An update on electronic standards for higher education

Posted by Steve Lay

Last month I attended the PESC Spring Data Summit. PESC stands for Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council, a forum in which users and vendors can come together to help align the way data in Higher Education (HE) is collected and exchanged.

The world of electronic standards is a minefield of acronyms and I heard the usual joke about “so many to choose from” at least once during the 3-day meeting. However, each organization tends to represent a specific relationship between a group of users and their technology suppliers. College admission has a similarity to recruitment: applicants are selected and test scores are often involved, but they are carried out by different groups of stakeholders with different data requirements. This is why standards bodies like HR-XML and PESC are both important. There is no single electronic standard that can satisfy both sets of use cases even though tools like Questionmark Perception can be used in both applications.

During the summit, the US Department of Education (DoE) announced the conclusion of their investigation into electronic standards in the assessment domain. They received detailed responses to a Request for Information from a wide range communities and have published a summary of the responses on the ED.gov website.

The document contains a useful model of the key elements of the assessment process and the standards that help integrate them together:

I. Assessment Instruments and Items: Format and Packaging (Questionmark: Authoring)

II. Initiation and Return of Assessment Administrations (Questionmark: Scheduling)

III. Administration of Assessments (Questionmark: Delivery)

IV. Learning Outcomes Management (Questionmark: Reporting)

V. Learning Records Management

(Customers familiar with the Questionmark wheel logo may see a similarity with our own model of the assessment process!)

The summary will not be surprising to anyone who has worked with the standards bodies. In my opinion it is a fair description of the current state of affairs. It reaffirms my belief that IMS QTI/Common Cartridge used in conjunction with Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) remains the best route forward to improving integration in the content Authoring and Scheduling elements of the process.

Finally, one area to watch for the future:  At the data summit, PESC announced a strategic partnership with InCommon, the access management federation for US Higher Education. The federation provides a legal and technical framework to help improve access management across this community. It applies across all tools, not just assessment. On reading the DoE recommendations in the Technology Landscape section of the summary, I see a strong resonance with the goals and activities of the federation.

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