Commitment Through Partnership
Institutions need to be nimble in response to the rapidly changing needs of students in the 21st century. Open interoperability standards in educational technology mean that colleges and universities can make their buying decisions based on what is best for their students, rather than be constrained, or "locked in," by what is compatible with existing investments. With a view to serving the best interests of students and the institutions that support them, Blackboard has committed itself as an exemplary partner and Contributing Member of the IMS Global Learning Consortium.
According to Jace Howard, senior director of cross platform technologies, the team at Blackboard believes they have a critical role to play in supporting and developing standards to make technology better for their clients and for educational institutions overall. Being responsive to the needs of their clients means being open and willing to work with other edtech vendors, even direct competitors. As Phill Miller, vice president of teaching and learning at Blackboard observes, “being able to select innovative digital tools that work together is critical for institutions committed to putting their students, and what is right for them, at the center of the teaching and learning experience. It’s not about one vendor having the best technology. It’s about finding the technology that best meets the needs of an institution, and acknowledging that the right technology for an institution can change over time.”
“Blackboard is committed to the principle of interoperability in general and demonstrates that commitment through our partnership with IMS Global Learning Consortium.”
—Jace Howard, Senior Director, Cross Platform, Blackboard, Inc.
Leadership, Collaboration, and Innovation
IMS Global Learning Consortium is a nonprofit collaborative of leading K-20 institutions and technology suppliers working together to improve the interoperability of the edtech ecosystem to enable better user experiences and better learning outcomes. At the heart of IMS is a collaboration by a set of education industry leaders that are inspired and motivated to move the industry forward. As a leading member, Blackboard is actively engaged in driving the development and adoption of IMS standards. According to John Whitmer, director of analytics and research at Blackboard, the company trusts in the core mission of IMS and understands that open standards are crucial to the creation and maintenance of next generation learning environments. “By participating in IMS we’re investing in the future of educational technology,” said Whitmer. “IMS efforts are laudable in the area of data and analytics; looking at how we can not only easily extract data, but do so in ways that are informed by best practices in data governance and broader considerations around how we should use that data that conform to legal and ethical guidelines.”
The IMS leadership community collaborates on open standards that remove major barriers to implementing the key technologies that support institutional initiatives, mitigate vendor lock-in, and promote innovation in the edtech market. “We don’t want our partners to have to develop the same technology several times or limit their investments to one particular platform. Thanks to open standards they can develop once, focusing their efforts on innovation rather than compatibility,” said Timothy Harfield, senior product marketing manager for analytics at Blackboard.One of the areas that IMS is currently focused on is Real-time, Cross Application Educational Data and Analytics—providing a foundation to make it easier to get usage and progress data out of any application or platform. And one of the outcomes of this initiative is Caliper Analytics®, the first interoperability standard for click-stream analytics created by the education community for the education community.
Caliper required the leaders in edtech across several different verticals to come together. “We needed to unify and say ‘Yes, we support this!’ whether we were direct competitors or partners,” said Howard. “At the end of the day, we all needed to be on the same page supporting Caliper and collectively want it to succeed. There is absolutely no benefit for any of us if it fails.”
Helping to lead in the evolution of the Caliper standard was a no-brainer for Blackboard because as a company, data analytics is something they take very seriously. During Blackboard’s annual conference—BbWorld 2017—the company highlighted the notion of “data everywhere” and emphasized analytics as a core pillar of their strategy and mission. “We believe that access to data and actionable insights will be key to the way that the LMS evolves over time and this is something Blackboard is definitely committed to leading through both technology development and through research,” noted Tim Tomlinson, chief product officer.
Howard also noted that another positive takeaway from the IMS collaboration is that when other vendors and leaders in edtech see that we’re working together to create the standards and provide meaningful research, information, and validation of standards to the community, they are more confident in what the community is producing.
“We’re part of the IMS community because we believe in creating an interoperable edtech ecosystem. We’re looking forward to working hand-in-hand with IMS to make this happen and ensure that we not only deliver on the promises that we’re making but also deliver on a future that is going to be so much better for our clients.”
—Phill Miller, Vice President of Teaching and Learning, Blackboard, Inc.
What’s Next for Blackboard?
Blackboard is committed to the work that the IMS Global is doing to advance open educational technology standards. Phill Miller sits on the IMS Board of Directors; Product Director Wade Weichel serves on the LTI Steering Committee; John Whitmer is the co-chair for the IMS Privacy Task Force, and Rachel Scherer, Sr. Product Manager, Analytics, will be participating on the IMS Analytics Product Steering Committee. This leadership is evidenced by their support and certification for a wide range of standards across multiple products.
Looking ahead, Blackboard will continue its strong advocacy of open standards through its IMS Global membership, sponsorship of the Learning Analytics initiatives, and active participation in a variety of steering committees. As a recognized leader in learning analytics, Blackboard is using its deep expertise to shape the Caliper Analytics standard, while also promoting its widespread adoption and working as a champion of privacy and transparency in the use of educational data. More specifically, in the near term, they plan to be among the first to support LTI Advantage, the next phase of implementing and certifying the Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) standard that will help institutions move beyond first generation learning architecture.