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Third CETIS/LIFE codebash goes public

To test the interoperability of educational content, metadata and services there's nothing like getting files into and out of as many different tools as possible. Better yet, get the developers of those tools into one room, and let them sort out any issues. CETIS codebashes do just that, but the third iteration had some differences: it was co-organised with the European LIFE (Learning Interoperability Framework for Europe) project and some of the files are now public.

Thirtyfour tool developers, specification experts and observers travelled to the University of Bolton's brand new design studio last week to put their tools to the test. Anything from various flavours of content packages, IMS QTI question items, metadata records and (web) services such as SRW, RSS and Atom were posted on a dedicated site and tested.

In an ideal world, all of these specification conformant materials would work in any conformant tool óregardless whether that tool is a VLE, an editor, a repository or anything elseó but in reality, some work needs to be done by the toolmakers to make sure that it gets to that plug and play stage.

Though interoperability specs are written to be as unambiguous as possible, they are still written by fallible humans, and interpreted by other humans in wildly variable contexts. Getting both these communities in a room and let them play with actual data and code speeds up the process of spec improvement and focussed implementation considerably.

Since the Codebash is now in its third iteration, and the original ADL plugfest in its nineth, there is considerable evidence for the effectiveness of such events. Issues collected during previous codebashes and plugfests have led directly to a maintenance release of IMS Content Packaging (1.1.4), and results from the present round will be used as input for a more substantial reworking (1.2) of the widely used spec. Previous codebashes have also informed the development of the recent 2.0 release of IMS QTI.

And it's not just the specs. Implementors have now arrived at more common interpretations of the specs, and they have real life experience of the kind of variability that they need to support. The result is that tools of past participants are more likely to import or export material without a hitch, and as expected.

The LIFE Project

The Codebash is this kind of practical technical interoperability and shared human practice that the EU sponsored LIFE project seeks to foster across the continent. Born of a recognition that there are many different projects and communities of practice who work on educational technology interoperability, the LIFE projects sets out to support them, and provide communication between them.

That way, there's less need for implementation projects, for example, to re-invent any wheels, or for decision makers at the national and European level to guess what works, or where the pain points are. Likewise, the events that LIFE will organise could bring the concerns of teachers and learners closer to the people who build the actual tools and specifications.

the codebash site

One other change to the Codebash event format came from the developers themselves. Having established decent interoperability in previous 'bashes, they wanted to demonstrate to the world how well they're doing. Furthermore, the best guarantee that the kind of files a tool puts out now will continue to work in the future is to make examples freely available. Lots of projects are looking for such files to make sure new tools, technologies and specification versions work with existing implementations.

To enable such exchange, the website that has been used by the Codebash participants has been made public. All the IMS Content Packages, SCORM packages, IMS QTI packages and files, LOM and DCMI metadata records and various services that have been copyright cleared are available for download. Those samples that could be tested have testreports attached to them. Since these packages are intended for technical interoperability testing, beware that they are not necessarily of any great pedagogical value.

The future of codebashing

Opening up the site still further so that anyone can upload their samples and comment on the files that are already there, is something that will continue to be explored within CETIS. There are some tricky legal issues to be sorted out for that to happen, though. These are mostly to do with liability for copyright and licencing restrictions on closed source tools.

The LIFE project, however, is committed to organise another codebash event later. Dates, venues and participation invitations are to be determined and announced in due course.

Resources

The third CETIS/LIFE codebash site has all the contributed files and comments on them.

The LIFE site has more information about the project.

The EUN insight site has an extensive article about the 'bash.

CEN-LTSO has a picture of the opening and the preliminary presentations as well as a post about the event.

More pictures and an article are available from the Norwegian estandards site (in Norwegian)

SURF-SiX's Pierre Gorissen also has a number of pictures, and posts about the bash on his blog (in Dutch):
Codebash dag #1
Codebash dag #2
Codebash foto's en video

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