I recently sat down with George Kroner and Mark O’Neil, two of our technical developers, to go deep into Open Standards. At the end of December, Blackboard announced and delivered support for both Common Cartridge and LTI standards, securing endorsement from IMS Global and the industry at large.

If you’re still trying to figure out what Open Standards mean, I recommend that you start with Julie Kelleher’s blog post, “Open Standards for Newbies.” For a more in-depth, in-person lesson on Open Standards join us at DevCon in July where our Open Standards experts will be on hand delivering a number of sessions devoted to Open Standards and how they will help shape the future of your learning management system.

If you can’t wait till DevCon, check out our conversation below…

Chris Borales: Why should the community care about shipping Common Cartridge support?

George Kroner: When an instructor is building out a course, particularly for the first time – finding materials and picking the right pieces takes a lot of effort and time. Instructors often worry about the long term sustainability and “maintenance” of their course as well as having their content trapped inside a proprietary system. Common Cartridge standards ease the pain of moving from one system to the next as well as eases concerns about the lifespan of course materials.  Content is always going to move because the file format has been agreed upon by man LMS providers.

Mark O’Neil: Often, an instructor leaves their institution and teaches at another institution using a different LMS on their campus. That instructor doesn’t want to rebuild the course to use on a different LMS. Common Cartridge enables instructors to own course content in a manner that they can carry with them across institutions.

Chris: What are the benefits of using open standards, and in particular for Common Cartridge?

Mark: Historically, institutions have built upon a very vertical set of systems and services creating complexities for sharing data across multiple services and LMS systems. Standards facilitate and lower the bar for being able to accomplish integrations.

George: Today, every school and every system is integrated differently which results in brittle integrations that often only one person knows how to keep running. Standards allow us to build mindshare around how systems fit together and how data flows from one system to the next. No longer are institutions on their own to figure it out; they can use existing infrastructure to get where they need to be.

Mark: Additionally, there are huge cost savings implications for faculty and institutions – over time – as their content becomes portable across systems.

George: Very different audiences will benefit from Open Standards. For example, today, publishers have to develop course content for each and every LMS they support. Common Cartridge allows publishers to decrease overhead and develop course content packages that import into any LMS – write once and it works in every system.

Chris: And Basic LTI…?

Mark: In the same way that Common Cartridge offers flexibility and savings, Basic LTI addresses a similar problem for Tool-vendors. Let’s say my software company has written a great application for performing calculations on Astrophysics data – this is not something easily converted to run on Blackboard Learn as I am not familiar with the Blackboard Learn Building Block APIs. Additionally, my application is extensively CPU intensive and not suitable for running on the Blackboard Learn application server. Basic LTI provides the solution – I can deliver my application as SaaS and link to it from Learn using Basic LTI. This means I don’t have to build a Blackboard Learn specific solution which enables focus of development effort on the application and my clients do not have to worry about local impact of increased processing need.

Basic LTI expands opportunity for Blackboard Learn clients with increased access to applications that enhance the teaching and learning experience. Developers benefit from write-once and deliver to many SaaS model.

George: The best way to think of Basic LTI is it increases choice of tools available and decreases the risk of making the wrong choice. Instructors have the ability to link to the tools in a way that puts  individual instructors and departments in control of choosing which tools to use.  Basic LTI also increases portability of learning tools. Imagine a scenario where you purchase an app for your iPhone but then want to use it on your Android phone. Basic LTI makes this possible with learning tools.

Chris: Where can the community go for more information and to get started?

George: First, ask your learning tool providers if they support Basic LTI and/or Common Cartridge. Asking vendors if they support these standards helps them to gain more traction in the market place. Interest is growing rapidly as developers and vendors see the benefits. Grassroots support is also present.  I’ve even heard of one individual instructor who implemented Basic LTI for a tool he uses in his course.

If you get the opportunity, the Blackboard Developers Conference this summer features a day-long track on the benefits of open standards including Common Cartridge, Basic Learning Tools Interoperability, and a new standard called IMS Learning Information Services which helps streamline integrations with Student Information Systems.

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