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Take Your LTI Integration to the Next Level

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Did you know that the origins of the IMS Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) specification date back to 2006? Back then it was just called Tool Interoperability but the idea was the same - create a standard way for applications to integrate. Like many good things LTI took time to mature, but with its first public release in 2010 LTI was on its way. In the years since, due to combination of power and simplicity, LTI has taken off. Today LTI integrations are commonplace. In fact, I'm always surprised when I encounter an EdTech product that doesn't have an LTI integration (if that's you, contact Unicon - we can help). But if your product has an LTI integration you might be wondering... where do you go from here?

Without question your existing LTI integration provides value. By providing a standard way to integrate, LTI allows your developers to focus on your core product and not spend time solving integration problems. LTI also helps you to increase access to your product because adding integration partners typically requires minimal incremental work. But the LTI specification can only take your product so far.  If your existing integration is operating within the confines of the specification it is likely that you are using LTI to provide access to content and perhaps to provide access to basic grade data. That's a great start but with LTI as its foundation your integration can do so much more.

One way to quickly increase the value of your existing integration is to add new integration partners. Whether the new integration partner is a learning management system or just another application that wants to access your content, the incremental work (development or otherwise) for your product team should be minimal. However, as you know if you've done more than one LTI integration, you'll likely have to do something. There is just enough nuance across LTI implementations that you should plan for some, usually a small, amount of development for each new integration partner. You should also be prepared to produce new onboarding and support documentation for each new integration partner.

Another way to expand your existing integration is through the use of APIs. Many products, including the major learning management systems, expose APIs that allow you to interact with their data. In the context of an LTI integration there are two primary use cases for using APIs. One is to enable a much more robust grade exchange integration than LTI currently defines. Typically this involves pushing both assignments (sometimes referred to as line items) and student results from one system to another using APIs. The other primary use case for using APIs within an LTI integration is pushing content (e.g. LTI links, web links, native content) from one system to another. Often this process is initiated by the user choosing content from a library or authoring interface giving the impression of a seamless experience.

An area that is often overlooked as part of an LTI integration is administration and support. Keep in mind that students and instructors are not your only users, system administrators and help desk staff are often tasked with installation, configuration, and support of your integration. Introducing some ease of use and troubleshooting utilities to your integration can help this segment of your user base be more productive. Typically, the focus for system administrators is setup and configuration so consider providing services and utilities to obtain integration credentials (i.e. the oauth key and secret), LTI link authoring data,  detailed LTI configuration, and link authoring documentation on a per-integration partner basis. In support of the help desk, implement LTI-based troubleshooting utilities such as tool launch validation services and troubleshooting guides.

2015 looks to be a big year for IMS specification releases. Version 2 of the LTI specification and version 1 of the Caliper (learning analytics) specification are expected to be released. In preparation for those releases, now is a good time to review your implementation and plan for how LTI 2 and Caliper will fit within your product. Focus on your data model and consider the fit for core LTI 2 concepts, such as profiles. Also, start to plan for managing multiple LTI versions, especially in the area of tool launch. For Caliper, think about the events (e.g. logins, clicks, submissions) that occur within your product that would be valuable to capture for reporting and analytics purposes.

At Unicon we have designed, implemented, and supported LTI-based integrations for organizations large and small, so we are extremely familiar with the challenges of providing an integration in the face of growing customer expectations. All of the enhancements listed here come from our experience helping clients with their LTI integrations. If you are interested in learning how Unicon can help with your LTI integration, contact us by filling out the form at www.unicon.net/contact.

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