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IMS outline future plans at London meeting

At a meeting of vendors in London organised by JISC, Colin Smythe of IMS outlined some of the specification consortium's plans for the coming year, including recommendation on transport protocols, and a brand new content specification.

The meeting on the 30th of July was held to brief vendors on the needs of the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Interoperability projects funded by JISC. Colin Smythe, attending on behalf of IMS, provided a detailed forward-looking account of IMS activity, including some very useful advice for vendors and projects implementing IMS specifications in the near future.

"Go with SOAP with attachments"

One key recommendation was on the subject of transport protocols. IMS has still to release any specifications that cover the means of transporting data, concentrating instead on information models, but Colin gave a very clear indication of where IMS is heading in this area by recommending that vendors and projects implementing IMS to make use of the SOAP with Attachments (SOAPwA) message protocol.

SOAPwA provides a simple mechanism for exchanging XML data, but also includes the capability of MIME-encoding for including things like images and other binary data.

Colin indicated that other protocols are being discusses - such as ebXML - but these are all based upon the SOAPwA protocol.

IMS to tackle content

One of the major new specification areas to be addressed by IMS over the next year will be a content specification. Unlike IMS Content Packaging -which specifies how to bundle content for transport - the new specification will provide a standard XML model for creating content, including "separated material, presentation, processing, labelling, aggregation, sequencing and navigation."

According to Colin Smythe, the IMS Content Model will allow designers to create "intelligent content with behaviour" that will integrate with the forthcoming IMS specification for Learning Design.

As Educational Modelling Language (EML), the specification on which Learning Design is being based, also incorporates a HTML-like content model with integrated behaviours, it will be interesting to see how much the IMS Content Model shares with EML when it is finally released.

Up until now, anyone wanting to create content using IMS specifications have had to do so by tweaking the IMS Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) specification, that includes some presentation code.

More usually, content is created in HTML, Flash, PDF, Word, PowerPoint and other formats and then packaged and described using IMS specifications.

The new specification is intended to take 12 months to develop.

Competencies the next big area for IMS

Not only will IMS release a new Reusable Competency Definition (RCD) specification before the IMS meetings in Sheffield this September, plans are being put in place to develop a completely new Competency Management specification.

Competencies are being perceived by IMS to be a key area for future work, tying together disparate parts of the e-learning space including assessment, learner information, content, sequencing, and learning design.

The Competency Management specification will be released as an Application Service specification, including information models, behaviour descriptions, and 'service access points' (interfaces).

The work has strong parallels with the efforts of MIT's Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI), also producing "Common Service" and "Application Service" application programming interfaces (APIs), and confirms the publicly stated intention of IMS and OKI to work together on future specifications.

Changes to existing specifications

In addition to the major works outlined above, IMS will be updating most of its specifications over the coming year:

  • Content Packaging will be updated to work better with the new Simple Sequencing specification
  • Metadata will be updated to include accessibility information, and also to harmonize better with the IEEE Learning Object Metadata standard. Colin pointed out that currently LOM has no accessibility capability, and in the light of current legislation like Section 508 (US) and SENDA (UK), "it may be illegal to use it".
  • Enterprise will eventually lose the Person object specification, to be replaced by the Learner Information Package (LIP) equivalent. More immediately, an XML Schema binding will be made available in the next couple of weeks for the current 1.1 release.


Clearly it's going to be a busy year at IMS, and as usual CETIS will be keeping track of developments and representing UK HE & FE interests.

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