SALTIS to carry forwards vital work
on UK content packaging profile

Illustration of content packaging profile diagramThe project to create a content packaging profile for use in UK schools, led since January 2009 by UK government agency Becta, was completed in September 2010, when members of SALTIS voted by a large majority to approve the project outputs.

The profile recognises that in the current uncertain market conditions, industry has limited capacity to undertake new R&D. At the same time, it supports a number of key benefits which the UK industry regards as fundamental to the use of interoperable content in the classroom:
  • an agreed "disaggregation model", supporting VLEs which want to provide teachers with pick-and-mix course creation tools;
  • the ability to combine different types of content object within the same package;
  • a simple profile of the CMI data model, supporting the interoperable reporting of scores to common markbooks and the location-independent saving of state. 
A SALTIS working group is now being established in order to carry the project outputs forwards to implementation. It is intended that SALTIS will provide a certification service for conformant VLEs and content, to be launched at BETT 2012. 

Over the next three months, further technical work will finalise the specifications and create supporting metadata profiles. The working group is being run through weekly conference calls, starting at 12 noon UTC on Friday 3rd December. For further information, check the video at or email
SALTIS calls on UK government
for clear interoperability strategy

Interoperability should be of particular interest to the incoming UK government for two main reasons:
  1. A recent "Interoperability Review" published by the UK Department for Education estimates that better interoperability of administrative data would save the UK taxpayer 300 million a year.
  2. The new UK government plans to decentralise budgets to schools. This makes sense in ensuring that schools will buy software that they value. It is also likely to promote innovation in the market. However, without improved interoperability specifications, decentralised procurement will create barriers to the use of different learning technologies in an integrated classroom environment.

In the light of the widespread consensus on the importance of interoperability, it is disappointing that the DfE remains silent on its strategy in this area. The "Interoperability Review" cited above has criticised the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF), while failing either to engage in meaningful dialogue either with SIFA (which has vigorously rebutted the DfE claims) or with the industry more generally. 

SALTIS Chairman, Crispin Weston, has written an open letter to Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, urging the government to work more closely with industry to end this uncertainty. The letter urges the DfE to create instead a sustainable strategy for interoperability, both of administrative and learning services in our schools.

UK companies which wish to support this letter should bring the matter to the attention of their local constituency Member of Parliament.

Defining the learning activity

Illustration of learning activity UMLSALTIS has been actively involved in a number of LETSI projects since the autumn of 2008. From early 2009 through the summer of 2010, SALTIS Chairman Crispin Weston chaired the LETSI Orchestration Working Group. This was set up in response to a widespread view that the profile of IMS Simple Sequencing used in SCORM 2004 was not delivering a robust interoperable sequencing solution.

In the summer of 2010, the Orchestration WG spawned the LET Activity Definition WG. The need for this new working group arose from a number of realisations. 
  1. If we are to create new interoperable sequencing solutions, we need to be clear what it is we are going to sequence. You can't build a wall without first having baked your bricks.
  2. If interoperable sequencing is to be worthwhile, then the bricks need to be re-usable. It is widely recognised that SCORM has failed to achieve this holy grail of re-usability, largely due to its failure to "decouple" learning objects from their instructional context.
  3. One particular instance of this failure can be seen in the confusion between the "resource" and the "activity". The SCORM content "atom", the "SCO", represents the elision of one activity with one resource. But this happy one-to-one mapping may be the exception rather than the rule: some activities require multiple resources, some require none at all, and some teachers and students wish to access raw assets for use in informal learning or ad-hoc activities.
  4. The desire to extend the CMI data model to support immersive, social, creative and gaming pedagogies requires new specifications and  new types of metadata. The difficult part of this process is not creating new labels but in attaching the labels to the right things. This difficulty becomes almost insuperable when we have no common understanding of what are the different objects in our in our digital learning environment to which those labels might be attached.
  5. From the teacher's perspective, the basic currency of instruction is the activity, not the resource.
Like all LETSI working groups, Learning Activity Definition (LAD) operates through weekly web conferences, open to all. The LAD working group is now moving towards producing an ontology which we believe will resolve many of the conceptual problems described above. The ontology will decouple resources from activities and activities from formal instructional context. It will provide a number of extension points to support new specifications which will create innovative new approaches to the definition and orchestration of activities, and the flow of data between different kinds of learning service. As an overarching conceptual framework, the LAD ontology will enable the integration of different specifications and convergence between different standards organisations.

If you would like to get involved in the final stages of our LAD discussions, please email Our hour-long, weekly conference calls are held most Tuesdays at 1600 UTC (1100 US Eastern time).
Issue 1
December 2010
SALTIS to carry forwards vital work on UK content packaging profile
SALTIS calls on UK government for clear interoperability strategy
Defining the learning activity
News in brief
SALTIS events
Crispin Weston Portrait
Welcome to the first edition of the new SALTIS monthly newsletter. The purpose of the "SALTIS Briefing" will be fourfold:

1. to keep you up to date with SALTIS activity;

2. to provide a news service on developments and discussions in the wider world of LET standards;

3. to provide a news service on related UK political developments relevant to LET standards;

4. to provide a regular, accessible discussion of technical issues relevant to standards for learning education and training.

If you have ideas, articles or news items which you would like to be included in future editions, please contact me. In the meantime, I hope you find the newsletter useful.
News in brief
SC36 call
for eTextbook use cases
SC36 has issued a call for cases illustrating the use and requirements for so-called "eTextbooks", a term which covers all types of learning content.
Pearson calls for new approach to interoperable assessments
Pearson has published a new white paper calling for better interoperability standards for assessment. Although written in the context of current US government initiatives, the paper includes useful insights on IMS QTI, SIF and SCORM. From a SALTIS perspective, the paper dismisses rather too quickly the "black box" model, which we believe offers the best support for market-based innovation. Nevertheless, the paper represents an important contribution to the debate in this area.
Work continues to harmonize CMI data model 
The IEEE's Learning Technologies Standards Committee is continuing to host discussions between a range of organisations, including ADL, AICC, LETSI, SIFA and SALTIS, to harmonize the CMI data model and allow different communities of practice across the world to develop their own extensions.
SALTIS events
Content implementation group webinars
3rd December
  • Introduction
  • Technical scope
  • Disaggregation model
10th December
  • Content representation
  • Metadata profiles
17th December
  • Outstanding metadata issues
All webinars start at 1200 UTC. Register here.
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