Takeaways from the February 2019 IMS Meeting

Published on: March 12, 2019
Linda Feng, Software Architect

Takeaways From The Most Recent IMS Meeting & Digital Credentials Summit

IMS logoThe most recent IMS quarterly meeting was held last month in Tempe, AZ, hosted by ASU.  We had meetings at Skysong, with IMS's Digital Credentials Summit taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday. Typically, IMS organizes a summit on a trending and impactful topic, with surrounding days allocated to face-to-face meetings for IMS member project groups, task forces, and specification workgroups. The meetings that I attended were the Caliper Analytics and EDU-API groups, plus the first day of the Digital Credentials Summit.

Here are some of the highlights from my week in Arizona:

LTI 1.3: It’s a Thing

Probably the biggest development is the clear momentum towards Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) 1.3 and LTI Advantage. This represents a significant evolution for LTI, with the potential to shepherd in a new era for innovative learning tools. The first step in making this a reality is for the LMS platforms to be certified on the core LTI spec, which allows authentication using OAuth2 with JWT. During the week, IMS put out a press release that the first 4 platforms have achieved certification, followed closely by press releases from Instructure (Canvas) and Blackboard. Towards the end of the week, Dr. Chuck announced on his blog that Sakai had passed certification as well.  

Integration standards are the unsung heroes of our time - largely unnoticed, but incredibly significant. The new LTI version represents a lot of heated conversations and long discussions on Slack between different platform vendors who are actually fierce competitors, with input from content providers and other tool vendors with much at stake. Now that the major platforms have achieved certification, the next step is to help get the spec finalized through the first set of tool certifications. This will then pave the way for the wave of tools to make the move to LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage services.

Digital Credentials: New Models for the New Economy

The topic for the IMS Summit this time around was Digital Credentials - they’ve talked about this topic in the past as well - but this time there was something tangible presented - a demo of the Badge Connect API using the Open Badges 2.0 standard. A group of three vendors got up and showed how they could move a badge from being issued, to being stored in a backpack, to being displayed, demonstrating  each step in that process in each of their different products. In the demo, Credly was the system that issued  the badge, Badgr’s backpack was used to store the badge, and MyMantle was used to display the badge. Each of these vendors emphasized that they have components to do all parts of the same flow; however, they were attempting to show how different systems could handle each part of the overall flow.

Addressing the challenge of workforce development, Ryan Craig from University Ventures described a new model for the new economy. He started by citing data that showed the millennial generation today is behind when it comes to generating income and growing the economy. It seems there are two challenges faced by this generation:

  • Affordability gap - student loans
  • Employability gap - can they get a job

These create “education friction,” which is caused by the fact that employers will not give you a job unless you have an education (which requires money up front), and “employment friction,” which is caused by the fact that even if you have an education, you are not guaranteed a job when you graduate. In order to address these challenges, new apprentice-style programs with no fee and guaranteed employment provide the bridge to help more people enter the workforce or reskill for the modern economy.   For learners in these programs, reskilling looks like being hired into a new job and working with “colleagues.”  This evolution eliminates both the education friction as well as the employment friction and should have a good chance of working to address the challenges faced by the millennial generation. 

Another important panel from the day was with a group of registrars.  If we are talking about evolving academic credentials, registrars must be included in the conversation. It was apparent from their presentations that there is still work to be done to gain consensus on how best to apply the digital credentials model to the existing degree-granting process.

EDU-API: Same Problem, New Approach

A new task force with participation from the Higher Education community is EDU-API.  This group is attempting to standardize the interface for student data, primarily that which is sourced from Student Information Systems. It buoyed my spirit to see the group that assembled, which represented a critical mass of implementers who all had experience with sending and receiving student data between SIS’s and downstream learning applications (LMS, content providers, integration platforms). This group has a great chance of success because folks here are not under the false assumption that this is an easy problem to solve, and they also know that, realistically, the full problem is best tackled incrementally. Therefore, the group was able to agree on an MVP in order to move forward and gain feedback quickly.   Stay tuned for announcements for hackathon workshops at upcoming IMS meetings around this new initiative.

Caliper Analytics: The Time is Now

Caliper is an important baseline for capturing learning activity in a standard way. The general feeling is that Caliper is poised for adoption, and that the latest release of the spec represents a sufficient baseline for capturing activities most used in learning applications. While there were new metric profiles discussed, they were largely additive, so most of what applications might want to collect is already defined in the spec.  The key now is to instrument the learning platforms and tools with sensors to emit the Caliper events, and also to establish best practices for where these events should be sent. The workgroup is turning its attention to beefing up the Implementation Guide, which should help implementers in this area.

It’s a Good Time to be in EdTech Interoperability

I’ve lived through edtech market conditions where there seemed to be more conflict than cooperation between market forces and industry trends. The current climate seems the best I’ve seen yet to foster the right conditions for meaningful edtech interoperability standards.  I’m excited to see how much progress is being made. It feels like real conversations are happening, resulting in real problem-solving.  In many ways, the steady work for the past several years are now bearing fruit. It’s a good time to be in EdTech Interoperability! I’m seeing real tangible progress, much of which has been in the making for some time, but now interoperability standards are poised to be broadly usable from a market adoption perspective.

All of the above topics will be covered at the next IMS meeting, the annual Learning Impact Leadership Institute, May 20-23 in San Diego, which is open to the public. I recommend you check it out as there will be eleven different tracks covering a broad spectrum of themes ranging from leadership for digital transformation to implementing IMS standards for seamless and secure integrations. I’m planning to be there - please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @lindafeng if you are going as well!  I welcome the opportunity to connect and chat about important new developments in education technology there.

Here are some links if you want to get more involved with IMS.  
https://www.imsglobal.org/imsmembership.html
https://www.imsglobal.org/lti-advantage-overview
https://www.imsglobal.org/initiative/advancing-digital-credentials-and-competency-based-learning
https://www.imsglobal.org/edu-api
https://www.imsglobal.org/activity/caliper

Linda Feng photo

Linda Feng

Software Architect

Linda Feng is a software architect at Unicon, Inc., a leading provider of education technology consulting and digital services. Linda has deep experience in student information systems (SIS) integration, open standards, and big data/ learning analytics, most recently as Senior Product Manager for Canvas SIS Integrations and Canvas Data at Instructure. Prior to Instructure, Linda held the position of software architect for Oracle's Student Products Division. In the last several years, she served as co-chair of the IMS Global Learning Initiative Learning Information Services & Privacy Working Groups, helping to bring a new Enterprise interoperability standard to market.