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Learning Impact Blog

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

 

"If you want it, here it is, come and get it." —Badfinger

 

Standards First: All Stakeholders Getting What They Need from Standards in EdTech

 

Last week, IMS announced the Standards First program, providing support across the entire edtech sector to ensure that open standards are working, now and into the future. By “working,” we mean achieving a set of very clear goals for what open standards must provide to help edtech better serve teachers, students, and educational institutions:

  • Measurably reducing the time/cost of product integrations

  • Making it easier for products to work together to improve teaching and learning experiences

  • Improving availability and interpretation of data across products

  • Lowering the barriers to innovation for all sizes and types of organizations

If your organization is supportive of realizing the full potential of open standards for all stakeholders in edtech, I invite you to add your voice by signing the Standards First pledge.”

Standards First arose from a deep dive by an IMS Board committee on recent experiences with the IMS OneRoster® standard.  To make a long story short, many suppliers were claiming the use of OneRoster, but a range of factors led to less than perfect integrations. For instance:

  • Inconsistent interpretations of how to use some of the data fields

  • Lack of implementation of some important aspects of the standard

  • Utilizing proprietary APIs that were not OneRoster compliant

  • Implementations that were “OneRoster-ish” but actually just vendor specific

None of this is of great shock to those that have experience with software interoperability standards. Good standards are built with a certain amount of variability/extensibility, and even well-thought-out certification testing can’t catch all possible uses/variations. The implementation inconsistencies were sometimes compounded by systems that provide roster data or act as an intermediary for roster data having any of the above issues. If they do, then literally all other suppliers in the school district need to build integration adapters.

If this sort of situation is normal, then how do we converge on OneRoster (or any other software standard for that matter)? Among the challenges is that in the heat of the moment for “back to school,” it was unlikely that an implementation would be brought into compliance. Rather, everyone just needed to “make it work,” leading to workarounds rather than moving toward compliance. Once a fix is in place, it tends to increase the inertia in moving toward the standard because why fix an integration that is already working?

Things can go in one of two directions—increasing deviation of products away from the standard or increasing convergence toward the standard.

Deviation tends to compound itself over time. Deviation results in what I like to refer to as “standards in name only”—something that is called a standard for marketing purposes—but really a “standards-ish” custom integration that does not produce the benefits we seek from standards. Integrations are made to work but agility, cost/time savings, lowering the barriers to innovation are all lost.

Convergence, on the other hand, requires the technical tools and commitment for institutions and suppliers to cooperate in an effective manner, meaning more effectively than the current means of getting things working.

In IMS, we know that convergence because the member organizations are doing it and seeing the benefits of it every day. The proof is in the overwhelming support for IMS standards in the marketplace and the growth of the IMS members (12x in the last 15 years).

What the IMS Board committee realized is that now is the right time for the sector to pull together and achieve even better coherence for the benefit of all sector participants, but especially all those faculty and students that need digital on day one choice and equity. Thus, the Standards First program is the ratcheting up to a new level of commitment and collaboration needed for suppliers and school districts to ensure we get things right as rapidly as possible as well as sustain open standards convergence through a coordinated process. Therefore, Standards First begins with a “pledge,” a serious promise made by an organization (supplier, school district, industry association) to support certain key principles that ensure that we are working together towards convergence and ongoing improvement.

The Standards First pledge was a carefully thought-out collaboration statement. It was created with deep input from the IMS Board group as well as the IMS K-12 advisory board. It was designed to capture willingness to be a leader in encouraging open standards as the first and primary choice, thus ensuring that the edtech sector gets what it needs from open standards. Standards that are a “nice to have” or “maybe to have” or “second choice after a proprietary API” or “one of many choices” are not going to get us where we need to go. The pledge encourages breaking down any barriers to being able to reliably count on open standards. It also encourages full transparency and collaboration on compliance and costs. It should be noted that the pledge itself applies to all open standards including those from other standards organizations. IMS hopes we can inspire leadership to lift up all open standards used in edtech.

Importantly, I want to point out that the Standards First program is not meant to be about blame, but rather support. Convergence occurs over time. It is not instantaneous. But there can be some pretty rapid improvements by cooperating parties using processes and tools built for this purpose. The 50+ IMS Contributing Members that have already signed the pledge come to this with a goal of stepping up collaboration to improve adoption by members and non-members alike. Thus, as part of the release Standards First program, IMS is providing significant new public resources to help address common inconsistencies we found in the fall, as well as member resources to improve certification testing and live testing via the IMS Compatibility Check. As part of the program, IMS has already set up monthly technical roundtables for suppliers to work together on identifying and addressing issues and will soon begin similar roundtables and training for IMS school district members.

So, you can either jump right in to take advantage of the program today or if you feel you need a better understanding, please check out the FAQs or drop me or another IMS staff member a line anytime. If you want open standards to work across the edtech ecosystem, well, here it is.

 

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March 2021

 

Impactful Learning: Innovations in Learning Science

A Q&A with VitalSource's Benny Johnson and Rachel Van Campenhout—shared from a recent VitalSource blog.

 

Q: How do you define impactful learning? How has this changed in the last 5-10 years?

Rachel: In addition to improving outcomes and mastery, I think impactful learning is about helping students learn how to learn better. Our learning environments are designed to maximize a student’s learning potential. If we can help students understand how learning techniques work and why they’re important, they can apply them across all areas of their education. With the data and technology we have today, why shoot for anything less? 

Benny: Impactful learning is learning that improves outcomes in a meaningful way. Although it sounds trivial, if you put out a product that doesn’t move the needle on learning outcomes in a way that you care about, then it's not impactful. There are a lot of solutions that increase learning but not by very much. For us, it’s “go big or go home.”

Before I came to Acrobatiq, I developed intelligent tutoring systems. People always assumed that we wanted artificial intelligence (AI) to figure out how to teach chemistry, but that wasn’t it at all. We know how to teach chemistry. The problem is, how do you make software that does a reasonable enough facsimile of what a good chemistry teacher does when you can’t be there? It’s not teaching that has been transformed in the last five to ten years. What comes close to enabling a radical transformation is the technology that allows us to process large volumes of data quickly. That technology enables us to develop capable tools to deliver some of these best teaching practices that have been known forever.

Some of the things that we needed to achieve these goals require sophisticated technology, and some of those tools didn’t exist at the level we needed before five years ago, and certainly not ten years ago. We have known for a long time that doing practice gets you better grades, but we needed to be able to make technology that could automate what a good teacher does and what a good course designer does. The advances in AI and the amount of data available now make it possible for us to do things that we just couldn’t do five to ten years ago.

 

Q: What innovations in learning science research excite you?

Benny: A big innovation is the Doer Effect. We knew that practice was good for learning, but in the last few years, there have been advancements in more rigorously defining and assessing that. We long suspected that the Doer Effect was causal, but research by Ken Koedinger recently confirmed that relationship. We have been able to replicate those findings through our own research, so we know that the Doer Effect is causing better grades. It’s not the only way to do it, but by confirming it’s causal and not merely correlated, we connect the final dot.  We can say, “We recommend you do this and you'll get better grades.” 

Rachel: I’d agree. Replicating the Doer Effect findings in our courseware has been very exciting and gives us the utmost confidence in our approach. But I’m also excited about how we can innovate to help all students leverage this finding to a greater degree. Some of this will be through changing and shifting behaviors, such as how much and how often you engage in practice. Other ways could be through cognitive approaches, which I’m particularly jazzed about. In all my time with Acrobatiq, I’ve always been excited about the learning science approaches we’ve taken, but it really feels like an explosion of possibilities is ahead, one that could impact more students than ever before. 

 

Q: Why is it difficult for education companies to use cognitive science?

Rachel: I imagine that if a company isn’t using learning science or cognitive science, most likely they don’t have the expertise, or if they do, they aren’t prepared to make decisions based on the research. If you don’t invest in the expertise in that area and aren’t prepared to act upon it, then it’s hard to utilize cognitive and learning science. The best way to engage the research in learning science and cognitive science is to have team members who have diverse experiences in those areas, are excited about learning themselves, and are focused on the central question of how to make learning most effective for students. 

When we were building Acrobatiq, we had learning engineers who were responsible for making sure that what we were doing—from a content and learning environment perspective—was effective for students. They understood the research and knew how to implement it.  

Part of it is a company culture of understanding the importance of learning science and how each individual member of a very diverse team can be a part of it. At VitalSource, we may not carry the learning engineer title anymore, but the learning engineering process is certainly alive and well in our team. It’s the way we maintain the student’s best interests in what we do. 

Benny: Consider what we are trying to do now: At VitalSource, we are taking all the lessons we’ve learned and experience we have, and we are automating it. That’s hard for companies to do because you need the people with the specialized background to do it. Now, we have reached the next level of automating and reproducing positive learning outcomes using technology, which is pretty exciting.  It’s hard enough to do it by hand, let alone write software to do it. But, if you can do that, it’s a competitive advantage. 

Rachel: You must be willing to do something in a completely new way. In order to be able to do something innovative, you have to be able to take risks and be open to trying something radically different. 

Benny: That’s a great point. It is research-driven. If doing things in a research-driven way is not a company’s forte, then you can't blame them for not taking that kind of approach. You must have the team to do the research and use that research to create things that haven't been created before. It takes a deep understanding of education research to apply AI successfully to these problems. It wouldn’t work to say, “AI is the answer, now what’s the question?” That's what makes it hard and requires a special expertise.

 

Q: How has learning science influenced the types of products and experiences that we are creating at VitalSource?

Benny: We do the opposite of saying, “AI is the answer, now how are we going to do education with AI?” At VitalSource, we take the research and learning science principles and figure out how to apply them across our vast catalog of titles and subjects. Instead of building something that works for only one specialty, we make sure that we’re building experiences that can be applied to any subject.

We look at all the different kinds of study techniques that people commonly use with an eye toward those that have been proven through research to get the biggest impact. What are the most impactful techniques, according to the data, not conventional wisdom? We start with learning principles that are known to improve learning gains and then figure out how to put them into practice with technology. 

Rachel: I’m excited about being able to create more generalizable techniques for effective learning. We are working on creating an effective learning environment, whether it is for nursing, business, statistics, or any other subject. We should be able to do things that help every learner, and that’s where the intersection between research and learning is getting very exciting.

Q: How will this research impact VitalSource products and experiences in the future?

Rachel: We’re creating a holistic learning approach.  It’s not just that we’re going to be good at one thing. We've focused on the Doer Effect because we know it’s effective. Moving forward, there are also a lot of other very exciting avenues of research and development that positively impact a student's learning experience, from the user interface to displaying data to incorporating prompts and nudging. With our learning science approach at VitalSource, we have the opportunity to make a holistic environment for students in which they can benefit from multiple different approaches to increase learning.

 

Benny Johnson, Ph.D., director of research and development, and Rachel Van Campenhout, learning science specialist, are both published researchers, experts in research and learning science, and lead VitalSource’s continued research efforts.

 

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3 March 2021

Reflecting on the Open Badges Journey

Contributed by:
Rob Abel, Ed.D., CEO, IMS Global Learning Consortium, and Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation

 

You might be surprised to learn that the story of email begins well before the tech boom. If you follow the trail of the evolution of email, you’d have to go back to the 60s. Since then, it developed slowly, with dedicated early adopters toiling at it before it became a ubiquitous part of business and life as we know it today. This evolutionary pattern is true of many things, including credentialed learning.

Today, we were on a panel titled "Innovators Reflect on a Decade of Open," which felt a bit like connecting with old friends since the evolutionary journey of Open Badges was and continues to be a group effort that started with us and a few others.

Our conversation today highlighted not just the history of Open Badges—what started as the seed of an idea in the earlier 2000’s—but also the incredible journey that has gotten us to where we are today with over 43 million badges issued worldwide. Which, at its core, is a success story of the power of organizations working together. This collaboration helped to reinvent how achievements are recognized, verified, and leveraged. And to both disrupt and include traditional learning models.

 

Rob Abel, Mark Surman, and Connie Yowell at the 2017 IMS Digital Credentials Summit
Closing panel at the 2017 IMS Digital Credentials Summit with Rob Abel, Mark Surman, and Connie Yowell.

 

History

From 2009 to 2013, the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla teamed up to create Open Badges. In early 2015, the IMS Digital Credentialing Initiative was born out of these efforts to further the adoption, integration, and transferability of digital credentials, including badges within institutions, schools, and corporations.

By early 2017 Open Badges, which had lived within Mozilla until that point, moved to IMS in its new capacity. At the time, the verifiable interoperability of badges and badging software was an obvious priority. But, of at least equal or greater importance was to bring the ecosystem of participants together to evolve from badges as an interesting idea to badges as the means by which educational processes and systems could evolve to open up opportunities for learners of all ages.

Since then, the specification has evolved for the better. In 2018, Open Badges 2.0 was released and included embedded evidence, endorsements, version control, and internationalization. You can read Mark’s reflections on that time here. And, in 2020, Open Badges 2.1 (Badge Connect) was released as Candidate Final Public. This API enables an ecosystem of federated backpacks, independent of each other yet capable of allowing users to easily move their badges from one system to another or replicating their badges effortlessly across systems.

The interoperable product ecosystem has become a reality. Today, 24 products from 19 organizations headquartered in 8 countries have gone through the IMS conformance certification process for Open Badges 2.x. Conformance certification proves to users that certified systems issue valid Open Badges, display a minimum set of verifiable information, and in some cases allow for the importing of Open Badges.

The community support has been vibrant and continues to grow. This has included an annual Digital Credentials Summit that has grown every year and now has over 600 participants, most recently in 2021. IMS has provided extensive support to the general public as well as members, including participating in open badges efforts organized by other associations worldwide, supporting an open community forum, an open GitHub repository, and the openbadges.org website. IMS also provides the open and free Open Badges Validator tool to everyone and an Open Badges 2.1 reference implementation for those organizations willing to support the work by becoming an IMS member.

What is the Net-Net?

A recent count made by IMS in cooperation with major badging platforms totals over 43 million badges issued as of 2020.

This is an impressive number in and of itself. But, what makes the future even brighter is the emergence within the IMS community of two complementary ideas: the IMS community invented the Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange (CASE) standard as a way to structure and exchange learning objectives and skills frameworks; and the IMS community created the Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) as a standard that allows learners to own and curate all of their achievements, including academic transcripts. Open badges can be included as credentials in a CLR and can reference skills frameworks published in CASE. Together the three standards are the foundation for interoperability from K-12 to higher education to workforce to lifelong pathways.

When we began this journey, we had a vision for interoperability in badges that could disrupt and improve the educational system and bring more people in. We’ve achieved that and more, but we still have exciting work ahead to help tip the scales of the Open Badges evolution—to make it ubiquitous.

 

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