learning platforms, content and applications to “plug and play.” These are the standards in IMS known as Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), Common Cartridge and Learning Information Services (LIS). In addition, IMS members are adopting Question & Test Interoperability (QTI) and the Accessible Portable Item Protocol (APIP) for providing interoperability of assessments (Note: Common Cartridge also includes a version of QTI and APIP is based on the Common Cartridge structure - so we have consistency in standards approach across learning and assessment resources). These standards are the simple "glue" that enable a seamless experience for the users, while dramatically reducing the time and cost of integration and upkeep (by a factor of 10-100x).
"Linked content" is a very popular form of interoperability that applies to hosted content, tools, simulations, adaptive tutors, games
Using this collection of standards – which IMS calls the Digital Learning Services (DLS) Standards – content and apps are plugging into institutional systems like never before. Over 150 certifications for plug and play have been issued to date – all is the last few years – and accelerating today.
For those institutions, states, districts worldwide that wish to take advantage of the progress IMS has achieved in market adoption of these standards, especially those wanting to put in place a strong foundation for digital curriculum and personalized digital learning, IMS has recently released a document that describes how to specify requirements for digital content and applications based on open standards. Please read the press release and the documentOpen-Standards Requirements for Digital Content and Application Integration with Enterprise Learning Platforms and let us know if you have any questions! We are pleased to help all institutions and states evolve to open standards.
Does this mean that IMS is ignoring the other areas such as outcomes data, analytics, profiles or learning maps? Absolutely not. IMS has been active in these areas for years and is in the process of rolling these out at market speed, using the DLS standards as the backbone.  The prioritization comes around supporting key market drivers, such as support for the U.S. Common Core State Standards, the rise of e-textbooks, the need for federated search (as integration of multiple products grows), etc. IMS members that are experts and experienced market participants in each area are driving each area – and these requirements are addressed in incremental/evolved versions of the specifications. Such evolution also allows for region specific variations, as depending on the interoperability area, there can be some significant diversity. This is of course less true in the plumbing layer.
In the next installment, part III, we will address the spectrum of three scenarios for evolving to a digital learning ecosystem. Whereas the discussion above and RFP guidance that IMS has produced will help you regardless of which of the scenarios you chose, there is a clearly preferred approach that makes sense for today and probably the next 5-10 years. Perhaps surprisingly, our view is VERY different than what is being encouraged by huge investment from the Gates Foundation in projects like LRMI (Learning Resource Metadata Initiative) and SLC (Shared Learning Collaborative) / InBloom.  We will explain in part III.
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Introduction to the spectrum of approaches to evolving to digital curriculum that we are seeing in the marketplace

Many state level education authorities, local education authorities and colleges/universities are looking at accelerating the movement towards digital curriculum materials.  This is because digital materials have many potential advantages. Among these are:

  1. Potentially lower cost than printed textbooks because there are potential savings in the printing and distribution.
  2. More interactive and engaging student experience as digital curriculum can potentially be much more interactive and up-to-date than printed materials.
  3. More personalized and accessible in that digital materials can be chunks of content or applications that go directly at a perceived gap in competency or an alternative learning style or a preferable set of user delivery preferences.
  4. Producing data usable by the teacher and student in that digital materials can assess student progress and identify potential gaps via digital assignments, quizzes, etc.
  5. Easier to transport in that digital materials of almost unlimited volume can be carried on a tablet or laptop or even a mobile phone.

In a separate post we have described this evolution from the printed textbook as needing more of a digital toolkit that is easy for faculty to make use of on a student-by-student basis.

We feel that the digital toolkit metaphor is the right one to latch on to if you want to get this right. In fact, it is critical to actualizing the benefits listed above. This is because we see much misguided effort going into two other alternatives that are on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of the approach.  The approaches are illustrated in the following diagram.

At the very “basic” level of going digital there is the PDF (non-reflowable digital book) or e-text (such as Kindle or Nook) version of a textbook approach. The advantage of this approach is that it is very consistent with well-understood textbook-based models of instruction. The disadvantage is that it only addresses “lower cost” and “easier to transport.” The other major issue with this approach is that many of the mobile readers each have their own proprietary platform formats.  This includes the proprietary standalone app formats of Apple devices. In other words, support across a range of platforms is a major issue with anything other than static PDF. And static PDF is not usable across all screen sizes – that is, a printed textbook is generally better.

At the very other end of the spectrum is what we affectionately term “learning objects in the sky” approach. This is a very advanced vision of being able to find, mix & match instructional materials from all over the web. This is not a new vision at all. The reason we have affection for this idea is that IMS has been involved in working to enable this vision since 1995.  There has been a lot of well-intentioned investment in this vision – and there is a new wave of such activities today that are attracting quite a bit of buzz. One is the Learning Registry – that has been funded by the U.S. Government and the Gates Foundation. Another is LRMI (Learning Resource Metadata Initiative) funded by the Gates Foundation. And, the Shared Learning Collaborative, now InBloom, again, funded by the Gates Foundation.  While IMS completely agrees with the learning object vision, the fatal flaw has been the ability of these “found materials” to fit together and thus produce a better instructional experience. There are numerous other issues associated with achieving this vision – none of which have been adequately addressed by the new initiatives. We will cover these in more depth in future installments. The bottom line is that whereas this approach has great aspirations to achieve the interactive/engaging, personalized experience and usable data benefits listed above, the current implementations are far from overcoming the large obstacles to getting there.

In the middle is the digital toolkit idea. This is where the productive activity is today. The approach fundamentally is about selecting digital material suppliers (commercial, OER, whatever works) that are carefully selected to be complementary to the instructional approach desired, ability to provide the data desired to students & teachers, and ability to easily work in a coordinated fashion with the other sources selected. Based on our interactions with both buyers and sellers, while there are still many issues that need to be worked out to get to this more modest goal (versus the learning object in the sky), that it is a more pragmatic approach with a higher probability of getting to all five potential benefits above.

In the next two installments we will discuss some specifics regarding the types of content interoperability that must be supported to achieve the five potential benefits of evolving to digital and the perennial issue of metadata (needed to describe and thus search for learning resources). Also, we will review some RFP guidance, policy and analysis papers as they are released in next couple of weeks.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post provided by Patrick Laughran of Framingham State University.

Framingham State University is ready to put the Learning Information Services (LIS v 2.0) specification to the test as the next step toward fulfilling a commitment to adopt the IMS Global Learning Consortium open interoperability standards.  The target implementation will be integration between Blackboard Learn (hosted and managed remotely by Blackboard) and Banner (hosted and managed locally by Framingham State).  The objective is to more efficiently enable combined uses of educational technology that rely on the import and export of student information without the need for custom system integrations that inhibit innovation and are costly to implement.  The hope is that this first LIS integration will be followed by others in order to meet the growing demand for easier and more cost efficient ways to merge complementary content and services from third party providers within a coherent user experience that depends on the exchange of data with the University’s student information system.   Learning Information Services is a specification that maps the exchange of data between student information systems and educational software or services for the management of information about people, courses, groups, memberships and outcomes.  LIS was developed as an open industry standard by members of the non-profit IMS Global Learning Consortium.  It is based on six services that can be used individually or in combination:

  1. The “Bulk Data Exchange Management Service” provides for the transfer and batch processing of data in order to initialize the exchange of information between a system of record and one or more educational resources and is used to keep them synchronized.  This includes support for the data models from each of the other five other services.
  2. The “Group Management Service” provides management and manipulation of organizational structures, and other group structures, through the exchange of data about those structures.
  3. The “Membership Management Service” provides management and manipulation of enrollment in courses, and other activities, through the exchange of data about those memberships.
  4. The “Course Management Service” provides management and manipulation of course structure information through the exchange of data about courses.
  5. The “Person Management Service” provides management and manipulation of information about people through the exchange of data about participants.
  6. The “Outcomes Management Service” provides management and manipulation of results information, from grade books etc., through the exchange of data about outcomes.

Obviously, the University needs to maintain or improve the existing integration between Blackboard and Banner which already works to most people’s satisfaction (albeit with room for improvement).  In other words, it is essential that Framingham State’s adoption of the Learning Information Services specification not “break” anything or degrade functionality as compared to what exists now.

Here are the gating factors:

Gating Factor #1:  Verify Conformance to Specification and Sufficiency of Implementation

Blackboard Learn and Banner must be equally conformant with the LIS v 2.0 specification in order to meet the minimum criteria for a successful implementation as defined above.  In addition, whether or not Blackboard Learn and Banner provide adequate service call support at the current time also needs to be verified.  The extent of conformance and service call support will hopefully prove to be a sufficient match to Framingham State’s integration requirements. The IMS Global Learning Consortium provides a testing and certification program for suppliers - and they list the suppliers & specific products that have achieved certification on their web site  imscert.org. Ensuring that all vendors have achieved IMS LIS v2.0 conformance certification will greatly reduce the cost of implementation and integration at Framingham State because they have gone through this rigorous interoperability testing witnessed by the neutral IMS Global. IMS also provides problem resolution services for certified products - so this is about as good go a guarantee as an institution can get to make sure the integration will work!

Gating Factor #2:  Test Target Implementation and Verify it Works

Once the degree to which both systems are conformant is determined, and whether or not mutually supported service calls meet Framingham State’s required functionality, thorough testing of the target implementation of LIS will be required to verify everything actually works as specified.  (Framingham State has test environments for both a remotely hosted Blackboard Learn and locally hosted Banner instance to use for this purpose).

A team of people from Blackboard, Ellucian, Framingham State University and other members of the IMS Global Learning Consortium are actively engaged in taking LIS from a roadmap to an open roadway of interoperability.  This first blog post will be followed by others to chronicle the journey, and (more importantly) help the many who follow by providing insights and guidance.    

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Recently IMS published a position paper entitled, “Evolving Personalized Learning: Maximizing K12 Expenditures to Support Instructional Reform”  authored by Don Manderson of Escambia County School District, Florida. Don is a member of the advisory board of the IMS I3LC (Instructional Innovation through Interoperability Leadership Council), which was set up by IMS for school districts and states around the world to collaborate in leading the effective application of technology to K12. Here are the key takeaways from the paper - and below some introduction on how this relates to the global race to the top in education.

As we often discuss in IMS, the U.S. Department of Education initiated “Race to the Top” program has a very relevant name. While those in the U.S. might think of RTTT as a program to incentivize U.S. states to achieve instructional reform, the more significant “race to the top” is in terms of the global economy: the race among nations to compete more effectively and therefore prosper in the knowledge age.

However, at issue is how will reaching the top be measured? Well, certainly fixing the leaks in the pipeline of students who do not graduate at each level is one indicator. Another typical measure is scores on various standardized assessments. Unfortunately for the U.S. test scores and graduation rates relative to other countries have fallen dramatically over the last couple of decades.

The U.S. is investing heavily in the Race to the Top Assessment Program with the hope of achieving more authentic assessment that encourages more effective instruction – with the goal of improving the pipeline and scores – something that the previous U.S. government program “No Child Left Behind” failed at miserably.

However, the U.S. and every other nation need to carefully assess for itself what measures will really define “the top” as it relates to leading in the increasingly global and competitive world economy.  What really matters in terms of global economic success and what does that imply for what a system of education can deliver? Not all educational experts are onboard with the theory that maximizing test scores should be the goal. For example, Yong Zhao, an educational scholar (and keynote speaker/panelist at IMS Learning Impact 2013 in San Diego, May 13-16) has conducted research that leads to the conclusion that it is  other factors that matter more, namely fostering diversity of talents, creativity, entrepreneurship, and passion.

The key point is that the global race to the top is as much about understanding what are the salient attributes of getting to the top as it is anything else. And, from my travels around the world I think it is safe to say that no country has figured this out yet. One common theme around the world: the need to move to personalized learning - something in IMS we often call closed-loop learning - because personalization requires feedback and adaptation.

Personalized Learning = Closed-Loop Learning

Something the U.S. education system appears to have going for it is the acceptance of a diversity in approaches to “a better education.”  The challenge with diversity is that it does not scale. Many points of light do not necessarily lead to a beacon of change. We see this in spades in education. There is no shortage of examples: really effective innovation here and there. But, if innovation is based on a particular teacher or a particular local approach, does it scale? Does grant funding of individual points of light create innovation that scales? I think history indicates that the answer is no, or at least very slow.

Therein lies the potential brilliance of the U.S. Race to the Top initiatives.  Awards are relatively large sums of money to institute large-scale reforms. Will it work? Too early to tell – the next few years will be very interesting. But I do applaud the realization by the U.S. Department of Education that funding to create and implement scalable reforms is what is needed.

But if you are on the front lines, in a school district, should the race to the top be viewed as a good thing or more of a new burden from the top? After all, top down mandates from No Child Left Behind were a disaster. Will Race to the Top reforms be any different?

In the paper entitled, “Evolving Personalized Learning: Maximizing K12 Expenditures to Support Instructional Reform,” Don Manderson takes the positive side of the argument that in fact there is (perhaps, finally some) alignment occurring with respect to the personalized learning goals of teachers/students/parents and the top-down reforms via race to the top.  The paper presents a holistic view. One in which the new Common Core State Standards provide a basis for enabling project-based learning to be more instructionally sound. At the core of the hypothesis is the need for interoperability – driving down the time and cost of integrating diverse digital resources to be available to teachers and students. An open vendor-neutral platform is the ONLY way this can be achieved in an evolvable, sustainable fashion. As such, an open vendor-neutral standards-based platform becomes a key element of “getting to the top” as districts, institutions and nations strive towards personalized and life-relevant learning that could potentially fix current leaks and create new vistas. In fact, it is difficult to imagine innovation in personalized learning that scales without the open, vendor-neutral, standards-based platform.

Until educational innovation gets ‘easy’ it won’t happen at the scale we need it to happen. Technology in service to education needs to be easy.

The paper presents a compelling vision – and IMS is working closely with a set of leading districts and leading suppliers to put the open foundation in place.  We thank the IMS member organizations for taking the high road of collaboration on the next generation open platform for teaching and learning.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what it's all about:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMS LTI Roadmap presented early in 2012 by Dr. Chuck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Three IMS Revolution Banners at EDUCAUSE 2012

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

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

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

IMS Adoption is Accelerating

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

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

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

Here’s what it is all about:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Folks – this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The open digital innovation revolution has very solid momentum!

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

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

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

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

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