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Canvas Learning release QTI, SCORM Player and Author tools

What's more, there's demos for everyone and the Canvas Learner Player is free for educational usage while the Author has a 50% introductory price. So what does the goody bag contain? Essentially, a simple, slick-looking, accessible and low cost question-and-test module.

Why module? Because the Canvas Learning Player and Author don't even try to be a complete VLE. The Author allows you to, well, author content in IMS QTI format XML, and the player plays it back when installed on a webserver. That's it. It doesn't try to do any of the repository, discussion board, chat, gateway to everything, kitchensink included things that a conventional VLE does.

As a general approach to developing learning technology, focussing on a tool that does one or two things really well, and leave the rest is a model that is getting increasing traction. Not surprising really, when you consider that learning technology is getting more complex in its functions and more standardised at the same time. Why bother duplicating yet another discussion board when any organisation that will buy your product is likely to already have several?

The most likely scenario for which people might want to deploy something like Canvas Learning products is therefore an organisation that has a VLE, but needs content. For an educational establishment, the fee for the Author is just £49.95, and the player is free for up to a hundred seats. Bung the player plus your content in the VLE, and off you go. If the VLE is SCORM compliant, it will even do results tracking and score reporting, and keep track of where the student last left off. But any webserver will do for basic content playback.

The spec support of the Canvas Learning tools is a bit special in a couple of ways. For a start, a subset of IMS QTI is used as the essential file format, and QTI XML content can also be copy 'n pasted into the player directly. An incompatible subset of IMS Content Packaging is used to keep track of all the different questions and sequence them in different ways.

That may look like an interoperability headache waiting to happen, but that's where the cunning plan comes in: wrap the whole Canvas Learning Player in an full IMS Content Package. Your VLE may not know what's really going on inside the Canvas content, but it doesn't really need to either. Experience at the CETIS codebash suggests that -unlike Baldrick's- this cunning plan works, even if you may want to add some metadata to the package with another tool, in order to make it findable in a repository.

Since IMS Content Packaging is the packaging format for SCORM, you can then further narrow down the content to a SCORM compliant package, if you wish. The Canvas Learning Player will pass on the usual SCORM data to the VLE, as well as a few proprietary bits of data specific to the unusual content format.

At playback, that content format is essentially Macromedia's Shockwave, which also allows a peculiar way to be accessible. Rather than try to talk to whatever accessibility tools may be resident on the system that the learner happens to be using, the Canvas Learning Player makes use of the multimedia capabilities of its own Shockwave basis. So the content is fully keyboardable, and screen reader and screen magnifier functionality can be called up and configured from within the Player screen.

Because both the Player and the Author can be tested online, Canvas Learning is clearly getting into the new trend of demonstrating interoperability by example (though the online version of Author doesn't export files, the 30 day downloadable demo does). Unable to resist, I did a quick swap of content with Granada's online testwise demonstrator, which showed that the use of the sprawling IMS QTI spec could benefit from some application profiling for specific sectors or purposes.

That is, Canvas Learning's Player and Author don't support the large Sections and Assessments parts of the IMS QTI spec, but they do support a wide range of question types. Granada's testwise, by contrast, doesn't support quite as wide a range of question types, but it does support Sections to an extent and expects content to be embedded within an Assessment construct. I.e. they don't interoperate out of the box.

Not that this should be terribly surprising: testwise is a specific assessment tool, where Canvas Learning's Player is more of a question driven learning content tool. Canvas Learning content, then, is more likely to be swapped as an IMS Content Package or SCO; which has been well tested in CETIS' codebash and ADL's plugfest 7.

The point here is that tools need to be suited to their own, well defined purposes; both functionally and in terms of interoperability. Combine that with the increasing willingness of vendors like Canvas Learning to facilitate DIY testing, and it becomes much easier to determine whether a tool meets your needs or not. I suspect that the Canvas Learning tools will fit a lot of people's needs, budgets and existing systems quite precisely.

More info, online and downloadable demos and much more besides is available from the Canvas Learning website

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