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Features


e-learning tech that is fit for purpose, innovative and sustainable
Educational technology interoperability standards are at something of a crossroads; the first generation of them are either in wide use, superceded, or in the process of final maturation. In the mean time, open source and service oriented architectures have changed the landscape considerably. Time, then, to re-examine the place of these specs in the wider development of e-learning technology.


The Case for Creative Commons Textbooks
According to a recent survey, University of California students now spend 40 percent more on textbooks than they did six years ago. We argue that colleges and universities may be able to significantly reduce these costs by creating a coalition for the acquisition and distribution of electronic textbooks.


Patents, Open Standards and Open Source
In the last few months, there's been quite a lot to do about software patents: the idea of claiming intellectual property rights over ideas implemented in software, rather than just copyright over the software itself. An issue that used to just exercise corporate lawyers in the US is now starting to hit educational institutions everywhere, including the UK.


When metadata becomes content, and authoring learning
and the result an assessment method and part of a learner's/learning profile, you have something like Topic Maps. One of a number of emerging semantic web standards, it is the subject of quite a bit of research and development. The Norwegian estandard project and its members are busy working on educational applications of the technology.


Using the Enterprise SDK to create a minimal IMS Enterprise web service
The IMS Enterprise Web Services specification may be a pretty complex spec with reams of documentation, but with the IMS Enterprise SDK for Java the implementation process is drastically simplified. This article shows you how to write and deploy a minimal Enterprise Group Management service - and by minimal we mean minimal!


Same area, different goals; Sakai and the JISC Framework Programme
With Managed Learning Environment (MLE) implementation increasingly moving from theory to practice, two major initiatives come along at once. One will deliver a customisable but complete 'community source' MLE, the other a means of stitching together an MLE out of bits you already have or want. We talk to Chuck Severance of Sakai and Tish Roberts and Scott Wilson of the JISC Framework Programme about differences and similarities.


Metadata Quality in e-Learning: Garbage In - Garbage Out?
One of the first things I ever learned as a schoolgirl about computers and computer programming was the acronym GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. As a grownup librarian working in e-learning, I was surprised to find a few years back that those who were thinking about metadata for learning objects appeared to have forgotten this truism.


JISC programme to foster the pick 'n mix MLE
The concept of an institutional learning environment that provides the information that people need, when and where they want it has been around for a while, but has not been easy to realise. The JISC's new e-learning programme includes the e-learning technical framework strand, that is designed to make it more do-able. Now that the first call for technical framework projects is out, we look at what the framework sets out to achieve and how it intends to get there.


Identifiers, migrating metadata and orphaned objects
Sometimes you want an identifier to unambiguously refer to a resource: punch in a loved one's phone number, and you expect their phone to ring, and no other. Much the same identifier - resource functionality would be desirable for learning objects, but that has not been sorted yet. CETIS organised a meeting with a broad swathe of stakeholders to address the issue.


A recipe for interoperability in practice
At the 8th CETIS Educational Content SIG meeting held in Glasgow on 28th August, Colin Milligan (RELOAD), Martin Morrey (Intrallect) and Gerry Graham (Learning and Teaching Scotland) presented a demonstration of practical interoperability between a content repository (the JORUM Intralibrary) and a virtual learning environment (PIONEER), mediated by the RELOAD Editor. For full meeting minutes and presentations, see the EC-SIG web page at: http://www.cetis.ac.uk/educational-content/


Conformance programmes gather momentum
For as long as we've been talking about standards and specifications the issue of conformance has kept cropping up. The lack of any sort of trusted agencies bestowing the Official Stamp of Approval on e-learning products brought us to a state where the claims of vendors regarding standards compliance are treated as highly suspicious - and rightly so. However, this year we've seen several strides forward, and some hints of better times to come.


A feature or a bug; SCORM and cross domain scripting
People trying to deploy SCORM across several sites have been agonising over the problems associated with playing SCORM content from one domain in a VLE in another domain. We asked SCORM luminaries Dan Rehak, Claude Ostyn, Wayne Hodgins and Schawn Thropp about their views on the nature of the problem, what sorts of solutions might work and what SCORM's makers -ADL- intend to do about it.


The one standard, LOM and the semantic web.
In a lengthy and characteristically thought provoking presentation, Stephen Downes challenges both the need and the demand for just one Learning Object Metadata (LOM) standard. That done, the very existence of such beasts as learning objects is called into question. We examine the argument.


Stretching and squeezing (X)HTML to your needs
At the bottom of the pile of educational technology specifications sits (X)HTML; common as grass and about as worthy of comment. Or is it? With new working drafts for Modularization of XHTML in XML Schema and XHTML 2.0, the W3C is squeezing the ubiquitous web language onto more devices and stretching it to cover more functions. Some web geeks can't wait, and have already begun to make XHTML do weird and wonderful things.


Alternative Architectural Concept 2 - Federated Integration
This is the second in a series of articles discussing possible variations to the Learning Technology Systems Architecture (LTSA) model delineated by the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) working group. In a previous article I covered one of the core structural issues / content object taxonomy. With the taxonomy I implied some deeper philosophical predispositions which I feel are vital to the success of any potential learning architecture.


Learning content. Theirs, yours, mine and ours.
On the 30th of September, MIT's Open Course Ware (OCW) initiative will make the first batch of MIT learning resources available to the world. Free of charge. On the other side of the pond, the CELEBRATE project has just started to establish a digital repository to see, among many other things, what kind of model will generate a viable stock of learning objects for Europe's schools. Meanwhile, projects like the universal brokerage project and the UK's National Learning Network (NLN) are maturing nicely. The question that arises, then, is where all that learning content is going to come from, and, more importantly, who is going to make it.


US education consortia release "manifesto" on web services
HEKATE - The Higher Education Knowledge and Technology Exchange - have released a white paper entitled "Web Services Enabling Technology for Application Integration and Assembly". Beneath the somewhat clumsy title is a bold manifesto for using XML-based middleware services in the (higher) education sector. But can it live up to the hype?


Consolidation before the leap; IMS Enterprise 1.1
Wilbert Kraan takes a detailed look at the latest IMS Enterprise specification, and asks is it worth waiting for v2.0?


Who said that? Metadata, trust, and the Semantic Web
A new paper from researchers in Stockholm looks to the future of metadata in eLearning, and in particular the next-generation Semantic Web proposed by Tim Berners-Lee and others. But to get there we need to past some of our preconceptions about metadata - like the idea that learning object metadata can ever be objective.


Content Packaging interoperability tests reveal room for improvement
The CETIS Educational Content Special Interest Group (EC-SIG) recently carried out a set of interoperability experiments to see how well different tools handled IMS Content Packages.


Don't assume because a standard is open that it's free to use - IBM patent move sets a worrying precedent for adopters
It may be an "open standard" but it may not be free to use - this is the message after IBM sets uncomfortable legal precedent for standards adopters.


Best of the blogs
Weblogs - personal web journals - are the hot new thing on the web these days. Some of these sites are even talking about standards in learning technology. We take a look around at some of the best standards-related 'blogs on the web.


Tools for implementors
A good way to get an understanding of standards and specifications in eLearning is to try using them - and for that you need some tools to work with. Thankfully, there are other universities and colleges doing exactly the same thing, and have built their own toolkits you can use to get you started.


Universities face profiles challenge
Representatives including principals and registrars from many UK universities attended a special event last week on the subject of transcripts and personal development planning in UK education.


New BSI guidelines 'herald coming of age' of computer-assisted assessment
The increased use of computers in assessment has brought with it new concerns over issues such as fairness and security. Responding to these and other concerns, the British Standards Institute (BSI) has issued a new draft set of guidelines that provide a minimum set of requirements for organisations making assessments using computers.


Common Behaviour: IMS and OKI consider architecture issues
At the IMS Open Technical Forum in San Francisco, a panel of representatives from Carnegie-Mellon, MIT and IMS discussed using layered architectures to simplify the process of developing software and content for learning.


Blackboard pave road ahead with Building Blocks
Blackboard has rolled out its Building Blocks initiative for extending the Blackboard platform. Third party vendors – and users – can now write plug-in applications and services using the Blackboard API. What will this mean for open standards - and the future shape of the eLearning market?


Gluing learning applications together with SOAP
In our previous article on architectures for learning systems we talked about some of the ways that different standards-compliant programs could be connected using "services". In this article we look at what kinds of services we might use in education systems and take a more detailed look at SOAP, one of the technologies that may be used to implement them.


Education community advises European Commission on standards, open source, and learner profiles
The European Commission's IST Programme has launched an open consultation process to discuss the research and policy priorities in the area of "technology supported learning". So where do standards and specifications fit in?


The next wave: CETIS interviews Mikael Nilsson about the Edutella project
We are in the midst, it seems, of a quiet revolution in computing. The technologies that built the internet, with its giant server farms and gigabyte databases, are giving way to a new wave of distributed technologies. After the furore over music network Napster dies down, we are seeing a new generation of projects in the education field taking up the peer-to-peer challenge of building distributed, "democratic" learning technology. One of the most interesting new projects out there is Edutella, an attempt to create a distributed web for learning metadata making use of emerging standards. We talked to Mikael Nilsson about the project, and what the future holds.


The semantic web: How RDF will change learning technology standards
The field of learning technology has entered a phase of intense work on standardization of learning technology descriptions of various kinds. Most of the work so far has focused on XML as the encoding language for such specifications (e.g. IMS, IEEE-LOM and SCORM).

However, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is putting their energy into another model for computerized descriptions, called Resource Description Framework, RDF, which is the foundation for the Semantic Web vision of Tim Berners-Lee.

This raises important question regarding the future of learning technologies: In what way might RDF be useful for learning technology specifications? In what sense does RDF represent the future of meta-data, and how does this affect learning technology?


The next big thing? Three architectural frameworks for learning technologies
A key event at the IMS symposium in Ottawa on August 2001 was a panel on Architectural Frameworks. Representatives from IMS, MIT’s Open Knowledge Initiative, and Carnegie Mellon University put forward three ways that learning systems of the future could be designed.


Comment & Analysis: Why Context Is King
While the delivery of content to the learner continues to be a major theme at IMS, last week’s IMS events saw the emergence of learning context as its counterpoint. This feature takes a look at some of the ways educational context is making an impact on the development of learning technology.


MIT and the Open Courseware Initiative
MIT make their materials freely available and begin to develop Open Source tools for learning.

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