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News from the latest IMS meeting: Feb 2020 Summit on Digital Credentials

IMS Digital Credentials 2020 photo The quarterly IMS meetings typically combine organization workgroups and meetings with a technology summit. The most recent IMS meeting in Atlanta was particularly interesting for me because the summit was on Digital Credentials, which is an area that I have recently started learning more about. One of the issues that I had with the overall format of this IMS meeting was that it actually was held in two locations. That made it really hard for the people to interact because if you were part of the group that was there for the summit you were one place, and if you were there for workgroup meetings, then you ended up somewhere else quite far away. Everyone had to either make a choice between one and the other or just stay in one place and miss out on half the fun.

Because of the workgroup meetings that I was participating in, I ended up being at the location that was a little bit farther away and had to carpool to the summit. I only made it to the summit for one out of the two days. The topics covered were new to me, but it is an area with a lot of people who have spent a lot of time building up expertise, and I have a lot of respect for them. I was mostly in learning mode, and I really enjoyed hearing from a lot of different people.  

Here are updates and impressions from the sessions that I was able to attend.

Digital Credentials Summit

Day 1 of the Digital Credentials summit was very well attended with what looked like several hundred people in the audience.  I was particularly impressed with the cross section of presenters as well as attendees representing organizations like FedEx’s global workforce training - previously not part of such IMS gatherings. A few folks that I met while waiting in the lunch line mentioned this was their first ever IMS meeting. This indicates to me that we are reaching a point across industries where, as fellow travelers, we can connect the dots and think more holistically about the full journey of a learner.

Presenters that day provided an opportunity for us to reflect on the impact of today’s workforce on educational needs. Today’s working arc is very different from earlier generations, with people holding an average of 12 jobs in their lifetime. Compare that to my parents who pretty much had one job most of their career. In addition, it seems employers are gradually more accepting of online credentials - not sure whether that really extends to online degrees though?  But it is a change nonetheless.

There were excellent questions raised during the summit by audience members. Some brought up interesting questions about how to showcase so-called “soft skills” to employers. And one audience member posed a challenge about whether educational institutions could be deprioritizing learning for learning’s sake - as opposed to learning for a job.

The day ended with a growing sense that collaboration is needed in order to move towards mainstream practices and build bridges connecting disparate parts of the talent continuum. Several IMS initiatives are key to enabling this transformation. One of them is the Comprehensive Learner Record.

The goal of the CLR initiative is to define a way to capture and showcase student educational experiences using a secure, portable, verifiable, and easily understood format. For more information describing how universities view the benefits of shifting to such a practice, and the collaborative conversations which need to happen along the way, please see this article.

The Comprehensive Learner Record is part of IMS's digital credentials portfolio that also includes Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange® (CASE®) and Open Badges.

IMS graphic screenshot

Source:  Leuba, Mark. (2020, February 11). How IMS is Enabling the Lifelong Learning Ecosystem [PowerPoint slides]. IMS Global Learning Consortium.

Testing Edu-API Using Implementations

One of the workgroups that I’m currently co-chairing is Edu-API. Over the past several months, the Edu-API task force has identified its first set of business needs as those related to making student, course, program, and enrollment information available securely via a standard API. I’m happy to report that the group is now at the point where we have a charter ready to be voted on, and so that's very exciting. What that means is now we can move forward with having some groups actually try to implement this API. There are several organizations that have stepped forward to participate in test implementations.  

In my opinion, this is one of the best parts of IMS, because when you have a group that comes together to propose a new standard, you really can only solidify that standard when you have people who actually try to implement it. The general process that IMS has come up with is to have two implementers move forward and then feed back their experiences to the workgroup to help make the standard better suited to their actual use cases. This is similar to modern software engineering principles where you try not to build for use cases that you may not have. The idea is that it is okay to refactor when additional use cases arise. I'm glad to see that IMS is evolving to work in this way. I hope to be able to report on more progress over the next few quarters as the workgroup goes through initial test implementations.

Updates on the LTI Front

I also attended the LTI workgroup meetings, where I observed steady progress, with more platforms and tools rolling out implementations of LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage services. The workgroup is now discussing some beneficial new (optional) services, which fit nicely within the existing LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage framework. Each new service solves a specific use case or business need in a particular area. For example, one of the services defines a way for LTI tools and platforms to exchange information about Caliper endpoints. This can enable a tool to report back a user's activities and have the activities associated with a single user session without regard to whether they occurred within the platform or the tool. There is also some discussion about a registration-like flow which can improve the administration of tools across platforms and institutions.

Learning Impact is Coming Soon

In the face of fast changing public health concerns, schools are facing the prospect of moving more of their teaching and assessment activities online. The edtech community in particular has rallied together to support each other and share resources for educators in the midst of in-person class and event cancellations at schools across the globe. This collaborative spirit will serve to break down challenges in our connected digital ecosystem and accelerate solutions in support of student success. The next IMS gathering will be the annual Learning Impact Leadership Institute in May. It will be held in Denver, Colorado. I’m excited for the wide variety of sessions and speakers that are planned. Be sure to check out the status of the meeting here.


Linda Feng

Linda Feng

Software Architect
Linda Feng is a Principal 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.