SALTIS ICIG agrees new approach
to content interoperability 

Illustration of peas in a podSince its formation in early December, the SALTIS Interoperable Content Implementation Group (ICIG) has quickly concluded that it should not continue Becta's attempt to create a new profile of IMS Content Packaging.

The the IMS GLC believes that the way ahead for packaged content lies with Common Cartridge, a standard which has already achieved significant levels of penetration in the US and Korea. It therefore makes sense for SALTIS to follow the IMS lead in respect of:
  • packaged (i.e. locally distributed) content (using CC);
  • assessments based on standard question types (using QTI).

At the same time, new and complementary approaches are required to address the key SALTIS requirements, which include "content as a service", runtime data exchange and adaptable sequencing. 

The ICIG is now looking at an architecture which blends several complementary components (the peas in the pod):

  • existing versions of IMS Content Packaging (including SCORM and CC);
  • new profiles of Learning Object Metadata (LOM);
  • new approaches to runtime data exchange (see Tin Can below);
  • new types of metadata, based on LETSI Learning Activity Definition (LAD), required to support new functionality.

While the ICIG is still aiming to launch a pragmatic, easily-implementable conformance mark at BETT 2012, members of the group are clear in the importance of a long-term roadmap, which can deliver new and innovative interoperability solutions following agile, implementation-led development processes.

ICIG work in January is focusing on the finalisation of LOM profiles, which are being considered with reference to recent work being done by European Schoolnet. Web meetings are scheduled for noon on Fridays 7th, 21st and 28th. Email Crispin if you want to get involved.

Is Tin Can the future of SCORM?

Project Tin Can logoAdvanced Distributed Learning (ADL) has appointed Rustici Software to study the options for the modernisation of SCORM---either under its current brand or as something else entirely. 

The choice of Rustici Software to head this project is significant. In June 2009, Mike Rustici produced a video for SALTIS about the LETSI project which he has been leading to create a new Run-time web services API. More recently, he has produced a prezzie explaining the key features of the project. RTWS solves what has become known as the "cross domain scripting" problem in traditional SCORM, as well as providing a more modern, scalable and flexible approach to runtime communications. RTWS is only one of a multi-stranded approach to updating content interoperability: the LETSI/IEEE CMI harmonization project addresses the extensibility of the data which can be passed (see below); while the Learning Activity Definition (LAD) addresses the need for new types of metadata to advertise runtime capabilities. All these projects are now feeding into the implementation work being done by the SALTIS ICIG.

Rustici Software is currently undertaking a consultation, to which members of SALTIS may well like contribute. It is interesting to see how closely many of the items on the Tin Can wish-list mirror the requirements which were produced by SALTIS for the Becta/ISB Content Packaging project in autumn 2009 (e.g. standard ways of tracking runtime data, support for distributed content, multi-player content, sequencing and authentication).

None of this means that SCORM 2.0 is currently being brewed, or even considered. As Mike himself stresses on the Tin Can website, "Whether the result will be 'the next SCORM' or something else entirely is still being determined". The generic term being used for what may or may not become the next SCORM is a new type of "experience tracking API".

Whatever results are produced by Rustici Software, ADL will continue to face the difficulty of coping with very large quantities of legacy content within the US Defence training community. It may be that the SCORM elastic has stretched almost as far as will go, and that some kind of fresh start is now needed.

There are a number of points, however, that do seem clear:
  • the work which has been done in LETSI since its October 2008 Pensacola workshop has been achieving real traction in the SCORM community;
  • any major new initiative to create a better "experience tracking API" will need to reflect the requirements of a range of different communities of practice across different regions and sectors;
  • the SALTIS ICIG is very much in step with these developments, and is in a good position, through the implementation work that it will be doing in 2011, to contribute to the new generation of standards for managed learning content.
The importance of CMI harmony

Yin Yang illustrationGiven the Chinese theme to this Briefing, a treatise on harmony seems like an appropriate way to finish. But before revealing whether "treatise" means "panegyric", we are going to have to wade through some politics, some history and some general geekery.

Computer Managed Instruction (CMI) is the common name for the data model which determines what information can be passed between an ADL SCORM content object and a learning management system (learner names, scores, completion status etc.). The most accessible description of the CMI data model is given in SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 runtime environment books.

Although the SCORM runtime is CMI's best-known incarnation, the data model was originally developed by the Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC), which still produces its own version of CMI with several transport mechanism options, including a "proto Web-service" going under the name of HACP, or "HTTP AICC Communication Protocol". 

While the CMI data model was originally developed by the AICC and has been most successfully marketed by ADL, the standard is owned by a third organisation, the IEEE, in whose catalogue it is known as IEEE 1184.11.2. The IEEE version of the CMI data model improved the AICC original but was never adopted by the AICC, which reasoned that it made sense to wait until other aspects of their original specification were standardised---and this did not occur in the way they expected. 

It is against this background that a Joint CMI Study Group was set up over the summer by a collaborative grouping of LETSI, the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee, AICC and ADL. This informal study group has now spawned a more formally constituted IEEE CMI Harmonization Working Group, which has the necessary authority to update 1184.11.2. Anyone who wants to get involved should email Tyde Richards.

Harmonization (between ADL and AICC versions of the CMI) is essentially a sideways manoeuvre---and it might be said that "if you aren't moving forward, you are moving backward" (the last Chinese proverb for this month). With this in mind, the US SCORM community has identified a list of desirable CMI improvements which should be addressed by the working group. Perhaps most prominent is support for multiple attempts. 

From the point of view of SALTIS members (amongst others), the SCORM community's wish-list is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline are features which would have major pedagogical impact:

  • the return of creative product (e.g. for marking, sharing, or posting to an e-portfolio);
  • support for activities requiring multiple participants (e.g. games);
  • access to custom persistent shared data objects (for example a vocabulary testing tool might want to store a list of words which a particular student finds difficult);
  • integrated automatic authentication (or Single Sign-on).

However important, there is as yet no proven way of delivering these requirements. Nor is it realistic to expect robust solutions to be produced ab initio (as SCORM junkies might say) from what will always be a somewhat cumbersome, formal standards process. 

It is therefore not surprising that discussions on the CMI Harmonization WG are increasingly focused on the provision of a robust extensions mechanism. in some senses, this is the single feature that would unlock all the others, supporting the kind of experimental work that will produce robust and durable solutions.

Harmony may be good but innovation is better.

Issue 2
January 2011
SALTIS ICIG agrees new approach to content interoperability
Is Tin Can the future of SCORM?
The importance of CMI Harmony
News in brief
Crispin Weston Portrait
It is often said that the Chinese word for "crisis" is made from characters meaning "danger" and "opportunity". The fact that this linguistic tidbit is completely untrue does not make it any the less insightful.

The global market for learning software is still bumping along the runway. UK government cuts to the Harnessing Technology grant may seem to make a bad situation worse---but it may well be that the 
decentralisation of budgets to schools and the creation of a genuine user-driven market is just what is needed for take-off. 

On condition, of course, that the market is supported by effective data  standards. There are now signs that the government is beginning to focus on creating the interoperability strategy which I called for in last month's newsletter. I hope to be able to bring you more details next month.

In the meantime, drop me a line if you want to get involved in the ICIG or if you want to meet during the BETT show to discuss any aspect of SALTIS' work. And whether I see you at BETT or not, may I take this opportunity to wish you "nian nian you yu"!
News in brief
eTextbook use cases for SC36
SALTIS has submitted two eTextbook use cases to SC36, focusing on runtime reporting and the flexible re-use of modular content. Please email Crispin if you would be interested in monitoring the eTextbook work.
European seminar on Educational Publishing futures
Schoolnet, the network of European Ministries of Education, is holding a two-day seminar in Brussels on 17th/18th February to mark the end of the ASPECT programme. The agenda will include the Learning Resource Exchange, Becta's Common File Format for IWBs, and Digital Textbooks. VLE suppliers and content publishers are invited to attend. A SALTIS position on the current version of the LRE metadata profile is under consideration in the ICIG.
IMS GLC works on Simple Outcomes for Basic LTI 
In principle, the current version of Basic Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) allows learning tools to report data back to a VLE using IMS Learning Information Services (LIS). In practice, the ability to implement this feature in an interoperable way is constrained by the lack of an agreed data model. Chuck Severance of IMS has now brought forward Simple Outcomes, an experimental specification which supports the reporting of a single percentage score against a single attempt by any particular student at any particular task. Sheila MacNeill of JISC/CETIS arranged a recorded webinar at which Chuck describes his work.
Reorganisation of IST/043
At a meeting on 23rd December, IST/043 (the expert committee within the British Standards Institute dealing with standards for Learning Education and Training) agreed a reorganisation of its panels (i.e. sub-committees) and policies. It is hoped that this will enable the UK to take a more consistent and proactive position in formal standards talks in ISO/IEC and CEN. Members of SALTIS who would like to track and/or contribute to the UK national position in such work (without necessarily committing to attend meetings personally) should email Crispin. Apart from eTextbooks (above), members may be interested in ISO/IEC work items addressing e-portfolios and competency definitions.
SALTIS events

The next SALTIS AGM will be held on Thursday 24th March. Venue to be confirmed---but probably in London.
ICIG web meetings
7th January
Integration with LRE; Review LOM profiles.

21st January

LAD metadata; Review LOM profiles.

28th January
Runtime; review all metadata; programme for February.

Email Crispin if you are interested.
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