IMS specifications and standards update
Posted by Steve Lay
Last week I attended the IMS Global Learning Consortium‘s quarterly meeting in Nottingham, UK. The meeting was co-located with JISC-CETIS, JISC is a collaboration of UK academic institutions and CETIS is their “Centre for Education Technology Interoperability Standards”. Essentially, CETIS helps promote the development and adoption of technical standards within the JISC community, while also playing a key role in advising JISC’s e-Learning programme.
The message from IMS was very clear. Three key standards provide a framework which covers the main interoperbility requirements of education. These standards are: Learner Tools Interoperability (LTI), Learner Information Services (LIS) and Common Cartridge. The first two are of particular interest.
I don’t think IMS has ever seen one of its specifications developed and adopted as rapidly as LTI. LTI allows a Learning Management System (LMS) or portal to be used to launch a wide range of activities hosted externally. In the past, content was either pre-loaded onto the LMS itself or hosted on an associated content server. LTI is a simple mechanism that opens up the LMS to content hosted anywhere on the web using a simple extension to HTTP, the web protocol for accessing web pages.
When you click on a link to a website your browser navigates you there, but the website knows little or nothing about where you linked to it from. When you click on an LTI link your browser does the same thing, but several important pieces of information are securely passed to the new website: your user identity, the context of the link you clicked (such as the course or even the course page from which you were coming) and your role within that context (such as instructor or student). This enables the remote content to behave as if it were a seamless part of the user’s learning experience. In fact, it is as if the content had been packaged up and hosted on the LMS itself.
LTI promises to open up the definition of ‘content’ to include a wider range of activities and tools, including assessments!
The related LIS specification enables the exchange of information about people involved in the learning experience. A tool launched from an LTI-enabled link can use LIS to find out more information about the user, or perhaps adjust the user’s learning record with updated test scores. If LTI is used to initiate the link between two systems it is LIS that is used to sustain it.
In addition to the presentations from IMS, the conference also contained some interesting sessions from the JISC-CETIS community. This community has been very active in the development of Question and Test Interoperability (QTI). It appears that real progress is now being made with the demonstrators required by IMS before the latest draft can be promoted to a final specification. Readers of this blog may feel that we’ve been here before, but there is reason to believe that the specification’s time finally has come. QTI forms an important foundation for the Accessible Portable Item Protocol (APIP) – a US-led accessibility initiative.