The IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS) is a global, nonprofit, member association that provides leadership in shaping and growing the learning and educational technology industries through collaborative support of standards, innovation, best practice and recognition of superior learning impact. IMS holds quarterly meetings for members and recently held its third quarterly meeting for 2010. Key topics on the agenda included:
- Learning Objects Discovery and Exchange (LODE)
- Question and Test Interoperability
- Learning Tools Interoperability
- Digital Learning Services
In addition, there were sessions on:
- ASPECT Project: Adopting Standards and Specifications for Educational Content.
- The ICOPER Reference Model: Interoperability for a new Higher Education.
- LODE in OpenScout and MACE
- Educational Change and Collaboration in the IMS GLC
A number of the IMS working groups are of immediate and direct relevance to work underway supporting our national initiatives in Australia, particularly related to the national curriculum, curriculum mapping, and digital resources (content) authoring, discovery and exchange, and implementation of national infrastructure and services.
In the general sessions, IMS outlined its Digital Learning Services and the importance of that strategy to it and to education. Digital Learning Services is underpinned by three core areas of IMS’ work. These being:
In addition to the general sessions I attended a number of the specialist working group meetings – the two of most direct relevance were the LODE meeting and the LTI meeting.
LODE (Learning Object Discovery and Exchange)
The LODE specification aims to facilitate the discovery and retrieval of learning objects stored across more than one collection. LODE can be seen as a glue specification that profiles existing general-purpose protocols in order to take into account requirements specific to the educational domain, rather than creating new protocols. It proposes three main data models:
- A LODE Context Set for the Contextual Query Language (CQL): a data model for the attributes of learning objects, which can be used for search by expressing educationally meaningful queries;
- A data model, named Information for Learning Object eXchange (ILOX), that organizes sets of metadata on learning objects to be used in data exchange; and
- A data model, named Learning Object Repository Registry Data Model, for learning object collections, to be used in discovering and configuring access to those collections.
The work of the LODE group is particularly important to Australia as we seek to improve the discoverability of and access to content and services that will support the national curriculum. In addition to simply discovering resources from repositories, those resources will need to be mapped to specific parts of the curriculum and curriculum outcomes. Link Affiliates has been an active participant in the development of the LODE specification and instrumental in its development.
The ILOX model was presented and agreement sought on work to date and work to do on the specification of this model. ILOX allows us to describe multiple contexts of learning content. For example, a resource could be manifested in different formats, presented in different languages, have different rights associated with it, accessibility multiple versions etc.
LODE profiles a number of specifications to support the discovery and exchange of learning content and continues to refine the approach to support emerging and best practice. Another technology/specification that is gathering momentum in this area is that of the Semantic Web, and in particular the use of RDF (Resource Description Framework). RDF describes the relationships between resources and potentially has a great deal to offer in this area. Diny Golder of JES & Co, outlined the work of the Global Learning Resource Connection (GLRC) and how it is using RDF to increase the discoverability of learning content. ESA (Education Services Australia, with support from Link Affiliates), in conjunction with JES & Co has been investigating the use of RDF and the Semantic Web to improve search and discovery. The LODE working group has been monitoring this work through IMS, who have announced a collaboration and has agreed to investigate the potential for incorporating this approach into the LODE specification.
The working group also agreed on developing a best practice document for LODE. Such documents are seen as invaluable to new implementers of specifications, who largely prefer to work from existing examples and documentation than interpreting full specifications.
LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability)
Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is one of the three core areas of IMS Digital Learning Services – the others being Common Cartridge and Learning Information Services. LTI provides the bridge between formal learning environments (such as LMS’s) and Web 2.0 services and digital content. LTI opens up the education environment to many new services and resources. It is an important specification for the Australian education environment as it allows external services and content (eg national services, resources, Web 2.0 services and content etc) to be integrated into formal education environments in a safe and secure manner.
In LTI, a learning platform such as a Learning Management System (LMS) is known as a tool consumer (TC) ie it consumes content or services from the Web. The provider of those services or content is known as a tool provider (TP).
The LTI working group looked at a number of aspects of the specification. The certification process was discussed in detail.
The current release of LTI is known as Basic LTI. It simply allows an external tool to be launched from the LMS. It also addresses authorisation using OAuth, an open specification for supporting authorization. Basic LTI does not support data flowing back to the LMS from the TP. To do this requires full LTI. The release of the full LTI specification is still some way of as there are a number of complex issues to address. The LTI working group is working on this.
To test their approach, IMS is working on an implementation known as Basic LTI Simple Outcomes. This implementation was a focus of much of the workshop. Simple Outcomes allows for a result to be passed back from the TP to the LMS and stored in (for example) the Gradebook.
Basic LTI Simple Outcomes will not be released as a specification – it will only be made available to IMS members. This is consistent with the manner in which specifications are being developed and released by IMS now. IMS will be releasing in smaller increments of functionality and working very collaboratively on the development and implementations of its specifications. Experience has shown that it is difficult for vendors, integrators etc to work with large, complex specifications so IMS seems to be evolving its approach to developing specifications – small, lightweight and easy to implement. Basic LTI and Basic LTI Simple Outcomes follow this philosophy.
One of the areas that I was interested in from our own experience with Basic LTI, was the type of information that can be returned to the LMS with Basic LTI Simple Outcomes. Result information can be quite complex and there are multiple result types (eg grade, pass/fail information, scores (of which there are many sub-types) etc). ‘Simple Outcomes’ deals with passing information back to the LMS that can be included in a ‘grade-book’ so it is restricted on the types of information it can send. The LTI team has limited the types of results that can be returned so that they can prove the approach, then build on it. The full implementation of LTI will contain a lot more sophistication.
I recently attended the 2010 EIFEL e-portfolio conference called “Learning Forum London 2010“. Naturally, this conference was of particular relevance to the recently completed Digital Education Revolution (DER) e-portfolio activity, but also covered topics including trusted access to personal information and access and identity management. These topics are also of direct relevance to the work of two other recent activities; Century Curriculum Content and Learning Content Discovery and Exchange activities (all of these activities are part of the Technical Standards for Digital Education project).
There were numerous discussions at the conference on how to empower individuals to maintain control over their personal information. A parallel forum focused on the evolution of an “Internet of Subjects” (meaning an internet of/for people, rather than content).
I also presented a paper on privacy and e-portfolios which discussed some recent work in the Australian VET sector on this topic.
There were interesting updates on a number of European projects of relevance to Australian education including TAS3 (Trusted Architecture for Securely Shared Services) which is developing and testing an architecture and related infrastructure for faciltating trusted communication, access and exchange of information online.
Another project called ASPECT is looking at a number of learning technology standards/specifications. This includes for example evaluating software tool support for specifications such as IMS Common Cartridge and SCORM 2004. The ASPECT project is producing some really useful information about e-learning standards/specifications and has been mentioned on this blog previously.
XCRI (eXchanging Course Related Information) is a UK standard for describing University/college course information using a standardised format. It can be used to help match people to courses courses that meet their requirements (including for example study area, study mode and location), as in this project in the English Midlands.
The conference also confirmed in my mind that the leap2A specification for e-portfolios is fast becoming the de facto standard for e-portfolio interoperability. There seems to be a lot of activity around the specification at the moment and more e-portfolio software tools are starting to support it or consider supporting it.
You can find more information about the Learning Forum London 2010 on the conference website.
Can learners benefit from access to their qualifications data? Can learner controlled, electronic access to attainment data improve learner transition in and out of the vocational training sector?
Link Affiliates examined these questions in a report prepared for the Australian Flexible Learning Framework’s e-Portfolio business activity. The Verifying VET Learner Attainment Data report (PDF) was based on an investigation of existing learner verification services and a survey of possible consumers of verified learner information in the Australian VET sector. While the report found that accessing verified learner information is in its infancy in many ways, there is a cohort of information consumers who would find this information useful, and a number of possible models that could be investigated further.
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As part of our recent wrap-up of a bunch of projects, Link Affiliates has been reflecting on the impact of technical standards on education. One measure of success is when educators and learners do not know that the standards are there – what they are doing just works. A side-effect of this measure is that it is sometimes hard to establish new technical standards projects: it is difficult to justify spending time and money on things which nobody sees. For these reasons, we recently wrote a brief article providing examples of how technical standards have been directly beneficial to Australian digital education initiatives.
The article takes a look at what educators are able to do now compared to just a few years ago and examines how that has been achieved using technical standards. It uses a scenario where a teacher wishes to find content for use in a class, adapt it to meet local needs and share that content with peers. The teacher creates and shares assessments relevant to the learning activity. Students produce content as part of the learning activity and share the content as evidence of their capability using e-portfolios.
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There are a number of pesky things that can thwart improved educational outcomes. Some of them can seem a bit arcane. Not getting on top of stuff like copyright and intellectual property (IP) and standards and interoperability can not only blow the budget, they can also just stop good things happening. This reflection is just about the interoperability and standards angles, and is written by someone who has been involved in these things for a few years, but who is not down at the technical detail level of standards work.
Australia has been at the forefront of global standards specifications for a number of years, actively participating in or leading various working groups in IMS, OASIS, IEEE, NISO, and the international e-framework. However the work has not been well understood or connected across the education technical community. This has led to a fracture in communications and endorsement. So why is this so?
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The Technical Standards for Digital Education project’s accessibility activity was primarily focused on investigating the potential impact of new web accessibility guidelines on schools sector e-learning content. In December 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released a new version of the de facto international standard for web accessibility called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). In response, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) in consultation with The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) undertook a consultation process with government departments during 2009 in preparation for a transition to WCAG 2.0 as a government requirement for web content. A transition timetable was released in 2010.
The implementation of the new accessibility requirements should bring benefits for learners accessing web and e-learning content in schools. However, there will need to be support provided to web content developers, teachers and IT staff in order to facilitate the transition.
Within this context, the aim of our accessibility work was as follows:
- Build capability and assist the schools sector to understand the potential impact, challenges and opportunities WCAG 2.0 could present for the Australian schools sector
- Provide advice to DEEWR relating to AGIMO WCAG 2.0 consultations
In collaboration with a dedicated focus group, we investigated potential implications, current trends and barriers to accessibility of web content. In addition, the activity converted some existing e-learning content to comply to WCAG 2.0 requirements to gain a practical understanding of the potential challenges. All of these findings as well as recommendations for further action for Australian governments have been documented in the final report.
This work focused on two specific aspects of incorporating Web 2.0 technologies into learning and teaching; the nexus between Web 2.0 collaborative functionality and the e-learning content that is already widely used in Australian schools, and the issue of safe use of Web 2.0 functionality.
As with other Technical Standards project activities, this work was undertaken in collaboration with a focus group, which also helped to scope and define the purpose of the work. The term “safe” in particular required further elaboration, with the focus group considering this implied a reasonable level of safety, which addressed duty of care obligations and concerns around young learners online. However, variances in the interpretation of what this might mean in practice reflect the diversity of approaches to technology in schools between and within jurisdictions.
An associated piece of work resulted in the customisation of some existing schools sector focused e-learning content to more closely integrate Web 2.0 collaborative functionality. This activity investigated a relatively new IMS specification called Common Cartridge, as explained in a previous blog post. A survey was also undertaken with focus group members, and the following technical challenges were identified:
- Network and firewall barriers
- Professional development for teachers
- Assessing and selecting appropriate tools for use with learners
- Understanding and managing security and duty of care requirements
- Access and identity management.
The resulting report outlines the findings of activity, and also points to some useful resources for facilitating the integration of Web 2.0 collaborative tools with learners. A number of recommendations for further work have also been made in the report.