In my introductory message to you a few weeks ago I shared a glimpse about my history of commitment to openness and standards for educational technology. I hinted that change would come to Blackboard and our policies soon. While an obvious industry leader on many fronts, Blackboard has not necessarily been a consistent standards leader. As an organization I feel we need to more proactively add our shoulder to the wheel of advancing standards. I’m pleased to announce new directions at Blackboard against this backdrop.
First, I’m pledging to take our role in the open standards community from “participant” to “leader.” Second, I want to extend an invitation to other organizations in the eLearning community to join us in the standards dialog, specifically in the IMS Global standards organization. Let me provide more detail on both these directions.
As one of my first acts as President of Blackboard Learn I challenged our product development and strategy teams to figure out how we could do more to implement and lead the way on standards. Here’s what we came up with:
Common Cartridge Support – eLearning systems like Blackboard are an important part of educational delivery. But they’re only part of the story – they require learning content to provide their full benefit to educators. The major publishers are investing more in this area. And institutions themselves are investing more as instructional design and online course authorship become commonplace. For traditional publishers or institutions that wish to create their own curricula there is a growing desire to create content once that can play anywhere. And as investments in content rise, institutions naturally wish to preserve their investment by making sure it’s not “locked in” to a particular vendors system due to proprietary formats. This recognition of these goals prompted the emergent industry standard known as the Common Cartridge. As our first new step towards leadership in standards, I’m excited to share that we are committing to fully support both the import and export of this format, striking the same level of activism in support of the standard as ANGEL Learning had previously.
Learning Tools Interoperability – Online course authors are quick to acknowledge a need for more than just content – they need interactive “learning tools” that are integrated into the learner experience. An online chemistry course, for example, may provide text and videos on the topic of acids and bases. But it would be greatly enriched by a learning tool that simulates lab conditions and allows the student to conduct virtual titration exercises. I’m pleased to note that Blackboard has been a leader in defining this important standard and that we’ll sustain this effort as a key priority in the months ahead.
SCORM – The US Department of Defense sponsored work to create what’s known as the SCORM standard to solve a related problem of interoperability. This standard has been widely adopted in government training applications and has also found a following in K-20 education internationally. This standard defines how content “objects” can be sequenced for learners and share information about learner interactions with an eLearning system that tracks student results. We remain committed to supporting this standard. Today we support SCORM 2004 v3 and are actively working to support later versions.
Learning Information Services – We’re going to get involved in supporting the Learning Information Services specification. This specification provides a standards-based approach to integrating the LMS, SIS and other IT infrastructure pieces for easily sharing grades, enrollment, user, course and group information between systems using web services.
School Interoperability Framework (SIF) – We know that SIF is an important standard in K-12 for the interoperability between back office administrative systems and eLearning systems. Both Blackboard and ANGEL support this standard today, but I want to bring additional focus to this standard to better support our K-12 customers.
An Invitation to the Industry: Engage Along with us to Drive Adoption of Open Standards
Before I arrived at Blackboard I spent considerable time trying to drive the adoption of open standards throughout the industry. I had a number of discussions with technology firms and content publishers in particular that concluded with inaction. Many confessed to taking a “wait-and-see” approach, suggesting that they couldn’t justify the investments in standards until others joined in first. This chicken and egg situation is delaying important benefits to educators worldwide.
So to our publishing partners, our technology partners, our competitors, and our community: we invite you to join us in the standards dialog. The place we believe this will take place is in the halls of the IMS Global educational standards organization. Michael Chasen, the CEO of Blackboard, and I have both committed time to participate. We’re bringing some of our best technical minds to the dialog and are extending our investment effective immediately.
If you’re not a member institution we encourage you to sign on. It requires investment of modest fees for IMS to provide technical stewardship, and it requires investment of some of your best minds to build industry standards that will support the needs of educators in the decades to come. We believe that what’s at issue is worth it—the growth of our industry and the pace of progress in delivering on the promise of technology to help personalize learning at scale. [More info on IMS at: www.imsglobal.org]
With this new step forward in standards, creators of learning content, tools and other systems will be able to better leverage their partnerships with Blackboard through the Blackboard Building Blocks program or the Blackboard Content Provider network to write their interfaces once and then easily connect their standards-compliant tool or content to any other technology supporting the same standards.
In closing, while we need to complement these words with the deeds of shipping software -- I hope this message provides a sense of direction that you may expect from Blackboard as we review our approach and commitment to this important area of industry collaboration. This is an area where I’m confident that Blackboard can play a very positive role in the industry, and indeed, in the improvement of education globally. But this is not something we can do alone – which is why I also look forward to working with many of you to bring this commitment to life.
President of Blackboard Learn