Why is “interoperability” so crucial to the educational use of information and technology?
Many educational institutions provide access to information about courses, information and technology used in courses and information generated by participants through some form of online learning environment. Portions of these interrelated types of information are frequently licensed, managed and/or protected from unauthorized use by the institution. Examples include selectively imported and exported intellectual property, student information, and administrative data. Other information such as open educational resources may not need to be licensed, managed and/or protected from unauthorized use by the institution. However, all of these components often get bundled together. The challenge then is to provide a personalized user experience that is accessed through human and computer interaction within a shared learning environment that combines the following:
- feeds to and from protected administrative and student information systems
- authorized access to licensed intellectual property (both software and content)
- organized selections of open educational resources
- social constructs for participating in both public and private cohort networks
The integration of information systems, technology infrastructure and third party product and service providers is a basic requirement for providing the kind of learning environment described above. Interoperability is a crucial enabling capability
for automatically exchanging and interpreting data accurately among two or more information systems, configuring combined uses of technology without the need for customization, and merging complementary content and services from third party providers within a coherent user experience.
Education specific open standards for “interoperability” can help solve integration challenges within the unique requirements of an educational context.
- characteristics of the overall user experience which include (but is not always limited to); branding, ease-of-use across multiple courses, availability of support services, supporting a full spectrum of facilitated interaction among people, providing integrated views of information aggregated in meaningful ways from multiple sources
- characteristics of the enabling technology which includes (but is not always limited to); combining software functionality that can be “easily” configured by subject matter experts and instructional designers for use by students and instructors to interact with relevant content and engage in activities that serve the objectives of a particular program of study and/or course
- identity management which includes (but is not always limited to); the ability to verify someone’s identity across multiple systems using the same credentials
- total cost of ownership which includes (but is not always limited to); establishing and maintaining custom interfaces, switching costs, software licensing, system configuration, ongoing maintenance, upgrades, technical support, help desk support, training and documentation
- information management which includes (but is not always limited to); capturing, storing, organizing, preserving, retrieving, and rendering information in ways that facilitate the accurate and timely exchange of information
- information security which includes (but is not always limited to); stewardship of personally identifiable information and copyright material – ensuring the confidentiality and security of protected information under federal and state law
- compliance which includes (but is not always limited to); terms and conditions of software and licensing agreements, along with federal and state laws and regulations pertaining to accessibility
The IMS Global Learning Consortium has developed the following education specific open standards:
“Learning Information Services (LIS) - Standards to support interactions and data exchange between learning systems and administrative, student, or human resource systems, including exchange of course rosters, learner profiles, competencies/learning objectives and learning outcomes.”
“Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) - Standards to support interactions, namely launching and data exchange, between learning systems or related applications, either in the enterprise or web-based, enabling incorporation of learning tools, applications, mash-ups, and software as a service within the context of a learning portal or other learning environment.”
“Common Cartridge (CC) – Standards for organization, publishing, distribution, delivery, search and authorization of a wide variety of collections of digital learning content, applications, and associated online discussion forums used as the basis for or in support of online learning of any type.”
The complete list of IMS Global Learning Consortium interoperability standards projects are maintained here. A complete list of compliant products and services are listed here. They are interoperable by design where there is a match with conforming specifications.
IMS Global Learning Consortium interoperability standards have the potential to solve many of the previously mentioned integration challenges based on an open architecture:
Why should Chief Information Officers help guide IMS Global Consortium projects and require compliance with these (and other) education specific open standards for interoperability?
Here is one reason why (“A sales representative for SmorgasBoard LMS shows up and reality ensues”):
While supplier adoption is necessary, true standards also require leadership from the institutions to which they provide the ultimate value. And collaboration among adopting institutions will accelerate both the adoption of the standards and the network effect of wide spread adoption. The community of Chief Information Officers can take a lead role by requiring conformance with IMS standards during the procurement and implementation of information resources and educational technologies, sharing best practices and taking an active role in guiding priorities for the evolution of IMS standards.
Or are we content with the increasing cost and complexity of integrating both proprietary and open source solutions while our ability to negotiate for the best possible solutions based on price, performance and a host of other factors continues to erode?