Some thoughts on the IMS Quarterly meeting

I’ve spent most this week at the IMS Quarterly meeting in Birmingham and thought I’d share a few initial reflections. In contrast to most quarterly meetings this was an open event which had its benefits but some drawbacks (imho) too.

On the up side it was great to see so many people at an IMS meeting. I hadn’t attended a quarterly meeting for over a year so it was great to see old faces, but heartening to see so many new ones too. There did seem to be a real sense of momentum – particularly with regards to the Common Cartridge specification. The real drive for this seems to be coming from the K-12 CC working group who are making demands to extend the profile of the spec from its very limited initial version. They are pushing for major extensions to the QTI profile (it is limited to six question types at the moment) to be included, and are also looking to Learning Design as way to provide curriculum mapping and lesson planning to cartridges.

The schools sector on the whole do seem to be more pragmatic and more focused than our rather more (dare I say self-indulgent) HE mainly research focused community. There also seems to be concurrent rapid development (in context of spec development timescales) in the Tools Interoperability spec with Dr Chuck and his team’s developments in “simple TI” (you can watch the video here)

On the down side, the advertised plugfest was in reality more of a “presentationfest”, which although interesting in parts wasn’t really what I had expected. I was hoping to see more live demos and interoperability testing.

Thursday was billed as a “Summit on Interoperability: Now and Next”. Maybe it was just because I was presentation weary by that point, but I think we missed a bit of an opportunity to have more discussion – particularly in the first half of the day.

It’s nigh on impossible to explain the complexity of the Learning Design specification in half hour slots -as Dai Griffiths pointed out in his elevator pitch “Learning Design is a complex artefact”. Although the Dai and Paul Sharpels from the ReCourse team did a valiant job, as did Fabrizio Giongine from Guinti Labs with his Prolix LD demo; I can’t help thinking that what the community, and in turn perhaps what IMS should be concentrating on is developing a new, robust set of use cases for the specification. Having some really tangible designs rooted in really practice would (imho) make the demoing of tools much more accessible as would starting demos from the point of view of the actual “runnable” view of the design instead of the (complex) editor view. Hopefully some of the resources from the JISC D4L programme can provide some starting points for that.

The strap line for Common Cartridge is “freeing the content” and in the afternoon the demos from David Davies (University of Warwick ) on the use of repositories and RSS in teaching followed by Scott Wilson and Sarah Currier demoing some applications of the SWORD specification for publishing resources in Intralibrary through the Feedforward tool illustrated exactly that. David gave a similar presentation at a SIG meeting last year, and I continue to be impressed by the work David and his colleagues are doing using RSS. SWORD also continues to impresses with every implementation I see.

I hope that IMS are able to build on the new contacts and offers of contributions and collaborations that arose over the week, and that they organise some more open meetings in the future. Of course the real highlight of the week was learning to uʍop ǝpısdn ǝʇıɹʍ🙂

New (Facebook) group for anyone interested in pedagogic planners

As part of the past two LAMS European conferences, James Dalziel and the LAMS team have provided an opportunity to bring together a group of people with an interest in developing pedagogic planning tools. During each meeting it has become evident that there is a burgeoning community developing around pedagogical planning – not least from JISC with the Phoebe and LPP planning tools. There has also been a general feeling of how can we continue these discussions? So, in an attempt to do just that, I’ve set up a facebook group called Pedagogical Planners. If you or anyone you know is interested in this area, please join the group and share your projects and ideas, events.

Did you hear the one about the man, the animation and the step ladder?

As my colleague Christina Smart has already reported, the opening keynote of this years ALT-C by Hans Rosling was a great start to the conference. I have to say that this was the first time I have seen a step ladder, and a c.3foot long wooden pointer being used to enhance an animation. They were used with considerable aplomb!

The animations Hans showed were well executed and great examples of learning objects. However it was the expert and intimate knowledge of the content, which allowed the audience to be taken to another level of understanding through the added human interaction. If anyone is still worried about simulations taking over the world or replacing teachers, I would recommend viewing this presentation online.

Hans outlined a key challenge that faces everyone involved in education – misconceptions. Hans illustrated how using technology can help to overcome myths and preconceptions of subject areas by showing data in alternative ways which allow meaningful data comparison that (crucially) can be easily understood. Of course creating great user interfaces is never easy, and converting numerical data into a meaningful graphical representation takes time, but the end results are worth it.

Hans pointed out we need to find more “ways to bring data back into the world”. He used the analogy of sheet music to data collections – most of us need hear the music on an instrument before we can fully “understand” it. There are huge data collections out there (many of them publicly funded) and it should be available in a unified format so that it can be used to help educate us all. To this end we also need to help governments/data collections centres overcome their tendency toward DbHd (database hugging disorder) and “free the data”. Of course, we also need people like Hans to help make sense of the statistics:-) The gapminder website is where Hans is trying to do just that, bridge the gap between statistics and their audience.

Although a great advocate for making content freely available Hans did point out that you need to own your content before you can give it away freely. His own experience of the benefits of doing just that have far outweighed the time and effort taken to create the animations. And who can argue with someone who is the top hit when you put into google probably the three of the most popular search terms (sex, money, health).