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Monica Cougan, Manager of Strategic Relationships and Initiatives at CatchOn October 2021 | You Need Data to Know How Much It Helps Your District

Contributed by Monica Cougan, Manager of Strategic Relationships and Initiatives, CatchOn

 

Simplify and Strengthen Your Data Strategy to Assess EdTech Efficacy and Help Ensure Data Privacy Compliance

You won’t find too many educators who don’t know they need detailed data to make the most of their edtech investments, but that doesn’t mean everyone knows just how helpful data can be—or exactly which aspects of district performance data can help boost.

Assessing the true efficacy of edtech has long been a challenge for most districts because they often don’t have the complete picture of what tools and resources are actually being used, by whom, and for what purpose. The data that most districts have on edtech usage and efficacy is siloed, and it’s difficult to see the whole data story. CatchOn provides the tools and learning analytics that make it easy to convert that data into an accelerant to change.

Making the most of all available data can have a transformative impact because, when it comes to districts’ edtech, so much is on the line: in 2020 alone, American school districts spent more than $35 billion on hardware, software, curriculum resources, and networks; now, more than ever, districts are trying to fully understand both the return on—and impact of—those investments, while also monitoring digital assets for privacy compliance. 

But just how much can data analytics help districts? Because we at CatchOn are in the data analytics business, we decided to gather some data about how helpful district-wide student-level data can be: we prepared a study of diverse school districts, gathered data about how they were using CatchOn, and analyzed that data to prepare a report.

Read on to find out just how helpful data analytics can be for your district.

Our Study

To find out how powerful data analytics can be for educators, CatchOn partnered with Digital Promise, a national education nonprofit organization, to conduct a pilot study of seven school districts that are part of Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools.  The primary objective of the study was to understand the potential and power of data to support key district needs. We believed that because CatchOn granted administrators better information about how various digital products were being used by students and teachers, the solution would empower districts to improve their edtech strategies.

Our Findings

We found that access to the data analytics within the CatchOn platform can have a profound impact on districts’ edtech strategies. Here are some key findings:

  • 100% of the leaders from the Digital Promise pilot school districts report that reviewing their CatchOn data helps them identify gaps in student engagement that can indicate inequity.
  • 100% of the leaders from the Digital Promise pilot school districts say that their CatchOn data is valuable for informing their ROI analysis on technology investments.
  • 100% of the leaders from the Digital Promise pilot school districts believe that their CatchOn data is valuable for supporting their district’s online learning initiatives.

The districts we surveyed also believed that CatchOn’s data analytics would help them over the long-term with three critical operational benefits. Districts reported that CatchOn:

  • Supported messaging efforts to the community about product choices.
  • Supported utilization analytics with access to regular and timely data.
  • Helped educators ensure they were effectively monitoring product usage, achieving privacy compliance, and following all their requirements.

Our Conclusion

From this initial study, the evidence suggests that CatchOn provides districts the data and analytics they need to attain better educational results, achieve high-level implementation for their investments, and monitor compliance to keep their staff and students safe. CatchOn does so in part through third-party badging that helps districts align with the privacy standards of leading education organizations such as IMS Global.

“Through the strategic and effective use of data, school leaders can make informed decisions regarding budgets, curricula, resources, staffing, and other supports for students,” concluded Dewayne McClary, Digital Promise’s director of the League of Innovative Schools. “Data disaggregation is a powerful tool that allows school leaders to be more intentional about their decision-making and address educational inequities that have plagued student achievement and opportunity for far too long.”

Based upon the Speak Up Research Project’s findings from the 2020-21 school year, 90% of district administrators say their district has successfully implemented a one-to-one device program for their students in which students can use their devices in school and at home. Further, teachers report a 20% increase in their integration of digital content within everyday instruction in the 2020-21 school year compared to the previous year.

Taken together, these findings suggest that as long as districts wish to invest in edtech, it is well worth their while to invest in effective data analytics to evaluate and hone those efforts. Doing so will help boost student performance, promote educational equity, protect student data, and save districts money.

Because after all, the more districts know, the more they’re empowered to secure transformational results.

 

Special Offer for IMS K-12 Member Districts

All of us at CatchOn greatly value our partnership with IMS Global! As part of our partnership, CatchOn is offering this exclusive offer to IMS K-12 member organizations:

  • A 60-day trial of CatchOn
  • Waiver of set up fees for the district-wide implementation of CatchOn on all school-owned devices upon purchase

Click here to learn more about this exclusive offer.

 

Monica Cougan is the Manager of Strategic Relationships and Initiatives at CatchOn and ENA, where she leverages more than 35 years of experience in education and technology to help schools make the most of new technology. She has been an evangelist for the adoption of technology as a transformative educational tool. Monica has extensive experience helping K-12 school districts implement programs that foster systemic change.

 

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

 

"Get your motor runnin'" —Steppenwolf

 

What’s Under the Hood of Your EdTech?

Once upon a time, you could not only buy a muscle car, but you could work on pretty much every part of what makes it run. I think it’s likely that I’m in the last generation of humans who spent substantial time working on their cars when they were young, whether just for maintenance or fun. A key reason we were able to do this was that the designs of cars were relatively simple, with pretty much all “subcomponents” operating independently of one another. You did not have to mess with onboard microprocessors and extensive electronics to tune your engine or change your brakes.

But embedded computer tech has gradually changed the design of autos to be much more interconnected. My current car, for instance, is a hybrid. It is a performance car that automatically determines how to distribute power from gas and electricity to each wheel and adjust the suspension in real-time in response to the driver and conditions determined by access to data from many sensors.

My dad was an aerospace engineer. In the 1970s, he was involved in developing prototypes of hybrid engines for cars. Fifty years later, hybrids are everywhere, and it does not take much imagination to predict a predominance of electronic vehicles over the next decade or two. What’s under the hood has changed forever. Motivations for the evolution have included reducing harmful emissions and fuel costs. But the more integrated architecture enables the user experiences that sell cars.

What does this have to do with edtech?

First, we see a very similar evolution in terms of integration bringing value to the end-users. While the individual applications of an edtech design are important, more and more the user experience is how well the totality and built-in flexibility of the design respond to user needs. We're making powerful advancements like achieving digital on day one and enabling instructional innovation by making data easier to see, understand, and act upon. These interconnections are what enable faculty to teach and students to learn their way.

Second, as edtech evolves, the bar is going up for IT, academic, and product leadership when it comes to designing and ensuring the user experience across products. Once upon a time, automobiles had only a set of hardwired gauges each representing one signal for the user to monitor. The software products we know today as the LMS, portal, or single-sign-on system, are just the first or second generation of what will evolve to be a much more sophisticated approach to configuring the edtech experience at an institution and for each learner.

Another way to make this second point is that what is “under your edtech hood” is not just a list of what products you support (for institutions) or what specific integrations you support (for product developers). What is under your hood is the design of how users launch products, how context/user preferences are transmitted to each launched product, what progress indicators and data are generated, micro-credentials are awarded, where the outputs go, and how the outputs are expected to be used.

Candidate NGDLE Architecture

Candidate NGDLE architecture in relation to product categories that already exist in higher ed; taken from the EDUCAUSE Review article Shaping the Educational Technology Innovation Ecosystem by Rob Abel, Published: July 17, 2017

Source: Shaping the Educational Technology Ecosystem, EDUCAUSE Review, July 17, 2017

 

Third, the need to reduce harmful effects on the environment and keep fuel costs low is analogous to the need to achieve scale and agility without increasing cost.

If all of this sounds a bit “futuristic,” well, some of it may seem to be, but this is the road we’re traveling in IMS. The scaling of edtech and cost savings achieved from open standards-based interoperability in concert with a committed community that shares how they are making progress are reaping the rewards. The leaders in IMS can now focus more on that user experience design. For instance, during the pandemic, IMS members—institutions and suppliers alike—have been able to leverage what is “under the hood” of their edtech ecosystem to better configure experiences for end-users.

Going forward, intentionally designed interoperability, working across an institutional product ecosystem, is what will make or break the power of digital edtech for faculty, learners, and administrators.

We have come a long way and have a long way to go. But there is much that we can do today to improve user experiences by encouraging broader and deeper adoption of the work of the IMS community. Let’s take the next step of incorporating the full capabilities of LTI Advantage, OneRoster, QTI, CASE, TrustEd Apps, and Caliper for the benefit of our learners!

To learn more, I encourage that you register for our upcoming annual Learning Impact: Connecting the Power of the EdTech Community. IMS Contributing Members get two free registrations, and Affiliate Members get one free registration!

 

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IMS Chief Architect Dr. Colin SmytheIMS TECH TALK

Contributed by Dr. Colin Smythe, IMS Chief Architect

 

Compliance, Conformance, and Certification: Why Getting IMS Certified is Important

One of the benefits of IMS membership is having your certified products listed in the IMS Product Directory—the official list of all learning apps and tools that have passed IMS interoperability certification. A product must demonstrate support of one or more IMS specifications through conformance testing to appear in the directory. IMS awards each certification for 12 months, so every product must undergo successful recertification to maintain its listing. This 12-month cycle allows vendors to use agile development processes without requiring recertification for every product release. New major versions of a product must be certified. It is not unusual for several versions of a product to show up in the product directory. It is important to note that the product receives certification and not a deployment of the product.

The IMS Product Directory also includes products vetted for student data privacy using the IMS TrustEd Apps process. Many, but not all vetted products, have also achieved IMS standards’ certification. This blog focuses on the products that go through conformance testing for IMS certification.

Defining the conformance requirements and providing the associated conformance test capabilities are essential to the IMS specification development process. Each IMS specification must have a Conformance & Certification document. These documents describe the certification process and define the conformance criteria that a product must achieve for each available certification. Most specifications have more than one certification. An example of this is a service-based specification with certifications as a Service Provider and a Service Consumer (a product must be either or both). The conformance and certification aspects are addressed once the project group responsible for developing the specification publishes the Member Candidate Final documents. These documents are available to IMS members only. A minimum number of products must be certified before the Final Release of an IMS specification can be published. This means the document set is publicly available to everyone.

An IMS specification cannot have a Final Release until IMS members define conformance and certification and create and use the conformance test.

One objective of IMS certification is to demonstrate the level of adoption by vendors committed to open solutions to the market. When a new version 1.0 specification is first published, the conformance requirements are defined to encourage broad adoption. Over time the level of adoption will change, and the specification itself will evolve. Therefore, the IMS specification maintenance process allows for the certification requirements to be changed to fit the changing needs of a market—even when there are no changes to the functionality supported by the specification. Also, it is not unusual for the conformance testing to be continually improved. This flexible approach to certification is another reason why products must undergo annual recertification.

It is becoming more common for organizations to require IMS specifications as part of the procurement process. It is natural for vendors to claim compliance. From an IMS perspective, compliance is claimed by vendors who are not IMS Certified. IMS members can provide their IMS product registration numbers, and users can easily confirm their certification by a quick inspection of the IMS Product Directory. If support of an IMS specification is required, the tendering process should include checking the product’s IMS Registration Number. In most cases, the claim for compliance is wishful thinking and based on unjustified confidence in the in-house interoperability testing. Sometimes, it is a cynical misrepresentation. Buyer beware.

When products claim compliance but are not certified, there are two implications. First, the product has not been through IMS conformance testing. Usage of the IMS conformance test systems is essential in producing a correct implementation of the specification. In most cases, a solution goes through several iterations of conformance testing before being certified. There is no restriction on the usage of our conformance test system for IMS members, meaning they are not just for certification. Secondly, if there is a failure of interoperability when using the IMS specifications, the IMS certification requires the vendors to work together, and if appropriate with IMS, to resolve the problem. In some cases, IMS may have to: improve the implementation guidance, correct the specification, and improve the conformance test systems to avoid such incompatibilities in the future. Experience has shown that products that are not certified do not implement the corresponding IMS specification correctly. Superficially, they appear to work, but there will likely be many significant errors in the implementation.

Certification requires IMS membership. Is access to certification sufficient justification for IMS membership? Undoubtedly, YES!

IMS has invested millions of dollars in developing and supporting our extensive test and conformance systems and related artifacts. Five to ten full-time software developers are working on the various IMS test and conformance systems at any one time. Even the largest organizations see significant benefits in using the IMS test and conformance systems. A further benefit is that the IMS technical team provides a wide range of support to help IMS members adopt and adapt IMS specifications. As part of our specification development process, IMS creates the following testing and conformance artifacts:

  • Service Provider and Consumer conformance test systems (used for OneRoster, LTI, CASE, etc.)

  • Reference implementations of the full specification

  • Online validation of content instances (used for Common Cartridge, QTI, etc.)

  • Reference test sets for testing data import capabilities (used for Common Cartridge, OneRoster, QTI, etc.)

It is important to stress that all of these artifacts are available, for unlimited use, to IMS members. All of these artifacts are being continually improved.

While Certification is very important, it is product-focused and not deployment-specific. There is a limit to the degree of interoperability guaranteed through certification only. It is possible for two products certified for the same specification not to interoperate. For example, in OneRoster, there are both REST-based and CSV-based bindings, and interoperability between these is not possible. Therefore being certified alone is insufficient; the right type of certification is required for interoperability. The IMS Product Directory provides sufficient details to ensure the right type of certification is available. In the case of deployed systems, there are many different ways in which a certified system can be configured (this may also depend on the business model used by the vendor).

As the next step beyond certification, IMS has created the Compatibility Check (CCx), which provides the Characterization of a deployment. Furthermore, CCx enables characterizations to be compared. This means that we can compare the characterizations of certified Service Providers and Consumers to show all of the interoperable and non-interoperable features (including the usage of extensions). At present, CCx supports OneRoster and Common Cartridge, but it will be extended to cover many of the IMS specifications over time. I will go into more details about characterization and CCx in a later blog but understand that the characterization of products is the way forward. It is a far better measure of interoperability than certification alone.

 

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

 

"Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy." —The Eagles/Jackson Browne

 

How is IMS Unique in the World of EdTech?

As edtech leaders, we want our technology infrastructure to be supportive of improving teaching, learning, and outcomes. The pandemic has highlighted the need for our ecosystem designs to be agile, scalable, supportive of diverse resources, and safe. All while improving ease of use and productivity for faculty and students, who are under increased stress.

The collaboration across the IMS community at the Contributing Member level is passionate and inspiring. There are many great organizations in the education sector. The IMS community is unique.

IMS is the place where the connectivity in edtech is imagined, defined, adopted, and continuously improved. We completely own this responsibility K-12 and HED. And we own connectivity working right now and getting better in the future.

But the collaboration in IMS is not just inspiring—it pays off. Combining the long-term perspective coupled with the short-term need to solve problems is not just exciting; it is why the IMS community achieved the preparedness that was essential when the pandemic hit. Recently the IMS Board reflected on the IMS experience of their organizations. I was amazed to hear that the work of IMS was not just a big benefit with the pandemic, but that IMS work also has helped similarly with other life-changing events, namely a major hurricane and a ransomware attack.

Another energizing aspect of the IMS community is the cooperation and collaboration between institutions and suppliers. Trust is also a key pillar of effective collaboration. The IMS collaboration uniquely builds lasting trust. The commitment to verified use of open standards means benefits today and focuses us on ensuring better connectivity among a growing universe of edtech. It is our commitment to work together to help faculty and students now and in the future.   

People sometimes assume that I became IMS CEO because I believe in the power of standards. I do believe in the power of standards and have a deep background in tech standards before ever getting into the education sector. But the reason that I saw potential in IMS is that my experience in the education sector convinced me that greater collaboration among education sector stakeholders, both institutional and corporate, is essential to get to a truly better future. It turns out that standards are one of the most powerful ways to collaborate because they can enable cost containment, scale, and innovation. There aren’t many things that can do all of those three things at once. And, because we all agree to implement a common foundation, that is, the standards, they create what is, in essence, an implicit “partnership” where we are all investing in our future together.  

Getting really useful standards is hard. To be really useful, a standard has to be the best way or at least as good as any other way to achieve the integration goal. But “best” is complicated. Best includes most efficient but also most effective. "Effective" relates to the user experience as well as enabling the right functionality and data. This requires deep insight—coming from deep collaboration. Again, it comes back to collaboration.

In an article I wrote for EDUCAUSE Review in 2007 (Innovation, Adoption, and Learning Impact: Creating the Future of IT), I estimated the investment in academic-related IT services at perhaps 1.2% of all expenses institution-wide as a proxy for how much institutions are investing in building core capacity to enable the future of instruction. Typically, 6-12% of operating expenses in other industries are focused on future product development. While this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, it points out that one would expect that HED institutions of any size are likely challenged to provide the level of support to faculty to improve the use of technology for teaching and learning systematically. If that rough calculation doesn’t convince you, another way to think about it is that while our great universities are known for advancing many fields, teaching and learning is generally not one of them.

EDUCAUSE Review article Innovation, Adoption, and Learning Impact: Creating the Future of IT

Great standards are hard to achieve. Effective collaboration that produces something multiple parties can utilize is even harder. I am in awe of the IMS community as they work together to create a force multiplier that is greatly needed to make a better tomorrow for every learner. The edtech sector cannot thank you enough! But, perhaps most importantly, the IMS community is a place where edtech leaders at all levels can come, share, and, yes, get the help we all need to solve today and tomorrow’s challenges. Once an IMS member, you are never alone.

Don’t forget to register for Learning Impact 2021 virtual, 4-7 October!

 

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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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