CopperCore to power Learning Design implementations
The Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) has just released CopperCore: an IMS Learning Design engine, the first of its kind. Rather than provide a complete take-it-or-leave-it Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), the open source package is designed to be integrated into a range of existing e-learning infrastructures.
From a pedagogical point of view, the EU Alfanet project sponsored CopperCore engine functions more or less like an invisible online classroom assistant. In a conventional learning activity, an educator would draw up a lesson plan, with different activities in small groups, whole class or individually, using textbooks, handouts or the white board, including tasks like debating a supposition, doing a test or collaborating on an essay. Having someone around to make sure that all the resources are there and that the class is divided into the right groups at the right time and doing the planned activity is rather handy.
IMS learning design allows an educator to capture such a learning scenario in a standardised machine readable format- bearing in mind that there are a lot of things possible online that you can't easily do face to face. Like a classroom assistant, CopperCore can take the educator's Learning Design, read it, make sure that all the necessary resources are there, the class divided in groups at the right time, and presented with the right activity. It can also, crucially, keep track of the activities and coordinate between the tools that are used in the learning scenario. Everything but actually teach, basically.
What it also cannot do (well) is provide the visible tools that learners and educators would work with. There is a basic web interface that shows what CopperCore can do, but that's emphatically not the point. Like a lot of modern software, CopperCore is component based. The idea is that, rather than duplicate functions that are already done very nicely elsewhere, an application should focus on doing its own thing well, and make sure it plays nice with all the others.
For CopperCore, that means that it is not trying to be another VLE, but makes it possible for existing VLEs, and colloborative software such as chat, email and online fora to play their part in a structured learning activity. Ideally, then, learners and educators would mostly interact with software they already know (plus a few simple and innovative new ones), but in learning activities that are vastly richer than what is possible with most tools today.
The gubbinsAt present, CopperCore communicates with those other tools via Java enterprise beans- a common component standard for the J2EE platform. Perhaps more intruiging is the fact that it would, according to CopperCore developer Hubert Vogtens, be fairly easy to have the beans talk SOAP- a widely used cross-platform webservices messaging format that is shaping up to become a standard in e-learning as well. The advantage of SOAP is that the basic messaging infrastructure is well known, widely implemented and that it fits in with a number of other webservices specifications. It is also relatively easy to implement; Hubert points out that some Java tools let you automatically build a SOAP interface from Java Beans. The CopperCore team is evaluating whether a SOAP interface should be part of the standard distribution of CopperCore.
So...If one were to ask many an e-learning technologist what the most ideal modern e-learning software would look like conceptually, they'd describe something very much like CopperCore. The pedagogic richness of Learning Design, standard compliant and open source, the flexibility and adaptability of a component architecture, and easily webservices enabled to boot. All on a solid, proven technological basis. Just take it, and integrate it into whatever you've got already, in a way that suits your needs.
The motherlodeCopperCore source code, binaries and documentation is available on the SourceForge CopperCore page. The software is licensed under the GPL, but as no static linking is necessary, commercial vendors can integrate it into their products.