Supporting interoperability…

My previous post appears to have exposed concerns shared by others about the way in which VLEs/LMSs etc are being integrated and used within our schools. The idea that the “promise” of these systems has yet to be realised is due in part to the change in pedagogical practice that is required of those using them, and in part also beacuse of the rapid changes in the technologies upon which these systems are built.

As we see a move away from a ‘walled garden‘  approach to a more open and configurable concept of a learning management system (or any system for that matter), the issue of interoperability becomes key. Just released is a report from SALTIS in the UK titled “Supporting Interoperable Learning Technology – a strategy for better e-learning in schools“, sent to me this morning by my friend Malcolm in the UK. This is an excellent read for those who may be unfamiliar with this rather technical field, as well as those who are working in the field. The concept of interoperability is well explained and illustrated, as is the historical development of standards which is helpful for those who are trying to ‘catch up’ with what has happened.

There’s also a useful discussion around content vs. community that reflects some of Paul’s comments on in my recent post – the fact that it’s not ‘either/or’, but both. On the topic of content, learning objects get a mention – highlighting the complexity of issues in trying to develop a standard for universally ‘portable’ content elements, and reinforcing for me that there’s still a long way to go yet before we’ll have something truly useful.

The scenario towards the end of the report titled “imagining an interoperable future’ provides a useful insight into what advantages there might be to learners and learning if we can succeed in achieving the interoperability vision outlined in the report. For my money this is an excellent starting point for schools looking at implementing any sort of system – begin by creating your own scenarios and building a picture of what you’d like to see acheived, then set about building it up with the tools and applications that will make it happen.

Download as PDF (2.2Mb, 24pp, published January 2009)

2 thoughts on “Supporting interoperability…

  1. Derek, thanks for bringing this report to my attention, as I found it a well written report.
    – Up to page 16 I found the document excellent (easy to follow, well illustrated well structured argument) and it could be a useful resource document for anybody who knows they need to know more about interoperability (even if they do not want one).
    – The leap to what needs to be done (page 17) left me behind. It was not so much that I disagree with their views; rather they did not seem to flow from the earlier pages. A bit of a shame, really, given that we in NZ will also have to work out a response to some of the same challenges.
    – One question would be to what extent are the limitations in standards on interoperability a hindrance to the vendors, compared with a barrier to students and teachers? And on what timeline might the learning actually suffer if the standards do not mature.
    – My team have been evidence of the emerging rivalry between IMS and LETSI camps (page 14) and as we see that specifications from each organisation offer value can only agree that convergence is desirable.
    – Interoperability is expensive and if SALTIS require government funding to cover costs we must work smartly here in NZ to get progress with our more modest budgets (meaning vendors and government).
    – I am left feeling daunted by the complexity of the decisions on which/how/when for DLO interoperability and would welcome input from those with more experience.

  2. Hi Derek and Paul,

    Thanks Derek for the positive review of the “Supporting Interoperable Learning Technology” report, which I wrote in consultation with SALTIS members.

    Thanks too for your comments Paul. You werenot the only one to find the “What needs to be done” page a bit of a lump to swallow. However, I felt it was important to put in a concrete agenda (otherwise the whole thing might appear to be just a waffle). The final spread, “Imagining an interoperable future” was added at a suggestion by a SALTIS member as an attempt to bring things down to earth from the point of view of the classroom practitioner and as an antidote to the techie bits.

    I am not sure I see the dichotomy between industry and education, which you seem to suggest – it seems to me that an efficient market ought to serve its customers (and customers are generally happy to pay for products which deliver genuine benefit, and so both providers and users end up happy). I would say that it wasn’t so much a question that standards of learning might take a nose-dive; but that there are opportunities for technology to improve standards of learning which have not yet been realised. Where I do think there is some urgency is if the open standards community does not get its act together fairly quickly, we will find ourselves facing de facto standards based on proprietary software instead.

    I also see the whole interoperability problem as being by its nature a collaborative and not a competitive one (though clearly the technical work needs to be funded). So not only do we need to see convergence between IMS and LETSI, but if we can make progress here in the UK, then I hope that you may find some of our outputs useful in New Zealand.

    I am putting together a list of people who would be interested to receive occasional updates of how the SALTIS project is getting on. Do drop me a line through the SALTIS website if you would like to be included.

    Best, Crispin.

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