Jun 25 2015

What Districts Need to Know About IMS Interoperability Standards

More digital learning resources mean teachers and IT need ways to encourage everything to play nicely together.

K–12 schools have seen recent, rapid development of ­sophisticated digital learning resources, based on ­pedagogically sound and creative lesson plan designs that ensure effective instruction.

Many of those resources include attractive and engaging content, opportunities for practice, feedback and authentic or traditional assessments. In spite of that, teachers and students frequently struggle to create effective learning environments. One of their main challenges is that each content provider delivers digital material on its own platform. K–12 users frequently are required to remember upward of 20 IDs or login sets.

Assignments, tests or activities performed in these closed systems often lock scores and other user data inside, encoded in proprietary formats that also require teachers to access multiple platforms to find all of their students’ grades or user data. In many cases, districts, teachers and students have difficulty getting user data back for the purposes of differentiating or personalizing learning.

Building Seamless Digital

When districts adopt the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s interoperability standards, they eliminate multiple logins and passwords, enabling access to all content, activities and data from a single platform. In order for that to occur, a district’s learning management system and content providers must commit to work together, alongside district leaders, and everyone must certify their products according to the IMS Global interoperability standards laid out here. Once certified, all materials — including assessment results and user data — are discoverable and accessible to teachers and students within the district’s teaching and learning platform (TLP).

In addition to providing a simpler digital ecosystem for users, IMS Global standards create a number of conditions that enable personalized learning. Through the standards’ capacity to meta-tag, for example, users can more easily discover lesson content or intervene when reteaching is necessary. Because meta-tagging provides more than one discoverable source of content per search in a TLP library, users can access a comprehensive list of choices from various providers for each topic, and learners have options among a variety of pedagogical models, learning styles or even language levels.

All users can access daily performance data to drive instruction, and a TLP recommendations engine can provide content suggestions that accommodate learner preferences and needs.

Tapping Standards

• Common Cartridge integration is a good choice when materials are likely to include content, assignments, feedback, grades, quiz material, additional interactive resources, whiteboard files, electronic publications and other materials that require data capture and storage inside a district learning management system. In this type of integration, all content is packaged and imported into a platform or LMS library.

The Common Cartridge package provides the ability to chunk instructional material as discrete objects that users can find and link; and specify media, grade level, object type, rights by user level, content provider name, supporting metadata description of objects and alignment to standards.

• Thin Common Cartridge is a newer version of Common Cartridge that enables an LMS or platform to ingest a content manifest (much like a table of contents or index of content) and include Learning Tools Interoperability– compatible links with metadata to obtain direct access to specific sections of the content.

In a TCC package, digital content resides on a vendor’s servers but can be recalled automatically through an LMS via search. TCC provides most of the benefits of CC and is easier to implement.

• LTI validates user identification; essentially, it provides access. Versions higher than 1.0 provide bidirectional integration, enabling the return of outcomes (grades) to a learning system or platform. It is the best integration option for reference, supplemental or research material; sequential systems; streaming services; and adaptive learning applications.

The development effort required to enable LTI integration is minimal, and in many cases LTI can be enabled within days or even hours. The advantage for content publishers is that the same LTI integration can be used for different platforms at a fraction of the cost of other single sign-on solutions.

• IMS OneRoster is IMS Global’s most recent standard. In order to limit LTI access to only those users for whom a district purchases digital material (for example, all ninth graders, or all K–5 grades), vendors need student data. OneRoster addresses the need to limit access by uploading roster information onto a publisher’s content provider platform (or LTI provider). The LTI provider matches a user’s unique identifier with that in the LTI or CC consumer package.

OneRoster provides one simple specification that districts can require and vendors can adopt for minimal cost or effort, in stark contrast with traditional roster processes that may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on a district’s size.

When evaluating a teaching and learning system or platform, districts should confirm that they are purchasing a system that is an IMS Global Standards–certified LTI consumer. Ideally, districts should select a system certified to provide CC and TCC packages in addition to LTI because these first two integrations are required to set up users with the ability to perform searches by topics and standards in the system library.

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