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Learning Impact Blog

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

 

"We're all in this together. It's so easy to see." — Walter Trout

 

Renewing (Y)Our Commitment to Shaping the EdTech Ecosystem

As we approach the end of 2021, IMS is energized from our recent K-12 Leadership Retreat held in person in Denver—the first IMS in-person event since late February 2020. We're also energized by the dramatic growth in IMS membership, as we started the year with less than 590 and are now approaching 700 member organizations. All of the IMS key initiative areas are gaining momentum across HED and K-12.

Yet, as I mentioned in my last post (Clarity), I've never been more enthusiastic and, at the same time, more concerned about where the edtech sector will go from here. A confluence of factors may distract us, not the least of which is "the great resignation." I sense that 2022-23 will be a test of leadership like no other we have seen in terms of each institution, district, state, and supplier setting a path based on the perceived lessons learned from both before and during the pandemic. Where will the leadership come from?

Well, it may come from many places. Still, I know with 100% certainty that the IMS community will once again bring extraordinary leadership in defining "the next leg up" in the growth of the edtech ecosystem. Our recent K-12 Retreat was a reminder of the power of in-person collaboration. We know we can expect big things in 2022 from our annual Digital Credentials Summit in Atlanta, 28 February through 2 March, and the Learning Impact 2022 conference in Nashville, 13-16 June.

IMS Learning Impact Conference 2021 information header

Much of what happens in the IMS community I can't predict, but here are some of the themes to engage with going into 2022:

  • Curriculum Innovation and Equity: We have seen extraordinary leadership from IMS members in accelerating the deployment of innovative products while enabling new designs for leveraging digital to achieve greater equity and accessibility. It's time to spread these great ideas from both suppliers and institutions to create our future.
  • Ensuring Real-time Grades, Scores, Data Across Applications and Platforms: It's time to take full advantage of LTI-Advantage, OneRoster, and Edu-API to enable seeing the right data in the right place to improve user experiences. We've got the foundational standards—but we need more purposeful design and implementation.
  • Designing and Connecting Credential Ecosystems: There is nothing the IMS community is more passionate about than shaping the educational ecosystem to enable better recognition of student achievement that opens opportunities for students of all types and ages. The foundation provided by the Open Badges and Comprehensive Learner Record standards, including new work to take advantage of other new and evolving standards, will undoubtedly take us where the leadership from IMS higher education and corporate learning leaders will take this undeniable trend.
  • Enabling Embedded and Balanced Assessment: In 2022, the breakthrough QTI 3.0 will be hitting the market in a big way, but the question is how to leverage digital assessment innovation across products and between state and district level systems to enable new models for embedded assessment. QTI 3—and what it can enable—should be on every edtech product company's roadmap. I expect to see robust and collaborative leadership on new models that will prioritize the many available features.
  • Foundational Data and Analytics Architectures to Support Educational Design: In 2021, IMS began work on the application of IMS standards coupled with next-generation data architectures to support the understanding and effective usage of learning platforms, learning tools, and curriculum resources.
  • Defining and Ensuring a Trusted Edtech Ecosystem: After more than a decade of breakthrough work in enabling connectivity among teaching and learning products, the IMS community is leading the definition and deployment of TrustEd Apps across K-12 and HED. The IMS community is where the leadership on what information is needed and how to get it to the range of "users" that set up and touch an institution or state's ecosystem.

Hopefully, you will note that none of the above areas of leadership are just "nice to have." They are all calls to action for collaboration because it is literally impossible to expect one or a small group of organizations to accelerate widespread progress in any of these.

Our purpose in IMS at every one of our over 500 meetings a year, especially at our in-person events, is to design and facilitate the community collaboration that will shape the future of the edtech ecosystem. It is a future filled with greater diversity, innovation, and personalized experiences.

By working together, we achieve a better understanding of our options, better support from building lasting partnerships, and thus become much more effective leaders.

And, by producing connectivity that we can all leverage, we are building the capacity for change via an unparalleled shared investment. It's a formula that has worked well and will continue to work well for those that engage and are active in our community. As we go into 2022, with all the leadership challenges that will be out there, IMS members must take this to heart and benefit from the amazing progress and resources that we produce together.

I wish you all the best for the holiday season and look forward to seeing everyone in 2022!

 

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IMS Chief Architect Dr. Colin SmytheIMS TECH TALK

Contributed by Dr. Colin Smythe, IMS Chief Architect

 

Using Compatibility Check to Improve Interoperability: From Conformance to Characterization

In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of Conformance and Certification as part of the IMS specification process. I also explained why IMS certification is required and why it is not "compliance." Certified products published in the IMS Product Directory have successfully passed rigorous IMS conformance testing. Defining the conformance requirements and providing the associated conformance test capabilities is essential for the IMS specification development process.

While certification is critical, it is fully product-focused and does not cover the configuration of an operationally deployed version of the product. There is a limit to the degree of interoperability guaranteed through certification only. It is possible for two products certified for a standard not to interoperate. Fortunately, the IMS Product Directory provides sufficient details so that confirmation of the correct type of certification is available. In the case of deployed operational systems, there are many different ways in which a certified system can be configured. As the next step beyond certification, IMS has created the Compatibility Check (CCx) system that is used to provide a characterization of a deployment.

Conformance testing is undertaken on a vendor's product configured for a testing environment. Typically, service providers are configured with the in-house test data sets i.e., real data is not used. IMS conformance testing ensures that invalid data is not sent by the service provider. Unless all of the data stored by the service provider is entered through the API undergoing conformance testing, this form of testing does not explore how the data set is entered into the service provider. Therefore, once the test data set has been verified as correct, an inherent part of conformance testing, there is no further check on the service provider's ability to prohibit the storage of invalid data sourced through other interfaces. I've already explained how two certified products may not provide data interoperability. However, there is one more likely reason why certified systems may not have full interoperability. The actual configuration of a product will depend upon the business models being used by the vendor e.g., specific endpoints may only be available for some business models. The fact that a product is certified does not mean that all of the features checked under conformance are available in an operational configuration.

Therefore, actual interoperability can ONLY be determined by examining the configurations of the deployed operational systems. We call this process Characterization.

Characterization enables the coverage of a specification in an operationally deployed implementation to be determined and recorded. Characterization is also the process by which data instances can be analyzed, i.e., covering the scenarios where only the data formats, not the exchange mechanism, are defined in a specification.

  • For service providers, the characterization is automated, whereas an engineer must complete a detailed functionality questionnaire for consumers.

  • For data import systems, a model of the import capabilities must be manually created, whereas, for data export systems, functionality coverage is created through the analysis of a set of exported data instances.

  • For REST API services, the characterization covers all endpoints, the associated query parameters, and the error handling mechanisms.

From the data perspective, characterization checks all of the data-typing, the supplied range of content, and any use of the extension mechanisms. The checking of the range of content enables the characterization to provide insight into the frequency of usage of data fields. For example, whether or not an optional field is always populated, the coverage of the set of enumerated tokens, etc. This content checking is important when confirming that the data required by a consuming system is being supplied by the provider (such a requirement would be an extra constraint on the optionality defined in a specification).

Compatibility Check is the software solution that provides the characterization capability. Characterization is only one of the features available through Compatibility Check. Two other features are available:

  • Verification – confirmation that the actual data being exchanged is valid with respect to the specification. Once characterization has been completed, any other data instances can be verified with respect to that characterization;

  • Compatibility Comparisons – the capability for a CCx user to explore their set of characterizations and to make detailed comparisons between matched characterizations. For example, the compatibility between a specific service provider deployment and the corresponding consumer(s) can be completed. This comparison provides a definitive, predictive statement on the interoperability matches and mismatches.

It is important to stress that while all of these analytics are stored (the characterization data), NONE of the actual data being exchanged is stored. Compatibility Check has been implemented such that a human never has access to, and cannot gain access to, the data being analyzed.

At present, Compatibility Check covers the IMS OneRoster and Common Cartridge standards. It also covers the set of apps under the IMS TrustEd Apps process i.e., apps that have been checked with respect to the IMS TrustEd Apps Rubric and that have the corresponding TrustEd Apps Seal. Access to CCx is available to IMS Contributing Members and Affiliate Suppliers who have OneRoster or Common Cartridge certification. CCx is also available to all Educational Institutions.

Compatibility Check is also a part of the Standards First Initiative. Standards First is a call-to-action for the edtech community. This initiative aims to ensure that we can achieve open standards-based integrations as the foundation for enabling product choice, improving cost, and enhancing data availability and student privacy. Standards First begins with the Pledge to make open standards the first and primary choice for EdTech integrations. Compatibility Check is made available to confirm interoperability through the use of open standards and the correct usage of those open standards. Over time, CCx will be extended to cover other IMS specifications, particularly Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) Advantage.

IMS Members wishing to find more on Standards First and Compatibility can contact Lisa Mattson at lmattson@imsglobal.org.

 

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Marcy Daniel, CPO, PowerSchoolNovember 2021 | Interoperable K-12 Edtech for Long-Term Success

Contributed by Marcy Daniel, Chief Product Officer, PowerSchool

 

How a Standards-First Approach Leads to Better Support for Student Outcomes

As K-12 schools and districts continue to increase their reliance on software to support operations and instruction, the importance of edtech interoperability with connected products that share data, workflows, and a user experience is vital to long-term success.

While prioritizing digital enablement and student outcomes, schools and districts may inadvertently find themselves supporting multiple software solutions lacking interoperability. These could include their student information system (SIS), back-end office support, talent and recruitment software, instructional tools and resources, and even family communication portals. As a Digital Promise study highlighted, 74 percent of districts use more than 26 different education technology products, and another 17 percent of districts use more than 100. The result of the rapid proliferation of software and technology can mean managing a host of systems that generally are not built to speak to each other efficiently—or at all.

 

Number of Edtech Products K-12 Districts Use

26+ Products

74%

100+ Products

17%

Source: "The State of Data Interoperability in Public Education," Digital Promise, 2017

 

In addition to causing potential funding and talent resource issues for school and district administrators, these non-communicative software platforms can disrupt instruction while decreasing overall productivity throughout an organization. Similar studies share that when teachers must maneuver between so many products, they have less time to teach. On average, teachers spend nearly half of their working time on non-teaching activities.

 

Interoperability Supports Whole Child Instruction

Without insight into each learner's K-12 journey and a strong data culture built around solutions that can speak to each other securely, educators may struggle to make informed instructional decisions. In other words, disparate software systems with data residing in silos mean we're missing the big picture when it comes to maximizing student support.

Alternatively, interoperable solutions can significantly impact seeing the full view of each child's learning path with access to readily available data. An interoperable solution that integrates with other edtech products can make user experiences more streamlined, convenient, and natural when maneuvering between programs. With a unified, cohesive workflow, it's easier to learn applications, navigate quickly, and improve productivity. It all adds up to more time for instruction and managing district or school needs and less time struggling with the technology itself.

 

A Standards-First Approach Supports Interoperability

When choosing—and working with—edtech vendors, school and district leaders should look for products and organizations that strive for a standards-first approach, both in terms of technology and instruction. This outlook helps support equitable technology across organizations without having to initiate costly integration projects on their own.

Knowing which solutions adhere to industry-leading open standards, such as those supported by IMS Global, can help K-12 schools and districts meet significant goals.

By bringing together a suite of integrated solutions from certified edtech companies, districts can:

  • Accelerate digital transformation
  • Make school operations more efficient
  • Improve student performance

Standards First pledge signatory digital badgeMore than 120 organizations, including edtech vendors and K-12 districts working with IMS, have pledged to prioritize and advocate for open standards via the Standards First pledge. Part of this initiative, and critical to the future of modernization in the education landscape, is to ensure that systems connect seamlessly and securely. Edtech vendors can assure this by getting IMS certified. This means that not only are their products interoperable, but by being certified, they confirm their products have plug-and-play connectivity without requiring custom integrations—a significant resource and time saver for K-12 districts.

The organization also supports the Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange® (CASE®) standard. IMS provides a repository of CASE-published standards through the CASE Network for anyone to use, generally at no cost. Designing software that supports the CASE standard ultimately saves districts both time and cost.

Since most state and national learning standards are only published in human-readable formats, such as PDF, it's difficult for K-12 technology directors and curriculum leaders to integrate the learning standards in a useable and flexible way into their edtech tools. However, state and national issuers who choose to publish in the CASE format can make it easier for edtech vendors and their users to access and use the standards to better support student learning.

 

Security Should Be Top-of-Mind

One of the most important aspects of connecting edtech products is the security of students and data. Ensuring that data is transferring from one system to the next in a truly integrated and secure manner is critical. It requires that school and district technology directors select edtech vendors who adhere to strict standards, set and monitor role-based privileges, design data security plans thoughtfully, and update them regularly.

It's also crucial that state and district leaders collaborate with edtech software developers as a community to design products and platforms with student data protection needs at the forefront.

 

Vet Your Edtech Vendors

 → Download this infographic to assess your edtech vendors in 20 key areas that show what they are doing to keep your student, staff, and school data safe.

 

Interoperability Delivers Benefits for the Long Term 

Ultimately, having interoperable systems that adhere to technical and instructional standards can save K-12 schools and districts time and resources. And at the same time, it increases opportunities for developing and delivering individualized instruction tailored to the whole child's needs. In the long term, interoperable systems are a must when supporting better education management.

 

Marcy Daniel is PowerSchool’s Chief Product Officer. She is responsible for developing a unified strategic vision of PowerSchool’s portfolio products, managing overall roadmap development, and delivering to clients on the roadmap.

 

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