Interoperability in practice at the CETIS / LTScotland codebash
Bangor, Tuesday, July 1, 2003. 46 participants from 26 organisations from 4 countries came to the second CETIS / Learning and Teaching Scotland codebash in Glasgow last week, with 2 participants joining in online.
The purpose was to test the theory of educational technology interoperability standards in practice by exchanging as many instances of IMS Content Packaging (including SCORM compliant ones) and IMS Question and Test Interoperability as possible.
For vendors like Intrallect, Digital Brain, WebMCQ and Giunti Labs, and software projects like Reload, HLSI and COSE, the trip to LTScotland's Glasgow office was a good way of assessing progress made since the first codebash in November last year. For others, it was the first opportunity to see whether they could read and store each other's IMS content packages --in the case of WebCT, Xtensis and CARET--, or author and pass them on --such as Act eLearning--. The two Norwegian vendors, it:solutions and Fronter, joined in, but decided to up that challenge a bit by bringing along their main customers to see how well they were doing.
A smaller subset of participants sought to read and display a variety of IMS QTI files, with a view to pick a few reference examples.
In each case, the challenge is to find out whether one developer's interpretation of the IMS and ADL specs is sufficiently similar to everyone else's. If it is, interoperability can be claimed with confidence, if it isn't, either a common interpretation needs to be established, or else the spec may need to be adjusted. And there's only one definitive way to find out: trying each other's material.
This being the second codebash, both adjustments could already be seen for IMS CP: the recent IMS Content Package maintenance release (1.1.3) had taken on board some of the issues discovered during the first codebash. On the interpretation end, noticeably fewer problems where found, simply because developers had learned where the common problems lie, and what to do about them.
Establishing a common interpretation of the specs and anticipating problem areas is not the only way in which best practice can be established, though. Many found the codebash a good way to learn a lot about the practical aspects of the specs in a very short space of time as well.
Not just that, having a lot of spec implementers and experts in one room can also mean that common problems or requests can easily lead to common solutions. One way was via a literal direct line to the IMS interactive content group in the form of Sarah Currier, CETIS' educational content SIG coordinator, who was relaying questions and issues between the two groups.
Another way was by simply discovering a common problem and discussing ways of resolving it; Andy Kirkham of LT Scotland, for example, identified a general need to establish what a QTI player should do if a QTI file hasn't specified a particular outcome to a test.
As to progress made: especially the older codebash hands were soon done batting common IMS content packages around, and decided to converge on two quite complex, but valid examples. And promptly found that the use of submanifests (what you get when you roll several learning objects into one big one) could use both clarification from IMS, and some more testing and discussion to establish common practice.
The second codebash was a closed event, but plans are afoot to hold both a public demonstration of practical interoperability, and a continuing online codebash on the CETIS website. Some of the packages will be made available shortly as well.
CETIS represents UK Higher and Further Education on international educational standards initiatives including: