SCORM 2.0 and beyond LETSI seminar

Last Wednesday along with 190 others I joined the “SCORM 2.0 and Beyond” webinar hosted by LETSI. This was the first in a series of community events LETSI are hoping to organise to promote its activities.

Charles Allan started the session with an overview of developments with SCORM and the relationship between LETSI and the ADL. Orginally it was envisaged that ADL would hand over governance/stewardship of SCORM to “the community” i.e. LETSI. However, there have been some developments and the current state of play is that ADL are continuing to steward SCORM and may (or may not) release new versions. LETSI is working on developing SCORM 2.0 which is not as close to the existing SCORM specification as originally thought. So in effect they are starting with a blank sheet and are looking at wider context of data interoperability than the original SCORM model which was primarily content driven. SCORM 2.0 developments will be focused on the different types of data which need to be shared including: learning activities; resources, people, competency frameworks there was also a nod to webservices and mashups.

Charles explained that LETSI is not a standards development body or a trade association. It sees itself rooted within the implementation community. LETSI will work with existing bodies to help shorten adoption lifecycles through filling a gap in the current standards community. Specifically by helping to build communities and developing agile software development processes which should speed up consistency of implementation approaches. LETSI will not build a spec if there is an existing one which is fit for purpose and they are currently reviewing a number of standards as part of the SCORM 2.0 scoping work. LETSI hopes to enable a move towards a more agile, iterative standards development process.

Four technical working groups have been formed (more info on the LETSI website) and they hope to produce a technical roadmap later this year. Over the coming months there will be a series of webinars on candiate technologies, continued development of potential software architecture solutions as well as continuing liasion with formal standards bodies. Future developments will include investigation of orchestration of content/activities and compentency frameworks amongst others and they are actively looking for working group participation. The working groups are open to anyone to join, however to have voting rights you need to pay a (nominal, I think $100 was mentioned) membership fee.

It will be interesting to see how developments progress this year and if an organisation like LETSI can actually effectively work with existing standards agencies and speed up the specification development and release process. I hope they don’t get bogged down in the same bureaucratic processes which have made the formal standards process so drawn out.

Content transcoder demonstration

Earlier in the summer I blogged about the content transcoder project CETIS and Knowlege Integration are developing. The idea is to create a cloudbased service which can convert the most common eLearning content formats.

At the SALTIS meeting yesterday (9 October) Neil and Hana from KI gave a demonstration of a beta version of the transcoder at the SALTIS meeting in Coventry.

Hana uploaded an OU Common Cartridge to the transcoder service, chose what conversion she wanted (in this case Common Cartridge to SCORM) and then the service went to work. She was notified via email with a url where the newly converted package was available for download. The whole process took less than 5 minutes (the network connection was a bit slow).

The project is still in the early phase of development and currently can only convert between convert to/from IMS CP 1.1.4, SCORM 2004 and IMS CC 1.0 however by the end of the project (March 09) the service will offer conversion to/from IMS CP v1.1.3; v1.1.4; v1.2; IMS CC1.0;SCORM 1.2; SCORM 2004. At this stage it looks unlikely that this initial development will be able to include platform specific transforms. However such transforms are possible within service architecture – as ever it’s really just a question of time and resources allocation. As the code is open source maybe someone else will want to pick up on that and develop further or you never know, we may even get a bit more funding to extend the project.

If you are interested in the project and have packages that you would like to convert, please get in touch as we are looking for as many testers of the service as possible. More information on the project is available from the CETIS wiki.

Packages from the cloud(s)

CETIS and Knowledge Integration are working together, with community input, to develop a content transcoder service prototype. What is being proposed is a web service which will convert content into a variety of standard packaging formats (e.g. IMS CP & CC and SCORM). The project also plans to look at the most frequently used proprietary formats such as those used by WebCT, Blackboard and Moodle and at significant UK application profiles such as NLN.

The first phase of the project will be looking at prioritizing which formats and platforms the service should use and general user interface issues. So, we are looking from input from the community to help us with:

*prioritising which formats to be transcoded
*supplying test-case packages
*verifying the quality of the transcoded results in your platform of choice.

If you’d like to get involved, or just find out a bit more about the project, detailed information including the project brief is available from the CETIS wiki.

intralibrary repositories conference 2008

I managed to get along the the second day of the recent intralibrary conference the other week. Although a many of the presenters had links with Intrallect and/or were intralibrary users the discussions did focus on much broader issues than the specifics of that particular system. As I missed the first day I can’t really give a complete overview of the whole conference so I’ll concentrate on a couple of items that caught my interest. Neil Fegen has provided an excellent overview of the conference as a whole.

The first presentation of the day caused a lot of interest. Ian Watson (Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services) gave a demo of a new web based interface his team have developed for intralibrary call opensearch. Although at the early stages of development this did look like a really useful tool as it had lots of user friendly features. The team are hoping to extend the tool to incorporate federated searches, implement SWORD and it will be released as open-source. I’m sure this is one project my colleagues in the MDR SIG will be keeping an eye on.

There was also a presentation of a packaging tool called Compendle – which I had never heard of. The tool is basically a content aggregator/packager, and has quite a nice user-friendly drag and drop interface. However when probed a bit deeper, it does really only offer quite basic functionality. However the team did seem to be keen to develop it further to allow for more advanced editing sequencing functionality.

Probably the most interesting part of the day (for me anyway) was the workshop session led by John Casey (JORUM). John has recently joined the JORUM team and is leading the way in investigating ways to make the service more open – the ultimate goal is to have an open (at point of access) service, possibly called OpenJORUM. Plans are at a very early stages and John outlined some ideas he has been mulling over including an intermediary phase (possibly called JORUM UK) which would be open only to those in the UK. This idea didn’t seem to go down too well with the audience and parallels were drawn with the experience of the BBC with only allowing certain services (e.g. the iplayer) available to the UK.

In terms of IPR and licencing it looks like there will be a move to a more creative commons approach. This would hopefully bring about a much needed driver for greater clarity and leadership from institutions over IPR. Citing his previous work in the TrustDR project, John stressed that IPR is not the problem – it only becomes a problem for the teaching and learning community if there are no clear institutional guidelines. John, did emphasise that no decisions have been made, and that the driving factor of any such extension of the JORUM service would be providing something that is quick and easy to use.

Any developments with JORUM are of obviously of great interest to the CETIS community and the next EC SIG meeting (end of May, Manchester – watch the list for more details or contact me about it) will feature a session from John and colleagues and an opportunity for more community discussion around the open resources debate.

Presentations from the conference are available from the Intrallect website. Thanks to all at Intrallect for organising another stimulating conference.

LETSI update

Alongside the AICC meetings in last week in California, there was an ADL/AICC/LETSI Content Aggregation Workshop. Minutes from the meeting are available from the LETSI wiki. There seemed to be a fairly general discussion covering a range of packaging formats from IMS CP to MPEG 21 and DITA.

As we have reported previously, the ADL would like to see a transition to a community driven version of SCORM called core SCORM by 2009/10. This meeting brought together some of the key players although it looks like there was no official IMS representation. It does seem that things are still very much at the discussion stage and there is still a way to go for consensus on what de jour standards core SCORM will include. There is another LETSI meeting in Korea in March, before the SC36 Plenary Meeting. One positive suggestion that appears at the end of the minutes is the development of white paper with a clear conclusion or “call to action’. Until then it’s still difficult to see what impact this initiative will have.

Let's see about LETSI

ADL are proposing the formation of a new international body to “advance the interoperability of technical systems enabling learning, education and training (LET) through the use of reference models based on de jure standards”.

Provisionally called LETSI (Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability) it is proposed that one of the first tasks of this body would be to take over governance of the SCORM.

The proposed purpose of LETSI is:

• to enable organizations with a material interest in learning, education, training (LET)
• who agree to accept a set of organizing principles
• to participate in evolving broadly applicable LET Interoperability Reference Model(s)
• informed by shared priorities and requirements
• based initially on the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)
• and to define and actualize related events, publications, technologies, and services
• through a process that is transparent, democratic and sustainable.

It is not proposed that this body replace any other international standards/specification develepment bodies, rather it will use exsiting standards/specs to develop reference models.

The ADL presented LETSI at the recent AICC meeting and a copy of the prospectus, which contains full information on the the proposed organisation, is available from the AICC blog. AICC are currently drafting a response to the proposal.

How, and if, this organistation will work is still to be fully realised. An inevitable question must be is there really a need for such a body? Particularly because many don’t really know about the differences
between IMS, IEEE LTSC, CEN/ISSS, ADL or ISO SC36, nor especially care to find out.

A start up meeting for LETSI is being held in London in March as part of the ISO meetings. More details on the March meeting is available from the ISO SC36 website.

JISC CETIS will be attending the March meetings and we will keep you updated on developments.

Common cartridge – the future or five years too late?

A large part of the recent IMS quarterly meeting in Heerlen was devoted to their new Common Cartridge specification. Heavily backed by publishers and vendors (including Pearson, McGraw Hill, Thompson, Angel, Sakai,Desire2Learn and Blackboard to name a few) this specification claims to “define a commonly supported content format, able to run on any compliant LMS platform.” which will “enable content providers to achieve lower production costs whilst expanding the effective market by eliminating platform dependency. This will both stimulate production by larger content providers and open up the market to their smaller counterparts. The LMS providers in turn, will have a stronger business case to take to their customers, as schools, colleges, universities, training departments and certification programs will have available a broader catalog of offerings reaching deeper into the curriculum.”

But wasn’t content packaging supposed to do that, weren’t we being promised this five years ago . . . Well yes, but as the CETIS codebashes showed, making packages interoperable wasn’t just as easy as implementing the specifcation, particularly when the specfication is able to be implemented in many different ways.

In essense the Common Cartridge specification is a profile of IMS Content Packaging which is begining to tie down many of the issues which imlementors and codebashes have highlighted. As well as IMS Content Packaging, this new specifcation also supports a number of other commonly used specifications including IMS Question & Test Interoperability v1.2, IMS Tools Interoperability Guidelines v1.0, IEEE Learning Object Metadata v1.0, SCORM v1.2 and SCORM 2004. Perhaps reflecting the more business (and dare I say pragmatic make up of the working group) support for newer versions of exsiting specifications such as QTI 2.0 is not being included in the initial release, as it was felt that there isn’t enough widespread adoption of these yet.

So, is this just another case of ‘old wine in a new bottle’ or can this specfication actually offer true interoperability? In the brave new world of webserivces are IMS Tools Interoperability guidelines relevant? Well, for me the jury is still out. If publishers and vendors back this and there are large numbers of cartridges available, then it will have an impact on certain parts of the education sector. But as for teachers/learning technologists creating/using/reusing them . . . I guess that will depend on the tools that are around to create the cartridges and aren’t we all just self generating content in wikis and blogs now anyway 🙂

To help gain a clearer understanding of the potential impact of the Common Cartridge, Kevin Riley from IMS Global Org, is giving a presentation at the next Educational Content SIG meeting on 7th December at Glasgow Caledonian University. There will also be a presenation about the recently launched OU Open Content Initiative from Patrick McAndrew. Following in the footsteps of the MIT OpenCourseWare project, this UK based project is offering free online materials. It was hinted at the Heerlen meetings that Common Cartridge could be a potential format for this project. Watch this space for more details, or better still come along to the meeting and find out more.