Integrating and Connectors – Moodle

Doug Peterson HeadshotPosted By Doug Peterson

This installment of the Integrating and Connectors series focuses on Moodle. Technically, it’s really about the Questionmark LTI Connector and how it can be used to integrate with Moodle. (We’ll take a look at integrating with Canvas using the LTI Connector in a future installment.)

LTI stands for Learning Tools Interoperability. LTI is a specification published by the IMS Global Learning Consortium with the goal of providing a way for different learning tools to talk to each other and work together. Moodle (a Learning Management System, or LMS) and Questionmark (an Assessment Management System, or AMS) integrating their functionality is a perfect example of the concept.

So far in this series, we’ve looked at using SCORM or AICC to do a simple launch-and-track, and in the case of SuccessFactors, a simple Single Sign On (SSO) from the Learning LMS into the Questionmark Enterprise Manager. This is a very high-level integration. The assessment is simply launched and reports back to the source of the launch. The SuccessFactors SSO requires some manual intervention to set up an admin ID within Questionmark – the connection doesn’t just happen “automagically”. The LTI Connector allows for a much deeper integration.

As you’ll see in this video, once the LTI Connector is configured in the Moodle environment, a Moodle instructor can log into Moodle and add a Questionmark assessment to a course – from within Moodle, without having to have an ID and password and log into Questionmark at all.

Similarly, a student can log into Moodle and launch a Questionmark assessment – again, from within Moodle, without a second set of credentials. Furthermore, an instructor can also use Questionmark’s authoring and reporting functionality – you guessed it – all from within Moodle.

The LTI Connector allows for a deep integration with Moodle, giving the instructor and student a seamless experience in what behaves to them like a single environment, even though they are actually moving back and forth between Moodle and Questionmark.

qm and moodle vid

Open Standards: Spotlight on CSS

Steve Lay HeadshotPosted by Steve Lay

In my role as Integrations Product Owner and champion of Questionmark’s Open Assessment Platform strategy I often write on the topic of open standards.

When we browse the internet on our mobiles, tablets or even on the humble PC, our experience is based on a vast stack of open standards covering everything from the way the information is wrapped up in ‘packets’ for sending over the network to the way text and graphics appear on our screens.

You’ve probably all heard of HTML, the main markup language used for creating web pages. HTML, or HyperText Markup Language to give it its full name, allows web servers to specify how text is broken up into paragraphs, lists or tables, when it should be emphasised and how it relates to media files like images and videos that are also rendered on the page. But HTML has a lesser-known yet powerful helper: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

CSS is a standard which allows a designer to apply ‘style’ to a web page. By style, we are talking about formatting information: things that affect the appearance of the page without affecting the meaning. Essentially, information on the web is split into these two halves: content (in HTML) and style (in CSS). Initial versions of the CSS standard were rudimentary, and support across different browsers was often inconsistent. But the standard is now on version 3, often abbreviated to CSS3, and renderings are much more predictable. Also, adoption of more advanced features is rapidly becoming the norm rather than the exception.

By adopting HTML and CSS at Questionmark, the content/style division translates into different responsibilities for the question author (responsible for content) and the graphic designer (responsible for style). By being mindful of this division — and the fact that the same question may have different styles applied on different devices or in different contexts — authors can avoid question wording that is dependent on the style or type of rendering.

For example, a phrase such as “which category applies to the text in red?” makes specific reference to an element of style appearing elsewhere in the content. If colour is not essential to the meaning it would be better to use a more neutral term such as the emphasised text. Being aware of different styles has the knock-on benefit of making assessment content more accessible while ensuring they look good!

Questionmark has embraced CSS as the best technology for customising the appearance of tests. It is easy to copy the default CSS files and change the colours and fonts, say, to match your company portal.

In this screenshot shot, I’ve created a yellow background simply by changing one line in the default style sheet:

css

With CSS, web designers can help you make your assessments look even more professional!

Learning Tools Interoperability fulfills its promise!

Posted by Steve Lay

In previous blog posts I’ve discussed the new specification that the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS) has been working on called Learning Tools Interoperability or LTI for short.  See my first post on this subject here and the later update here.

In March, IMS released the final version of the specification.  This clears up any confusion between the earlier variants (Basic and Simple have been used as prefixes in the past) and sets a single standard for embedding tools in learning management systems (LMS) and portals.  The final specification also introduced an important new feature: a method of returning grade information from the tool to the LMS gradebook.

At Questionmark we have developed a number of connectors for integrating with popular learning management systems and portals, such as Blackboard and Moodle.  LTI provides us with an opportunity to replace those connectors with a unified approach to integration, so I can’t wait to get started with the new specification.

To this end we are now working on adding LTI support to our own software.  I recently attended an IMS workshop called “Creating Enterprise Aware, Multiplatform Apps with IMS Interoperability”.  At this workshop we heard about the latest developments in both IMS Common Cartridge and IMS LTI.  It was a great to meet some of the key people in the community and take a deep-dive on some of the technical details involved in implementing the specifications.

So how will Questionmark integrate using LTI?

In LTI terminology there are tool providers and tool consumers.  A tool consumer is typically an LMS or other type of portal that deals with user registration and assignment to courses where learning and assessment activities are aggregated.  A tool provider is a web-based service that provides a specialized experience to the learner such as an assessment.

Our first steps with LTI are aimed particularly at users of the Moodle LMS, though anyone with access to a web server running PHP and a suitable database will be able to integrate this way.  We’ve teamed up with an LTI specialist, Dr Stephen Vickers, to create an open source Community Edition connector that makes it easy for Moodle users to talk to Questionmark software using the new LTI protocol.  The project is hosted on the OSCELOT community development system.

This is just the beginning for Questionmark and LTI – so stay tuned for more updates on the role LTI will play in future Questionmark assessment technology solutions!


Blackboard Connector – System Administrator

Posted by Steve Lay

In this week’s video, I provide an overview of the Blackboard Connector, as experienced by the Blackboard system administrator. I’ll show you how to install the connector and will talk you through the configuration and synchronisation settings. The Blackboard Connector enables you to seamlessly embed Questionmark assessments and surveys into your Blackboard courses.

IMS Basic LTI: connector-less integration with the LMS

Posted bySteve Lay

At this year’s Questionmark Users Conference I ran a session in our Product Central strand about our Open Assessment Platform. An important part of this strategy is to adopt technical standards where they exist and encourage the development and adoption of standards where they don’t. Our Product Central sessions give customers a chance to look ahead at our product road map and to discuss and influence our direction.

One of the topics in my session was the future of LMS integration. During the session I demonstrated a prototype connection between the popular Moodle LMS and Questionmark Perception using the IMS Basic LTI standard. LTI stands for Learning Tools Interoperability and defines a standard way for a tool like Perception to be used or ‘consumed’ by a learning management system.

LTI solves a similar problem to our LMS-specific integration connectors but in a standard way that can be supported directly by the LMS vendor. Basic LTI support is already available through a Moodle module (as demonstrated at the conference) and in Blackboard from 9.1 SP4.  There is also a plug-in available for Sakai and a development project on the codeplex open source hosting site working towards support from Sharepoint. You can see the full list on the Basic LTI status page.

Basic LTI is a relatively new standard so this adoption list is impressive. It usually takes years to get to this level of support. In my opinion, the reason for this rapid adoption is the simplicity of implementing the standard in a tool or product. The prototype Basic LTI support I demonstrated at the users conference was implemented in less than 300 lines of Python code.

A prototype Basic LTI connection between Moodle and Perception.

The LTI adoption community is being spear-headed by Charles Severance, aka Dr Chuck, who wrote in a recent blog post: “One key observation is that Basic LTI really reduces the barrier to entry for building a tool to plug into Sakai”.  We’re excited about the potential that LTI holds for connecting Questionmark with a broad range of learning systems.  Watch this space!

The Future of Interoperability Standards

julie-smallPosted by Julie Chazyn

The future of interoperability standards is a big topic, but a good person to watch if you are interested in it is Questionmark Integration Team Lead Steve Lay.

Steve’s blog on the Questionmark Developer website offers the perspective of someone with many years of involvement in the technical standards community. His post on “The Future of Interoperability Standards…” notes the speed of technological changes and asks if the process of creating technical standards is fast enough to be of timely benefit to that community.  He asks, “How can we improve our processes when it comes to developing technical standards for learning, education and training?” And he puts forward some suggestions for creating technical standards in a way that keeps pace with rapidly changing technologies.

Check out Steve’s blog, and while you’re visiting the developer site, find out about the Application Programming Interfaces that allow rich integrations between Questionmark technologies and third party applications.