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

 

"There's a place up ahead and I'm goin', just as fast as my feet can fly" —Creedence Clearwater Revival

 

The IMS community is already achieving new heights in 2021!

The IMS team and I have spent many, many hours collaborating on pandemic-related topics at and between the half dozen virtual conferences and roughly 500 virtual project group meetings over the last 12 months. In a nutshell, we’ve been very pleased with how the IMS community has performed. Nothing keeps the future from coming. I believe there is hope for great optimism as we use the learnings from the pandemic to make a better world together.

But what I am here to report that over the last 12 months, we were not just supporting pandemic-related topics but also making amazing progress across the entire set of IMS initiatives. It is clear from just the first two months of 2021 that IMS will have another breakout year of enabling the edtech ecosystem.

Here are some of the highlights of progress and things to come:

  • What a line-up for the Digital Credentials Summit next week! The Comprehensive Learner Record and Open Badges are being adopted in higher education, corporate talent management, and across a broad ecosystem of products proving the power of digital credentials.

  • We’ve seen record-breaking attendance at all of the virtual events IMS has hosted, including the most recent IMS Europe Summit 2020, IMS Quarterly Meeting November 2020, and IMS Quarterly Meeting February 2021 (over 500 at last count!). 

  • The IMS TrustEd Apps program for student data privacy is receiving rave reviews from institutional and supplier members alike. This is a breakthrough in terms of a program that is lifting up the edtech sector. Stay tuned for an emerging data privacy interoperability rubric.

  • State systems and statewide engagement in IMS are accelerating. It has never been more important for state departments of education or state systems to work more closely with regional school districts and universities. This collaboration applies to all of the IMS work—from TrustEd Apps to OneRoster to LTI Advantage to CASE Network to digital credentials.

  • IMS Global’s combined work on Edu-API, Caliper Analytics, the Student Learning Data Model, and LTI Advantage clarifies what we are beginning to call “data ready apps.” Edu-API is moving very rapidly toward market reality, and Caliper is continuing to make great strides in HED, with very serious interest now in K-12.

  • In 2021, IMS will be launching the Standards First program. Starting with OneRoster, IMS members and the broader edtech community will have a clear path forward to ensure that open standards are the first choice for edtech integrations. Stay tuned!

Hold on to your hats because we’re going up around the bend! I’ll see you there.

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

 

"Going to keep on trying 'til I reach my highest ground" —Stevie Wonder

 

A big shout out to the IMS Contributing Members to start 2021!

It is a beautiful thing to strive to get better at what we do, the impact we have each new day. Right now, there are so many unsung heroes overcoming challenge after challenge from an unprecedented set of changing circumstances at all levels of education. Literally every day, the IMS staff and I are inspired by IMS community participants that are not only rising to the challenges of a pandemic but are finding insights that can be applied to make a better future. How inspiring it is to witness a partnership where a set of committed parties are working together over the long run to lift up all of edtech!

We have had some very insightful guest posts here on the Learning Impact blog in recent weeks:

If you take a few minutes to read them, you will gain useful insights and perhaps connect some dots in ways that are difficult to do in today's cluttered, headline-grabbing press and social media.

Insights from the IMS community have always been the most valuable aspect of IMS and IMS membership. From back in the mid-1990s, when at Oracle, I was one of IMS Global's early corporate sponsors. And it was clear then that IMS attracted the type of leadership capable of shaping the future–both in terms of insights and the ability to act on those insights.

For edtech suppliers, 2020 was a difficult year for many, but also a banner year for some. In 2020, IMS added a net of 40 new member organizations. We saw some notable "upgrades" in membership to the Contributing Member (CM) level. And, as we see every year, some members drop, and some members "downgrade" to an Affiliate or Alliance membership—mostly suppliers. Generally speaking, the institutional/DOE/system membership in IMS is remarkably stable.

What does it mean to be a Contributing Member in IMS? Why does IMS have multiple levels of membership? What is the difference?

Simply put, Contributing Members are the leaders. They lead the close and committed collaboration under the fair and neutral auspices of IMS, which is our not-so-secret sauce.

Fundamentally, IMS is about building trusted partnerships among a coalition of committed parties–that are working honorably and transparently together–to help themselves and everyone else in the edtech sector.

Our CM organizations are school districts, state DOEs, universities, university systems, and suppliers. Their logos are on our member page (in the first section). CMs are the only organizations in IMS that have a vote in the official proceedings of IMS, and in return, are legally held to a very high standard of integrity. The leadership tier is very admirably balanced among supplier and end-user constituencies.

We have also found that CMs typically, although not always, have the executive-level commitment to be a leader for the long haul. When it comes to standards-based interoperability, commitment is so important. As I have written about many times, the temptations to deviate from standards, the business motives around dominant platforms, coupled with the extra effort required to coordinate with the rest of the market, actually make collaboration, especially over the long run, very, very challenging.

Why do Contributing Members provide extraordinary leadership in this collaboration? Well, the greater good is definitely an important factor. But the larger reason is that engagement in the community is worth the investment many times over.

IMS Contributing Members have fully bought into the proposition that we can do open standards well enough to reduce expense while improving opportunity for innovation.

But the value gained goes way beyond standards. It goes to the heart of defining the future of edtech, realizing that no one organization can do this alone.

When I came to IMS as CEO in 2006, there was only the Contributing Member level. We added the Affiliate and Alliance memberships as a way for organizations that were not committed to leading the work to still benefit from a raft of resources that the CMs make possible and generate. IMS Global's ultimate product—interoperability specifications—are all free and free to use. But the thought with the Affiliate and Alliance members was to add developer community resources and the ability to go through significant testing, resulting in certification, thus encouraging the plug-and-play ecosystem that the education sector requires to justify investing in standards in the first place.

We appreciate all IMS members at all levels. We created the levels other than CM to do a better job at serving the broader edtech sector. But I wanted to dedicate this first post of 2021 to the Contributing Members because they demonstrate every day the executive leadership building the trusted partnerships required to achieve the future together. Working with an IMS Contributing Member organization assures you that they are committed to the leadership needed to sustain, evolve, and accelerate the future of digital transformation in education.

At our core, IMS only achieves what it achieves through an extraordinarily effective collaboration that lifts all to a higher ground. IMS Contributing Members are the major participants and leaders in the extensive collaboration required to get all edtech stakeholders to the high ground of an interoperable digital edtech ecosystem based on open standards. I'm very proud that the IMS community has, in fact, delivered on this value proposition—and continues to invest in ways to fulfill this promise even better in the future.

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Tim Beekman, President & CEO, SAFARI MontageJanuary 2021

 

Contributed by:

Tim Beekman, President & Co-Founder, SAFARI Montage, and Chair of the IMS Board of Directors

 

The New Normal for K-12: Digital Teaching & Learning in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond 

While K-12 schools have been moving toward digital teaching and learning for many years, COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the progress. The rapid move to remote online learning at the onset of the pandemic is an experience that I am sure most school and district administrations would not want to relive; however, the end results will have a lasting positive impact on their teachers, students, and parents. Digital instruction can no longer be considered ancillary for K-12 schools. This shift is something that we have been preparing for at SAFARI Montage and IMS Global Learning Consortium for many years and I am excited to see it finally come to fruition.

For many districts, the transition made clear the value of building an organized and sound digital learning ecosystem to support online instruction along with the importance of designing one focused on equity, access, and interoperability. I am happy to say that, from what I saw, the most successful districts were the districts committed to the adoption of IMS standards.

For the team at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), COVID-19 school closures reinforced their mission to ensure that every CPS student can benefit from high-quality curriculum and instructional resources. As teachers across the county went online last spring to find materials to piece together lessons, the need to address inconsistency in the quality of these online materials and how it contributes to inequitable access for students, which is a central goal of the CPS Curriculum Equity Initiative, has never been clearer. Using interoperability standards established by IMS, the district is on its way to building a comprehensive digital curriculum with content from multiple providers. I am proud to have the opportunity to work with CPS building a platform to meet their needs using the SAFARI Montage Learning Object Repository (LOR) and resources from fellow IMS member organizations Amplify, PCG, Vista Higher Learning, McGraw Hill , and SchoolCity by Illuminate Education.

Gwinnett County Public Schools have been long-time advocates for IMS interoperability standards and leaders in the move to digital teaching and learning in K-12. Their integrated enterprise solution—eCLASS—was designed to provide students with access to a digital 'Content, Learning, Assessment, and Support System' and put them in the position to make an almost seamless transition to remote and hybrid learning last year. Built upon a foundation that includes D2L and the SAFARI Montage LOR, eCLASS enabled the district to be up and running from day one of the pandemic. Their well-thought-out plans for eCLASS have yielded a remarkable level of engagement and usage this past year with 97% of their students participating in remote online learning throughout school closures.

The School District of Lee County, FL has also been able to leverage their established IMS standards-based digital learning ecosystem to ensure access to quality learning opportunities for students and staff. They have made effective use of the LOR integrated with Google Classroom to provide teachers with high-quality, standards-aligned resources to support flexible instructional models while providing students with a seamless and transferable user experience across virtual and live settings. The district also took advantage of the ecosystem to provide their staff with simplified access to nearly a dozen professional development courses which kept 2,000+ support staff productively working.

In Fulton County School, GA, Microsoft Teams and the SAFARI Montage LOR are being used to support their Universal Remote Learning program which was originally implemented to ensure learning continuity during extended time away from school prior to COVID-19. Teams provides their teachers with tools to build digital activities and assignments with curriculum-aligned resources from the LOR and facilitates synchronous learning via the integrated video conferencing feature. The integration of these platforms has ensured access to live and on-demand digital learning materials for their students at home and in school, while also offering strong documentation of utilization.

There have been many more notable examples within the IMS community of how K-12 districts have been able to build and leverage their plug-and-play ecosystems to support the unprecedented shift to virtual learning in 2020. It is without question that IMS standards have provided these schools with the ability to design their own digital instruction model based on their own desired outcomes. I am so proud to be a part of this community and I am looking forward to seeing how we can utilize the chaos of the past year for good and finally unlock the true potential of digital teaching and learning for K-12 classrooms and beyond. 

 

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January 2021

 

Contributed by:

Ryan Lufkin, Senior Director of Higher Education Product Marketing at Instructure

 

The Evolution of Student Success in Higher Education

Though the shift to online learning has made it possible for learning to continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also presented a myriad of challenges for faculty and students alike. While educators adapted their pedagogies to the technologies at hand, students struggled with the more basic need of accessibility now that the campus computer labs and high-speed WiFi were no longer available. The challenge of keeping students engaged with their instructors as well as their peers has loomed large throughout the return to studies. Amid these disruptions in education, it became clear that getting back to "normal" wouldn’t be happening any time soon and the short-term embrace of technology for remote learning needed to be replaced with a focus on intentionally designed online learning for the long haul.

Combined, these challenges have prompted institutions to reexamine the term "student success" and what it means to deliver on the expectations of students. And as our wait for a return to normal has turned into acceptance of our new normal, it’s clear that learning will remain virtual for the foreseeable future.

In an effort to address these high stakes in higher education, Instructure conducted a global benchmark study with Hanover Research, The State of Student Success and Engagement, in which 7,070 educators and students in 13 countries were surveyed to identify how they define student success and what they consider to be driving factors of engagement. 

Of all the results, the following statistics made it clear: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented institutional leaders with a catalyst for change.

  • 85% of students said that COVID-19 was most impacting their ability to succeed.
  • 71% of respondents said it has impacted student academic progress.
  • 70% of faculty said more students are falling behind on their studies than ever before.

With the expectation that courses will remain online indefinitely, it’s critical for higher education institutions to better understand what students believe they need to be successful and engaged. As I continue to connect with educators and institutional leaders in our Canvas Community, I am amazed at the resilience and creativity they’ve displayed as they evolve to meet these challenges. Below are a few of the ways institutions are adapting to focus on a more holistic approach to student development.

Aligning Course Objectives to Future Careers

Beyond the disruptions in education, the workforce has also experienced a great deal of change, and students want to know that what they're learning in their courses is directly preparing them for their next step. A key finding from our study supports this notion, citing career readiness as the number one priority for students.

“If you had asked me pre-COVID what student success would look like, I would have had a laundry list—here's our course objectives, here's our department objectives, here's the university objectives that we want to accomplish,” explained Dr. Karen Freberg, Associate Professor in Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville, during a recent webinar I hosted.

“But with COVID, what I've realized [...] is that it's not only about knowing the material and understanding their field of study a little bit more. A lot of my students have been asking me how they can apply their learning and bring assignments to life.”

This paradigm shift has presented institutions with the challenge of transferring hands-on learning experiences to an online format that is collaborative and rigorous enough to prepare students for real-world application.

In response to this, we are seeing many institutions using this challenge as an opportunity to connect with local organizations and community partners to provide educational opportunities that align with jobs.

Leading With Empathy in Online Course Design

As students strive to keep up with their courses, it’s important to remember that like many of us, they are balancing multiple roles in their life while also addressing the impact of COVID-19. Now more than ever, educators need to think beyond the lecture and provide flexibility, enabling students to demonstrate mastery of skills in many different ways.

Sean Nufer, an educator at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and Canvas 2020 Educator of the Year winner, said it best in a recent live stream discussion. “We need to be listening to our students more than ever. We need to be patient with them and recognize that while there is more than one way to teach, there are also multiple ways to learn.”

We see many educators leveraging technology to create a more immersive experience that allows students to discuss and collaborate virtually, rather than watching a one-way video lecture. We’ve also noticed institutions using audio and video tools to give personalized and targeted feedback to individual students, transforming the traditional grading process into another opportunity for connection.

Creating Opportunities for Faculty-Student Engagement

Amid the increasing use of technology today, both students and faculty continue to value the hands-on learning and collaboration that technology simply cannot replace. When asked what factors are considered to be the main drivers of student success, respondents named quality of faculty (88%), technology availability (86%), and hands-on instruction (86%), reinforcing that technology is best used when paired with interactive content and opportunities for connection beyond devices.

Sean Nufer also shared how he prioritizes connecting with students in a fully virtual learning environment: “The community that you have in a traditional classroom is not replicated online. We have to be purposeful in building those connections [...] and those connections are vital, because without that network, what are we? We’re not just repositories of information. What brings education value are the connections we make that last beyond the three credits or 16 weeks.”

It’s becoming clear that the accelerated evolution forced on education will result in changes to instructional delivery that are here to stay. Connecting educators and learners with technology and helping those learners connect with careers is becoming key, not just to the success of students but to the success of colleges and universities themselves. Educators, technologists, instructional designers, and academic leaders alike will continue to come together to forge a pathway to the future, celebrating and supporting each other along the way. That’s what is, and always will be, great about education.

We invite you to review the findings from our study to learn more about the newfound meaning of student success and how institutions can use these challenges as a catalyst for meaningful change. Learn more.

 

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George Moore, Chief Technology Officer, CengageJanuary 2021

 

Contributed by:

George Moore, Chief Technology Officer, Cengage

 

In the World of Virtual Learning, CIOs Play a Vital Role in Maintaining Academic Freedom

With the rapid acceleration in virtual learning due to COVID-19 and the associated widespread adoption of technology, CIOs at U.S. higher education institutions face new and unprecedented challenges. One of the most unique—and important—among these is helping to protect and to maintain academic freedom. 

In our current societal and political climate, it is more important than ever that the education ecosystem take steps to protect academic freedom. Academic freedom protects faculty and students and ensures that higher education is a space open to diverse ideas, pedagogy, and debate. While it is a central tenet of higher education in the United States, that is not the case throughout the world; in Germany, academic freedom is making headlines as scientists push for it, and thousands of students recently marched for the cause in Hungary. 

In 1975, William Van Alstyne, a recognized legal scholar, wrote this highly-referenced definition of Academic Freedom: ‘academic freedom’ is... [the] personal liberty to pursue the investigation, research, teaching, and publication of any subject as a matter of professional interest without vocational jeopardy or threat of other sanction... Specifically, that which sets academic freedom apart as a distinct freedom is…: an accountability not to any institutional or societal standard of economic benefit, acceptable interest, right thinking, or socially constructive theory, but solely to a fiduciary standard of professional integrity.

Over the past decade, technology has helped academic freedom to flourish. As the number of edtech offerings has increased dramatically, faculty and students have had the opportunity to leverage a greater variety of resources to inform and develop learning experiences.

However, colleges and universities across the country have transformed dramatically since the spring as the adoption of edtech solutions has soared. Even those institutions and faculty who have been skeptical of technology have embraced edtech, and it has quickly become a must-have to create valued, engaging, and impactful learning experiences for students. 

For institutional CIOs, this new dependency on technology poses a different – and broad –  set of challenges when it comes to efficiency and security. Traditionally, the CIO’s role is to implement, manage, and utilize technology solutions that help to standardize processes, ensure data privacy and security, and simplify the end-user experience. However, institutional CIOs have a unique dilemma that isn’t faced by their counterparts in other industries: they have an obligation to students to put their needs and educational experience first. 

With this mission in mind, institutional technology leaders must focus on creating simplicity without sacrificing data privacy and security or homogenizing the learning experience. Every individual faculty member teaches differently and uses a different set of resources. Similarly, all students learn differently. There is a danger that, if institutions create too much standardization, academic freedom could be called into question. 

As institutional CIOs adapt to the dramatic shift brought about by COVID, they must ensure that they take a step back, and carefully evaluate the balance between operational efficiency and academic freedom. Consider the following questions:

Are you fostering an ecosystem that ensures instructors can create unique experiences in a simple, integrated manner, and in alignment with IMS Global standards? Are students and faculty empowered to leverage varied sources and diverse thought in their content and activities? 

Are your procurement processes ensuring that new and emerging resources can easily be leveraged?

Do the policies and procedures intended to create a safe and secure learning environment also allow instructors to create unique, expressive, and engaging experiences for their students? 

Overall, are you balancing the desire to standardize with the need to let freedom of expression flourish in the context of digital learning experiences?

These are the types of questions that all of us in the education and technology ecosystem must ask ourselves. Technology leaders need to recognize these challenges now and identify a path forward that allows them to do their job—creating processes and protocols that uphold security practices and encourage efficiency—while also enabling the independent thought, teaching, and debate that has made the U.S. education system renowned across the globe. 

As we look toward the future of higher education, it is increasingly clear that the shift to online learning will have lasting impacts long after COVID-19. Once some level of normalcy emerges, the importance of academic freedom will resurface; CIOs should be prepared to respond and to enable progress as stewards of academic freedom.

George Moore is the CTO of Cengage, an education and technology company serving the education, K-12, professional, library, and workforce training markets worldwide.

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | November 2020

"Philadelphia freedom, shine the light." —Elton John

 

It’s with a great sense of gratitude to the IMS community that I write my last post of 2020, a year likely to go down in history for many reasons.

I am thankful for the way the IMS members inspire the staff and me every day. I am thankful for the IMS team and all they do to serve IMS members and the broader edtech community worldwide. I am thankful that an organization like IMS, which is all about a collaboration that will enable the edtech ecosystem to support every learner's needs, has managed to not just survive but grow and prosper. We have a long way to go, but it’s clear that we are a force for good on the path needed to spur innovation at scale.

Being one of the few people in the world that work on “standards” 24x7x365, I am constantly thinking about the unnoticed structures in things that can have profound impacts on the speed of innovation. Yes, and that even includes elections.

I believe most people can think about “standards” and realize that agreeing on some foundational things that are accepted and ubiquitous allow everyone to build all sorts of innovative things on top. For instance, standardizing the sizes and types of roads allows much more efficient cooperation on putting roads in place, leading to a focus on innovation in the vehicles that use those roads. These standards can have a profound impact on the innovations that can occur. That includes perhaps limiting innovation.

As the American elections have played out, I heard from people outside of the U.S. that are genuinely concerned that we are safe here, with all the divisiveness and appearance of fighting in the streets. They are surprised when I tell them that things are quite calm where I live in central Florida.

America is, of course, the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” But America is not only about people who are free. Since its inception, America has been about people who are trying to become free. And, so it goes to the present day.

Whomever you may have voted for, and for whatever reasons, I think perhaps a light that needs to shine is the ramifications caused by only having two choices. And this is what makes me think about the importance of standards. Is it the fact that we only have two choices a factor in causing the divisiveness?

What would our lives be like if we could only choose from among two alternatives in all things? Would education be better if there were only two possible alternatives? Would edtech? That seems like a silly question—as it seems like we have many alternatives. But if you look at consumer markets, especially markets that can be dominated via a network effect, well, you can see many examples today where the choices are getting pretty small.

Is this because certain organizations are evil? Or, is this because the stakeholders are perfectly fine with choosing from one of two alternatives? Or, if they’re not OK with it, perhaps they really can’t do anything about it? Sometimes you don’t choose freedom if you are satisfied with the status quo.

In 2006, when I became CEO of IMS with already decades of experience in high tech and pretty deep experience in higher education, the higher education LMS market was dominated by a single provider. While there was excitement from a relatively small number of suppliers about the potential for interoperability standards, I also had conversations with very experienced edtech executives that told me there was just no way that dominant organizations would move to open standards. I didn’t really know for sure myself. I was betting on the stakeholders in the education market, a unique market in some respects (diversity, cost constraints, the immaturity and untapped potential of learning science), being able to see the benefits of, well, freedom.

Then, like today, it comes down to how open standards allow collective focus on serving the market better because the market needs to be served better to get where we are trying to go—enabling all learners to achieve without limits.

I hope that during this holiday season, you experience the great love in this world we live in and, perhaps, have a moment or two to think about how our community is a force for good by shining the light on freedom in the edtech sector!

Thank you for everything in 2020, and you can count on IMS to do our best in 2021!

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | October 2020

"I’m gonna go out tonight, I’m gonna find out what I got." —Bruce Springsteen

 

We’re now into the 4th quarter of a year that none of us predicted. In recent months, I’ve been writing about IMS’s pivot in late 2019 in seeing a need to go beyond “student success” to a more specific set of success factors that might be at the center as we evolve toward the future of education. We’ve put out there a “straw-person” consisting of three specific agenda items that must be improved to go deeper into “student success.” These are equity, agency, and mastery. 

I suppose nothing highlights how fast things can change in the modern world than a global pandemic. When humans make adjustments during an emergency, some of those adjustments stick. People are losing jobs, and some have predicted that many of those jobs are lost forever. Of course, no one knows how many jobs will be lost or potentially gained as sector activity shifts. What we do know is that workers have to be more agile than ever to keep afloat and build careers. In a 2017 report on human capital trends, Deloitte estimates the average half-life of a learned “skill” is 4.5 years.  

It wasn’t very long ago when mainstream education considered ideas like competency-based education and Open Badges as interesting, but not something to adopt any time soon. As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is undeniable from the growth of interest in these and related topics in IMS (including the last face-to-face meeting we were able to hold this year—the Digital Credentials Summit) that ideas like competencies and digital credentials are now on the cusp of entering the mainstream of education and learning in K-12, HED, and corporate.

From its start, the competency movement in education has reflected new ideas about the “whole learner” and the skills that enable both career and life success. Initially referred to as 21st-century skills more than 20 years ago, we are now seeing detailed frameworks such as those created through the research at the Center for Curriculum Redesign: Collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, mindfulness, courage, leadership, and so on. 

It can be challenging enough to assess proficiency and fill gaps in highly objective areas, such as math. How can we do a better job of measuring proficiency in more qualitative skills? Depending on the type of job or career sought after, these may be more essential than the specific domain or technical skills. But the need for deep technical skills is also essential as technology changes the world of work continuously. Thus, the need for the ability to obtain mastery of subject areas in great depth. The “T-shaped learner” concept designates the two-dimensions of breadth and depth.

Suffice it to say that educators, educational institutions, and employers are still early in our understanding and ability to implement these concepts. But one thing is clear.

Learners of today and the future have a story to tell—their own. And our educational systems at all levels, from K-12 to HED to corporate, play a critical role in providing better ways to help them create and tell that story.

The results from IMS-member collaboration that I’ve highlighted in this series help to chart a path to learner curation, interoperable transmission, and matching of verifiable skills to opportunities. No doubt about that.

But, as we move forward in this work, I believe the foundational concept is at least as much about design as it is capturing. Individuals have the agency to be the designers of their learning profile, their lifelong concept of mastery, including the desired breadth and depth. And institutions/corporations are designers of what constitutes mastery of the programs they offer.

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, equity, agency, and mastery work in concert—they reinforce and enable each other. Equitable opportunities enable agency that, in turn, enables a focus on mastery, and better definitions of mastery enable equity. The world that Bruce Springsteen writes about in his lyrics is a tough and unforgiving place. That may never change. But as education leaders, we can begin to put in place constructs that can help students create and tell their story.

 

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