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Staying Ahead in EdTech: Key Updates from the Learning Impact Conference

This year’s Learning Impact conference showcased the latest updates in the Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) standard, the new Edu-API rostering standard, and of course, applications of AI.

Aside from security, privacy, and ethical concerns around AI, one of the most interesting takeaways was the discussion that took place about AI as a probabilistic model. AI models scour the internet for all of its materials and then use your written prompt to try to narrow down which portions of the internet to review to try to predict the probability that a certain response will be correct. This means that the more specific you make your query, the more likely it is that you’ll get the AI to appropriately narrow down your potential results, which effectively weights the dice to give you a higher chance at a correct answer. This principle of specificity enhancing accuracy is something that resonates across various tech developments presented at the conference.

Latest in LTI
The biggest update coming out of 1EdTech and the LTI workgroup is a new reference implementation and certification suite called TAMS (Trusted Apps Management Suite) LTI Diagnostics. The reference implementation is currently ready for beta testing covering LTI Core (SSO), Deep Linking, the Assignments & Grades Service (AGS), Names & Roles Provisioning Service (NRPS), and Dynamic Registration for both student and instructor flows for both tools and platforms. You can learn more about these four LTI Advantage Services here and more about Dynamic Registration here.

1EdTech held a session in which members tested the new reference implementation in an effort to identify new bugs in preparation for a final release. As I tried out the new reference implementation, it became clear instantly that this was a huge improvement over the current system. I was able to use dynamic registration to configure Unicon’s tool with their test suite acting as the LTI platform (LMS). Then there were options to run an LTI Core standard launch as a student or instructor, or to run a Deep Linking launch and see my tool appear within an iframe in their system. Below my tool was the feedback from my test launches, covering all of the LTI Advantage services. This new tool is significantly more intuitive than the existing LTI reference implementation and tracks much better with how LTI tools and platforms function.

The user interface for those testing LTI tools will be updated frequently to align with the interface used for testing LTI platforms. The new certification suite, based on this diagnostic tool, is expected later this year. The current certification suite will remain active until the major bugs are resolved and the community is comfortable with the transition.

There are also two new specifications that the LTI workgroup has been writing, primarily to help address the course copy problem, along with having other potential usages:

  • Platform Notification Service
  • Content & Link Service

Platform Notification Service

Currently, without these new specifications, when a course is copied within a Learning Management System (LMS), the LTI tools in that course only become aware of the copy when someone clicks the LTI link and completes a standard launch. During this launch, the tool uses the received data to update its database with the course name and content.

The Platform Notification Service will change this by allowing the platform to notify the tool of events, such as course copying, without requiring anyone to click the link in the new course. It will also ensure that all the data usually received during an LTI launch is included in these notifications, enabling the tool to update its database for the new course.

This is crucial because the processes tools run when they discover a copied course can be time-consuming, causing long loading times. With the new notification service, tools will be aware of copied courses immediately, reducing the time needed to load them.

Although this specification is still being drafted and is only available to members, some major LMSs, like D2L, are already implementing it and may release it before the fall.

Content & Link Service
The Content & Link Service will work very similarly to the Assignments & Grades Service, except it will allow you to fetch all of your links within a course as opposed to fetching all of your gradebook columns. Additionally, the Content & Link Service will also allow for a tool to update the metadata about its LTI links within a particular course if needed. Tools can perform these actions asynchronously, meaning they don't require a user to be actively using the tool in a browser session.

One potential usage of the Content & Link Service is that LTI tools can improve their Deep Linking menus to now display to the instructor what links they have already added to a course. Another use is for LTI tools to fetch all existing links in a course when it's copied, helping to identify which course the copy was made from.

The LTI workgroup hopes to have these new specifications completed by the end of the year with organizations ready to implement them.

Latest in Rostering
The latest version of OneRoster is 1.2. This version added the ability for users to hold more than one role without having to create a duplicate as well as adding the ability to fetch resource IDs for a particular user and drastically improve the gradebook and assessment functionalities. With OneRoster 1.2, the gradebook columns can now be associated with CASE GUIDs so that it is easy to tell which state standard a particular assessment tests. Additionally there is also now a way within OneRoster to represent QTI assessment results with the additional hierarchy of the QTI schema.

During some of the OneRoster sessions, there was discussion amongst the community indicating that institutions would love to see more adoption of OneRoster 1.2, even if it’s only the update on the rostering side to allow users to have more than one role. A 1EdTech representative said that they’ve heard from vendors that this update typically only takes about one day of development time, while the gradebook updates can take 2-5 weeks. It is not mandatory to implement both the rostering updates and the gradebook updates, so OneRoster provider vendors should be able to leave their gradebook implementations on the older version without any issue.

Given the success of OneRoster in the K12 space, 1EdTech has been developing the new Edu-API specification, which is based on OneRoster but adapted for higher education. The main differences between OneRoster and Edu-API are:

  • Class vs. Course Offering: Edu-API replaces the concept of a "class" with "course offering."
  • Hierarchical Structure: Edu-API introduces a hierarchical structure where:
    • A program collection (such as a degree) contains course offerings.
    • Course offerings contain components (such as a main course and a lab).

The Edu-API workgroup hopes to be able to bring this specification into the final state by the end of the year as some major SIS vendors have already started their implementation. Once the first version of Edu-API is released, the Edu-API workgroup is hoping to follow up with a pub/sub modeled service to handle updating and synchronizing records once they’re in place.

The updates from the 1EdTech Learning Impact conference are very exciting as they address some major issues that are impacting many learners, instructors, and education technology administrators. The inability for instructors to copy courses and maintain proper functionality of their LTI tools in the new course has been a struggle for many years which will hopefully receive some much needed love with the Platform Notification Service. The lack of interoperability in the higher education SIS space has been prevalent for quite some time as well, so having major vendors on board in this space is also highly encouraging. These advancements, coupled with insights on AI's role in refining and enhancing these standards, are highly encouraging and demonstrate a commitment to enhancing the edtech landscape. If you would like to know more about these updates or you’re curious about how Unicon could partner with you to accelerate your delivery of these integrations, please reach out!

Mary Gwozdz

Mary Gwozdz

Software Architect
Mary Gwozdz is a Software Architect and Integration Specialist who has been with Unicon since 2017. While at Unicon, Ms. Gwozdz has impacted numerous learners by designing and developing software solutions for the California Community Colleges (CCC) Applications, Cisco Networking Academy, Lumen Learning, and others as well as assisting with SIS integrations to Instructure products such as Canvas. Ms. Gwozdz specializes in the LTI (Learning Tool Interoperability) specification from 1EdTech and is also knowledgeable in AWS architecture, Spring Boot REST web services, and other 1EdTech specifications such as Common Cartridge and OneRoster.