Last week the IMS Global Learning Consortium announced its certification of the Basic LTI 1.1 standard, and at this week’s IMS Learning Impact conference in Toronto you’ll hear much more from the standards organization about this new standard. For those of you not familiar, LTI stands for Learning Tools Interoperability. The LTI standard allows for third-party tool providers to easily plug their applications into Blackboard Learn and other learning management systems. I’m a musician at heart, so when I explain LTI I often use Noteflight as an example. Noteflight is an online music writing application that lets you create, view, print and hear music notation with professional quality, right in your web browser. Since Noteflight supports the LTI standard, a music teacher can create composition-based assignment and grade the assignment all within Blackboard Learn. That’s just one example! The LTI standard has been used by educators to integrate content from other providers into their courses creating truly rich course content. At Blackboard we’ve prided ourselves on rapid implementation of IMS standards, and Basic LTI 1.1 is no different. Blackboard’s support of IMS open standards demonstrates a continuing commitment to creating a learning management system devoted to interoperability and openness. We continue to work with the IMS Global Consortium to expand standards support in our software and lead in the establishment of other industry standards.
To kick off our Building Blocks Rock series I decided to interview Patricia Goldweic of Northwestern University. Patricia has been working with Blackboard of the past few years spearheading development of the Bboogle Building Block that allows schools to leverage Google Apps for Education within their Blackboard Learn environments. Her work on Bboogle earned her a nomination for this year’s Innovative Developer Catalyst Awards. Chris Borales: Patricia, tell us a bit about your background. How did you get into web development? Patricia Goldweic: My background is computer science (I have bachelor and master’s degrees in computer science). I got into web development as part of my job as a developer, initially for Cognitive Arts, and then for Northwestern University. CB: So, how did you get started developing Building Blocks? PG: I got started developing building blocks around 2002 (my first year at Northwestern University). I believe my first real building block was probably a first version of what eventually came to be known as the open source File Bridge project (an integration of Bb and the Xythos web file management system). CB: How did the Bboogle project come about? PG: Back in the Summer of 2008, my supervisor asked me to experiment with and prototype, a first simple integration between Blackboard and Google Apps, as he was being approached by some faculty interested in exploring the possible connection between the two. We had quite a bit of experience at this point in integrating Bb with external systems while providing a ‘link making’ capability that allowed instructors to embed links to the relevant external content (by this time we had done integrations with the Xythos web file management system, the Plone content management system, the Refworks bibliographic data management system, and had also created a general ‘bridge/Application link maker’ building block among others). So this integration with Google Apps seemed like a worthy goal to embark on, given the great potential that Google Apps presented in terms of facilitating collaboration, and although many of the relevant apis had not yet been released by Google.
So you may have heard that with Blackboard Learn’s latest release, Service Pack 8, command-line Snapshot has been deprecated. It’s true, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. There are a couple things to note when we talk about command-line Snapshot’s deprecation: First, all existing command-line Snapshot integrations will NOT be effected by a Service Pack 8 upgrade, and if you have an existing integration it WILL continue to work. Second, Blackboard introduced in Service Pack 6 and further refined in Service Pack 8, the SIS Integration Framework. The framework was created to streamline the way Blackboard Learn interacts with student information systems. The framework gives system administrators a user interface to administrate their SIS integrations and will do the work of your existing command-line Snapshot integration, with some additional functionality.
Building on the momentum following this year’s EDUCAUSE I thought it would be nice to give some love to our developer community, so I am proud to announce the availability of our new Blackboard plug-in for the Eclipse development platform. This will dramatically reduce the amount of time developers spend on setting up their development environment to build Blackboard Building Blocks. If you’re a web application developer, chances are that you’ve heard of Eclipse. For the uninitiated, Eclipse is an open source software development environment that can be used to develop Blackboard Building Blocks.
Just because a platform is proprietary doesn’t mean it can’t be open, and Blackboard Building Blocks™ are a large part of Blackboard’s openness strategy. Building Blocks give Blackboard Learn users the ability to customize aspects of the user experience to cater to institution-specific needs. Building Blocks have been provided to Learn users through our network of partners and open source developers since 2001. You too can join this dynamic developer community! But, without the right guidance, getting started with Building Blocks development is often a daunting task. As Mike Fudge, one of our presenters at DevCon 2011, noted, “85% of my time was spent looking for resources.” This video will show you all of the resources you need to get up and running with Building Blocks development.