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Learning Impact Blog

 

IMS Chief Architect Dr. Colin SmytheIMS TECH TALK

Contributed by Dr. Colin Smythe, IMS Chief Architect

 

Make the Best Use of IMS Technical Artifacts to Get the Most from Your IMS Membership

One advantage of having created many edtech specifications over many years is that we have learned from many, many mistakes. This is significant for the continual improvement of our development process.

In the main, IMS Contributing Member (CM) organizations identify the scope of a new spec and when we need to create a new version. IMS staff facilitate the process. The creation of a specification starts with its “Charter” document. The Charter defines the scope and names the CMs committed to early adoption. Both the Charter and the final set of spec documents and supporting artifacts undergo formal vote by the IMS Technical Advisory Board. All CMs have the option to vote, with each CM having only one vote. During the development of a specification, only CMs have access to the documents and other artifacts. Before IMS publishes a specification as a Final Release, there must be a minimum number of certified implementations by the early adopters identified in the Charter.

IMS Contributing Members determine the edtech specifications we create, gain the first-to-market opportunity, and drive the pace at which we develop new versions.

Every IMS specification consists of a set of HTML documents. Apart from the detailed definition of the spec itself (the Information Models and the Technology Binding documents), we provide two special documents:

 → Implementation Guide

  • Contains detailed descriptions of how to use the specification best

 → Conformance & Certification

  • Defines the criteria by which a product will be certified as correctly implementing the specification

IMS also provides several other artifacts to ease implementation of a specification, including:

 → Machine-Readable Forms of the Specification

 → Conformance Test Systems

 → Reference Implementations

While the specification documents are available to everyone through the IMS website, the Conformance Test Systems and Reference Implementations are restricted to IMS members.

The IMS website contains hundreds of thousands of web pages. Fortunately, there are a few simple guidelines to follow to make it easier to navigate. There are strict rules on where we place various types of information. Everyone has free access to the IMS specifications and a wide range of support information. Members also get access to restricted information and support tools. Public and member-only Forums are available—we use these as the formal record of information dissemination. For example, we release all completed draft versions of the specification documentation for review through the forums.

The set of forums reflect how IMS undertakes its activities.

Document control for all work-in-progress and “issue tracking” is done through IMS GitHub. At present, we have nearly 200 GitHub repositories. Access to the IMS GitHub is limited to IMS members only. Finally, we have an IMS Slack channel used by our specification development Working Groups to facilitate real-time discussions (but not for any part of our formal processes).

Machine-Readable Forms of the Specification
Whenever possible, we produce machine-readable files of an IMS specification. Developers use these to enable rapid prototyping of an implementation. The machine-readable formats we use are XML Schema Definition (XSD), Web Service Description Language (WSDL), JSON Schema, JSON-LD Context, and OpenAPI files. Several other formats are also under evaluation, including GraphQL and AsyncAPI. All of these files are made available through the IMS PURL server. Access to draft versions of these artifacts is essential for IMS members when they become early adopters.

Conformance Test Systems
Another benefit of IMS membership is your listing in the IMS Product Directory of certified products. Certification requires the use of the IMS Conformance Testing Systems. In the case of data model specification, this includes the use of the IMS Online Validator. For service-based specifications, e.g., OneRoster, etc., we create unique conformance test systems. We provide tests for both ends of the service, i.e., one for systems providing the API (Providers) and another for systems using the API (Consumers). We have made a substantial investment in developing and maintaining the conformance test systems, and IMS members get unlimited usage of these systems. Experience has shown that our testing systems catch a wide range of implementation bugs. Some members also use our test systems as part of their product development process.

For some specs, such as Common Cartridge, IMS provides certification of the actual content being exchanged. In most cases, this is XML-based content, and we use our XSDs for validation. The IMS Online Validator hosts all of the separate content validators. New validators are deployed easily (the XSDs used by the validator are those hosted on the IMS PURL server).

Reference Implementations
The most recent additions to the set of specification artifacts are the IMS Reference Implementations, with the one for LTI Advantage being the most notable success. Our goal for every reference implementation is to support all aspects of a specification. More importantly, we produce the reference implementations in a framework that makes it easy for developers to use them as part of their in-house test and development process. Reference implementations are available to IMS members only, and experience shows that using an IMS Reference Implementation can significantly reduce the time and effort for producing a working solution.

We're Here to Help

IMS Contributing Members take the lead in creating an IMS specification. The conformance test systems, the reference implementations, etc., are developed by the IMS technical team.  Before using one of these artifacts, we encourage you to have a discussion with the appropriate IMS technical staff. A thirty-minute call will avoid a lot of wasted time and effort. We also run a Support Portal. This provides logging of issues about the conformance test systems, reference implementations, and any of the other tools that we provide. Finally, it is important to stress that IMS staff are available to provide guidance on what information is relevant, how to get the relevant information, and how to avoid many of the most common problems.

Need help getting started? Contact IMS staff or reach out to me directly at csmythe@imsglobal.org

 

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Monica Watts, IMS Director of K-12 Engagement

Monica Watts, Director of K-12 Engagement

 

Let’s Talk About Student Data Privacy

 

There is no debate that the global pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital resources in K-12. With an increase in digital resources and access, the need for protecting student data privacy and security is even more urgent.

In March of 2021, IMS launched the TrustEd Apps Dashboard to guide your teachers and staff towards secure data use and privacy. Over the last three years, our community has played an integral part in designing a rigorous rubric for vetting an application. Already, IMS has vetted over 5,000+ apps using this IMS community-developed rubric, and of this writing, over 130 products from 65+ different suppliers have earned the TrustEd Apps Seal for Data Privacy Certification. All these applications are easily found in the IMS Product Directory.

 

IMS TrustEd Apps SealTrustEd Apps by the Numbers

→ 5,797 vetted apps in the IMS Product Directory
→ 68 suppliers have achieved the TrustEd Apps Seal
→ Over 35 in the pipeline to earn the Seal
→ 419 non-member/non-IMS certified

 

The TrustEd Apps Dashboard equips your teachers and staff with the knowledge of preferred, approved, and denied applications by the district. Additionally, it provides detailed information on how the application meets the expectations of the rubric. The new TrustEd Apps Dashboard addresses the challenge of vetting applications for data privacy and security. The TrustEd Apps Dashboard integration will launch through an LTI 1.3 certified supplier.

 

"We need to bring on vendors very quickly and make sure they work within our current ecosystem of technology solutions. IMS TrustEd Apps will help us cut through the backlog of having to vet and approve all of the apps coming in. Now, our academics department and our technology department have a partner to support and streamline our processes so we can get tools into the hands of our students and teachers quicker, while also ensuring their safety."
—Jeff McCoy, Associate Superintendent for Academics, Greenville County Schools

As we prepare to close the school year, now is the time to request access to the TrustEd Apps Dashboard for your teachers available through your membership in IMS Global. We invite you to contact us about gaining access to this valuable tool. Plus, we recently announced a new preferred partnership with CatchOn to bring TrustEd Apps privacy vetting data directly to teachers and administrators.

For more information on the TrustEd Apps process, please visit trustedapps.org today.

 

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

 

"Just what you want to be, you will be in the end" —The Moody Blues

 

Holding Ourselves to a Higher Standard of Learning Impact

 

The 2021 winners of the Learning Impact Awards were recently announced. In this post, I'll give you some history on the awards and point you to a few of my favorites from among this year’s medal winners.

Learning Impact Awards 2021 winners page

From early 2006, the term “Learning Impact” has been a shorthand at IMS for improving access, affordability, and quality of education. In 2007, IMS held the inaugural Learning Impact conference and Learning Impact Awards (LIAs) competition in Vancouver. The theme, Learning Impact, was a direct result of the 2006 decision by the IMS team and Board of Directors to embrace Learning Impact as the primary measure of success of the organization.

In 2010, the IMS Board crafted the mission statement that captures the full scope of IMS activities and reiterates how impact, adoption, and standards work together to grow the edtech innovation ecosystem. We began using the image that goes with the mission statement early in 2006.

Building the EdTech Innovation Ecosystem image

The LIAs are uniquely IMS—nothing about the program was copied from any other source. IMS established a detailed rubric with eight categories of impact (including access, affordability, and quality) that are used by a neutral expert judging panel to select the winners. In the last few years, we have added the ability for the public also to vote. This public vote is equal in weight to only one judge—so there is no way to “stuff the ballot box.”

It is not easy to win a medal in the LIA competition. The typical “product pitch” does not even come close to what is required. Evidence of impact is collected and considered by the judges in the context of actual institutional use. Note that interoperability is just one of the eight criteria.

Generally, interoperability and the use of standards, in particular, relate to scalability. However, innovation does not require interoperability. The goal within the context of our full set of activities is that the LIA awards help us see the innovations with impact and then create the standards to help innovation be adopted across the ecosystem. This was especially true in the early years of the program, as it was rare to find an entry that fully endorsed standards. However, today, most of the entries are leveraging IMS standards, many at a massive scale. Thus, through the evolution of the LIA winners, we have seen the growing impact of standards over the last 15 years. This is exactly the virtuous cycle of innovation, standards, and large-scale adoption that we had hoped to establish.

IMS also analyzes the finalists, and in most years, publishes a Learning Impact Report. The purpose of the report is to take stock of where things stand with respect to the innovation trend categories that have come to the fore through the awards process. The LIAs look for evidence that an innovation is “crossing the chasm” into mainstream market adoption.

As I've discussed, I think a potential more specific set of goals beyond access, affordability, and quality, such as equity, agency, and mastery, will help the education sector focus on the key challenges that go more directly to the heart of the matter than the much-heralded mantra of “student success.” Therefore, while all the medal winners in 2021 are great, no one should be surprised that my personal favorites featured the equity, agency, and mastery themes:

Chicago Public Schools' Curriculum Equity Initiative
This project is a breakthrough in providing a scalable, culturally responsive, digital curriculum that can provide the foundation for customization, and thus equity, for a wide range of needs.

ECoach at the University of Michigan
It seems like every higher ed course should come with an ecoach which helps motivate agency with digital support that meets the student where they are.

Scaling an Equitable Access Program: VitalSource and University of California, Davis
One important aspect of equity in higher education is the trend toward ensuring that all students have access to all required resources in a digital format, a lesson from the pandemic that needs to carry over.

Class: Redefining the Virtual Classroom
While making the virtual learning experience substantially better may seem less important now that face-to-face is resuming, this winner defines an approach (potentially a new product category) that can bring the power of digital to the classroom (or hybrid or virtual) in ways that could improve the teacher’s ability to help all students.

Digital Graduation Predictor and Virtual Counselor
This project is a great example of how modern data architectures can be leveraged to get a better understanding of the progress of each student to help all succeed.

IMS Annual Report 2020 cover page

Learning Impact has been this “North Star” that has led to the 15+ years of growth of IMS discussed on our recently released annual report.  It is the collaboration of the IMS member organizations making it all work!

 

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IMS Chief Architect Dr. Colin SmytheIMS TECH TALK

Contributed by Dr. Colin Smythe, IMS Chief Architect

 

The Student Learning Data Model: A New Way of Working with the IMS Specifications

Having published edtech interoperability specifications for over 20 years, we’ve learned a few things. As is the standard (pun intended) by all specification development organizations, these specs are published as sets of HTML documents. In most cases, these documents are long, and it is difficult for a reader to find the information of specific interest. New tools are needed to simplify reading specification documentation, and so IMS has been developing such tools over the past 12 months. In November 2020, we announced the availability of the Student Learning Data Model or SLDM for short. The SLDM provides a new way to access, explore and visualize all of the information within the set of IMS specifications relevant to a student’s engagement and progress.

In many cases, an edtech system will make use of more than one IMS specification. An essential part of our development process is the integration between IMS spec, for example, LTI® links being a resource type in Common Cartridge®. The reference now has to be made to several specs. A reader needs to easily access, explore, and visualize information across several sets of documentation. As the number of published specifications increases (over 100 in our history), as the complexity of each specification increases (an unavoidable reality as a specification evolves), and as the integrations become more comprehensive, the availability and use of tools such as the SLDM is essential.

The SLDM provides three tiers of information. The first two tiers are available to any registered user of the IMS website. Access to the third tier is only available to users from IMS member organizations.

The first tier collects the information into an eight-cell honeycomb of:

  • User and Organization
  • Enrollment & Attendance
  • Pathways to Competency
  • Instructional Resources
  • Assignment and Assessment
  • Learning Activities

Student Learning Data Model image

The second tier—accessed through the honeycomb—provides the list and details of the relevant data models from the IMS specifications. A user of the SLDM can now get all of the information on the data models in just two clicks, avoiding having to dive into the thousands of pages of specification documentation. The third tier—accessed either through the second-tier links or directly—gives even richer details for the data models and related information.

The SLDM is a curation of the relevant specification information. It is a focus or “lens” on the IMS specifications.

Applying the lens to the complete set of IMS specifications provides a way to bring the relevant information into one focus from the mass of spec material. And we plan to make other lenses. As part of realizing the SLDM, the IMS technical team created a new data dictionary or Common Data Model (CDM). We generated the CDM from the source models made in the IMS model-driven specification development process (I will reveal more about this process in later blogs), which guarantees consistency between the published IMS spec documentation and the Common Data Model. The information presented through the SLDM is drawn directly from the CDM.

The first release of the SLDM and CDM draws on data model definitions only. Many IMS specs like OneRoster®, REST API, and others include a service definition. A service definition describes how the data must be exchanged; the data model describes the syntax, semantics, and format of the data to be exchanged but not how the data is exchanged. Future releases of the CDM and SLDM will include the service definitions and the binding technology artifacts, e.g., OpenAPI files, etc.  The long-term aim is to make tools such as the SLDM and CDM the primary way of working with IMS specifications.

Access to the SLDM and CDM is through the IMS website. We used GraphQL as the delivery technology when creating the CDM. A GraphQL server contains all of the Common Data Model and responds to queries from the IMS website. GraphQL provides a powerful combination for defining a flexible API with common semantics for the data being exchanged and stored. This is a great learning opportunity for us, so if in the future, IMS members request GraphQL based binding of an IMS specification, we can produce them from a strong understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

So, what now?

The first step is to get IMS members and non-members using the Student Learning Data Model and IMS members using the Common Data Model.

Next, we need your feedback on what to improve and what new features we need to add. The early response has been encouraging, but we want more from you. Some of the specific feedback we need includes:

  • How can the user experience for the SLDM and Common Data Model be improved?

  • What type of synthesized information across the specifications is useful?

  • What type of information and visualization would be useful for our service-based specifications?

  • The SLDM is the first lens. What are other lenses of interest?

We look forward to hearing your feedback! Please email us at datamodel@imsglobal.org.

 

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

 

"And I'm never going back to my old school" —Steely Dan

 

Exciting Tools for Your Back-to-School Adventure and Beyond from IMS

 

Pandemic or no pandemic, HED or K-12, institution, state department of education, or supplier, anticipation is always high for Fall back to school. “School” is never the same as it was—it keeps evolving. And that’s a good thing. It’s in this time between now and the start of school that everything must come together to achieve what we like to call “Digital on Day One.”

As historic investments in edtech companies from venture capital continue to grow, the challenges of being prepared to focus on teaching and learning are growing each year.

I have been incredibly impressed with how the IMS institutional members have established processes for being ready. It really is a sort of race to stay ahead of the edtech curve. Similarly, suppliers have the daunting task of making sure their products create the most value within the context of the institutional ecosystem. Therefore, as IMS members of all types know, a strategy of building your ecosystem on open standards you can count on to work now and be there for the long haul is now essential, whether you have an institutional or supplier perspective.

So, as we are all thinking about the 2021-2022 experience, I wanted to highlight some developments in the IMS community that you probably want to be at least aware of but may want to partake at a deeper level.

 

Either in preparation for or during school year 2021-2022 I highly recommend all IMS members take a closer look at the latest tools from IMS to enrich and future proof your digital ecosystems.

 

Here is a rundown:

K-12: Procuring and onboarding SIS, LMS, and digital curriculum utilizing Standards First and OneRoster® Compatibility Check.

Whether your organization is a supplier, institution, or state, if you are a fan of OneRoster, IMS has made it super easy to make sure we get all those OneRoster implementations converging. A set of leading IMS school districts and suppliers will be doubling down on ensuring compatibility of OneRoster implementations by adopting the Compatibility Check OneRoster diagnostic tool. You, too, can get involved with this program! It’s called Standards First and begins with a straightforward pledge of collaboration, cooperation, and transparency in the use of open standards. It’s a litmus test. With almost 100 leading K-12 organizations (and growing) that have signed the pledge, there are no legal issues that have arisen. It will soon probably say more about an organization unwilling to sign the pledge regarding their support of open standards. You don’t have to be an IMS member organization to sign the pledge. But, if you are an IMS member and a OneRoster enthusiast, I strongly recommend participating in either the supplier or institutional OneRoster roundtable meetings where members exchange info for supporting the Standards First/Compatibility Check collaboration.

HED, K-12, Corporate Education: LTI® 1.3 core/LTI Advantage replacing all existing LTI integrations.

After two years of widespread adoption, this is the time that every new LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability®) integration should be implementing LTI 1.3 core and the relevant services from LTI Advantage. LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage replace all other versions of LTI that IMS is deprecating, can no longer be certified, and will not be supported at all after Summer 2022. It is time to create a plan to upgrade older LTI integration over the next year. LTI 1.3/LTI Advantage is rock solid, implements enhanced security/ID features, and enables dramatic improvements in the ability to see assignment and grade data across all tools in the LMS (or other launching software platforms). You see all of the 107 products currently certified to support LTI 1.3 here. There are 81 products currently certified on various components of LTI Advantage.

K-12: Procuring and onboarding digital curriculum utilizing Common Cartridge® Compatibility Check and CASE® Network.

Thanks to IMS Global’s investment in the CASE Network, U.S. K-12 is no longer being held hostage by proprietary providers of digital versions of state learning standards that all the curriculum and assessment providers can align to. But, perhaps even better is that the digital curriculum resources made available as searchable learning objects via the IMS Thin Common Cartridge format can all be checked for the metadata supported on each object, including alignment to the appropriate CASE Network globally unique identifiers (GUIDs). This checking occurs via the new Common Cartridge Compatibility check. IMS developed this because districts have not been able to get consistent metadata on their cartridges. Please note that thin common cartridges are dependent on LTI. So please read the previous item on upgrading your LTIs!

HED, K-12: TrustEd Apps program for vetting student data privacy and the TrustEd Apps dashboard.

Over the last several months, one of the most exciting new developments in IMS has been the roll-out of the TrustEd Apps program, which now features vetting of privacy policies on over 5,000 edtech software applications, including over 130 earning the TrustEd Apps Seal. The TrustEd Apps seal means that the supplier has provided information on how their policy meets a baseline within the privacy rubric standard agreed to by the IMS members. IMS makes available to IMS institutional members a Compatibility Check account that enables an administrator to curate a list of acceptable applications for use within the district or university by teachers, students, etc. And just this week, IMS and CatchOn announced the first supplier sponsorship of TrustEd Apps, which includes CatchOn distributing TrustEd Apps data via the CatchOn dashboard application. 

HED, K-12, Corporate Education: Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) now in certified products.

Verifiable digital credentials issued by education providers that individual learners can easily curate have gotten much closer to reality. IMS members AEFIS, ELocker, Randa Solutions, and iDatafy (SmartResume) recently achieved certification to the CLR standard. Therefore, in addition to the exchange of verifiable digital credentials via Open Badges, the CLR enables interoperability of all types of learner achievements, including but not limited to assessments, badges, certifications, competencies, co-curricular, courses, degrees, licenses, and skills. It’s time to start designing and building your institutional or systemwide digital credential strategy!

This is getting to be a long post, but I would still like to delve into some other developments to keep an eye on:

  • Increasing adoption of Caliper Analytics® in K-12 as well as HED
  • The emergence of Badge Connect to sync up badges between badging platforms
  • Documented integrations now available in the IMS Product Directory
  • Edu-API now emerging in HED
  • Expansion of TrustEd Apps to interoperability, accessibility, and more in-depth security
  • Rapid analytics deployment and data-ready apps

Please stay tuned for more on these as well! Don’t forget to make plans to join us to hear more on these and more at IMS Learning Impact 2021 virtual conference (October 4-7)!

 

You’ll never be going back to your old school—thanks to the leadership of the IMS community!

 

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

 

"I love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I'll leave it up to you." —Ten Years After

 

Doing Well by Doing Good via Participation in IMS Global Learning Consortium

 

Are you a social entrepreneur? Is your organization “socially responsible?” Perhaps your organization considers itself a “mission-driven” organization? Perhaps you lead or work for a “B Corp” (a Public Benefit Corporation).

All of these terms require more definition to be meaningful. But, generally speaking, they all connote commitment to a societal cause that is at least as important as the commitment to the bottom line. In addition, one can certainly argue that social change is imperative, as it would be hard to imagine a meaningful social mission of “keeping everything the same as it is now.”

I believe that the IMS member organizations and philanthropic funders of IMS (directly to IMS Global or via the Affiliated 1EdTech Foundation) can be very proud of the investment they have made and are making in IMS.

Indeed, regardless of the social mission of your particular organization, your participation in IMS is a contribution that will pay off for both your organization and for society.

Let me explain further.

The IMS Social Mission

The current mission (since 2010) is stated as follows:

The mission of the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS Global/IMS) is to advance technology that can affordably scale and improve educational participation and attainment. To ensure that the “Learning Impact” of technology-enabled innovation is achieved around the world, IMS Global’s influential community of educational institutions, suppliers, and government organizations develops open interoperability standards, supports adoption with technical services, and encourages adoption through programs that highlight effective practices.

At the heart of the IMS social mission is enabling new educational models that improve educational participation and attainment. These new models are supported by advancements in technology that IMS has a role in fostering. Open interoperability standards are one of three complementary core activities in IMS.

IMS as a Social Entrepreneur

Many experts define entrepreneurship as the act of creating a shift from one economic equilibrium to another. IMS members are the organizations that select which areas of technology we work on, but, very importantly, with an eye towards how they wish to evolve educational models. For instance, virtual, hybrid, and personalized education have not been a surprise to IMS members. They have been instrumental in creating shifts such as these in order to meet the needs of the future.

I think it’s fair to say that many education leaders don’t quite grasp how open interoperability standards relate to the social mission of enabling educational shift? The answer is pretty straightforward. It is very difficult to imagine a shift in educational models at scale without a massive effort to put in place the “plumbing” that connects the educational ecosystem in ways that make the shift easier for all stakeholders. You can’t get to scale without scalable infrastructure. Of course, individual organizations, institutions, suppliers, governments, benefit from the availability of infrastructure. But most importantly it enables them to better serve their stakeholders.

The IMS members are indeed creating a massive infrastructure based on open standards. Just look at the IMS Certified Product Directory, which keeps growing and growing. Please note that all products are recertified every year as the ecosystem infrastructure requirements (i.e. the open standards) evolve. Literally billions of interoperable interactions are occurring every day among products connected via IMS standards.

Perhaps you’re wondering how this infrastructure is different than getting high bandwidth, ubiquitous Internet? Well, we do need that, too. But the IMS open standards enable edtech product interoperability that makes products more available, usable, and insightful by making it easier for them to work together. Internet access provides a foundation of scale, but it does not by itself address the connectivity needed by the edtech sector to go where we want and need to go.

In addition to scale, the other key aspect of enabling social good in a relatively slow-moving industry such as education is sustainability.  When you or your organization contributes to IMS, there is a high probability that the contribution is adding to work that will get adopted and keep evolving well into the future. The timing of innovation is difficult to predict. Thus, sustainability is not just a “nice to have” when it comes to social entrepreneurship in education. And, if a philanthropic organization supports IMS work through a grant, that grant investment will grow and sustain through the IMS member investment.

Social Impact?

Perhaps as you are reading this you are having a difficult time figuring out how we measure the impact of all this beyond the adoption of standards and new technologies that use the standards? How do we measure the impact on students? After all, hasn’t there been a lot of investment in educational technology that hasn’t changed student success significantly? Well, we couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. That’s where the IMS community’s work in digital credentials comes in. The reality is that it is difficult to evolve the educational economy without some rethinking of how achievement is recognized and able to be turned into life currency. That is why we are so enthusiastic about enabling a wide variety of such shifts via the IMS micro-credentials work. These credentials are also a way to measure, in a much better way than we can today, the impact on students of the shift in educational models.

The above ideas are not theoretical. They have been shown through over 22 years of IMS experience. They are happening every day through the social entrepreneurship of thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations collaborating via IMS.

So, if you want to change the world, IMS is a good place for you to make an impactful and lasting contribution.

Whether you represent an IMS member organization or a non-member organization, please help us by showing your support for this important social mission by taking the Standards First pledge!

 

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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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