Course Management System Content Conversion Tools wikipage

One of my main gigs is running a repository service to help faculty here in BC share online course content. As I have likely lamented far too many times, the bane of my existence is the uneven support for content interoperability across the various course management systems. At last count we had at least 6 flavours in the province in which ideally the content would work, and certainly would love it if it’d work with others too. So while I personally believe CMS are increasingly bankrupt as a model for online education and continue to work with others to demonstrate new ways of teaching and learning online, my reality is that the content I am asked to help share is almost exclusively CMS-based, and moreover built directly inside the CMS, thus somewhat reliant on the vendors to provide easy and open ways for getting it out. Yeah right.

We come at this issue from many different directions trying to improve it. We built a “best practice” wiki to encourage people in the province to share their tricks and tips on how to work with CMS and still get content out “cleanly.” We are looking at some content “convertors” as part of the repository framework to clean up some of the exports into better formats (a dicey proposition at best). We’re experimenting with a “harvestor” that will grab CMS content not through the API but by spidering course sites.

Along these lines, I have put together this wiki page to collect together whatever CMS content export/conversion tools I can find, mostly for the CMS flavours at play in the province, but not totally limited to.

And I’d like to invite you to play. There are multiple ways to contribute to this – if you have a wikispaces account, I will gladly add you to the site. If instead you are a user, simply tag any resource you think appropriate with “cms_migration” (or even just send it my way with the “for:nessman” tag). Am I duplicating effort here? Please tell me if you know of another good collection of CMS conversion tools. I have no need to re-invent the wheel here, just trying to give people as many options as possible. Please also tell me if I am barking up any wrong trees with my assessment of what CMS already work well (or not) with each other – I get sporadic access to any of these, and the situation often changes with versions etc. If you can think of a better way to do this, I’m all ears for that too. – SWL

New Round of BC’s Online Program Development Fund

So while this may be of interest mostly to local readers, I thought I’d post on it because I think there’s a few things we are doing in this round that may be of wider interest.

This is the 5th round of BC’s Online Program Development Fund (OPDF), a province-wide fund that BCcampus (my employers) administer on behalf of the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education.

This year’s $750K call is notable, I think, first off for it’s inclusion of “Co-created Content” as one of the funding categories. This is an effort to acknowledge this phenomenom and support the co-creation of learning resources by students and faculty under a license that seeks to offer these for successive groups of students to build on.

The second thing possibly of more general interest is a new inclusion which asks the proponents to describe their strategy for seeking out existing freely reusable learning resources that could be leveraged in their project. This is an effort to promote one of the values underlying the fund, that good, free content should be reused where appropriate. The call does not dictate that existing content must be reused, but instead simply asks proponents what efforts they have made in this direction. It also does not stipulate where this content might come from – sure, we’d love people to look in SOL*R for suitable reusable content, but we hope they’ll bring in pieces from the thousands of other places you can find free learninng resources online.

Finally, another small innovation in the call is around how to promote interoperability practices. Like it or not, the majority of the content that’s been produced through past funds has been done in one of the course management systems supported in our province (WebCT 4, 6 and Vista, Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Moodle and a few home-grown ones are the current crop). While it is seductive to think one could simply specify a “standard” for content, this is for me problematic because a) it would be a top down approach that would likely not reflect the actual practices in the province and b) almost certainly wouldn’t simply “just work” anyways because of the uneven support across the CMS for even basic specs like Content Packaging. Instead, this call is an attempt to get people to at least factor the issue into their planning and describe how they plan to address it. From my perspective there is not ONE way to get content to work across these systems, nor does it have to even be in any of these systems at all. What it does need to be is as useful as possible to other faculty in the province (and ideally out of it too, but the funds’ mandate is specifically to foster content development in the province) regardless of the choices they make on their own, and the call simply asks people to describe their strategy to achieve this.

Blogging about “official” work stuff always makes me uncomfortable – not only have I been known to cock up before, it’s not an “official” part of my job. As is always the case, the words here represent my personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. If you want to know more about the OPDF, then read the call directly, don’t just take my word on it! – SWL

Patrick Masson on Lessons Learned Implementing a SOA at SUNY

This remarkably frank and insightful interview with Patrick Masson, the former Director of Technology for the SUNY Learning Network, is well worth the read, though by the end you would be forgiven for despairing about the future of SOA on any campus. I know I do and did. Monoliths ahoy! – SWL

Executing Learning Objects, Resurrecting Sharing and Reuse

I was fortunate to instigate a workshop last week as part of the BC Educational Technology Users Group spring workshops in Merritt, B.C. The workshop was on “Practical Tips for Reusability and Interoperability.” In keeping with themes I laid out earlier on this weblog, I began the session with a formal execution of the term “learning object” which you can see at the link above (feel free to reuse this – maybe if it’s played enough times the term will finally die off). (more…)
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ADL Plugfest 9 Proceedings Available, Some Notable Presentations

The proceedings for the 9th ADL Plugfest are now available, including both online video, links to the powerpoints and to some demos.

As if the point needed more illustration, nothing quite exemplifies the differences between the training/corporate elearning communities and the higher ed community, or between the state of the advanced research community and the state of actual practice in the field, (or between the military and everyone else), as does looking through proceedings such as these. I almost get whiplash from the contrast between some of my current conversations in higher ed (where the boutique model of production is so entrenched I sometimes get push back at the notion of an instructor wanting to re-use any content, at all) and this, where orderly lines of SMEs and instructional designers are expected to crank out content based on specific processes, protocols and procedures, yes sir!

Still, lot of potential interest here – from the Wednesday sessions, one can find a presentation on “XML Content Formats for SCORM” from a number of luminaries, including Canada’s own Roger St-Pierre from the DND, and John Townsend, head of HarvestRoad. It is interesting to see where folks such as these have got in practice with using XML for content markup (not just metadata) and then subsequently displaying it in multiple formats. As Stephen Forth points out in the question period, the control that, say Boeing, can exert on its content production model seems like a luxury to many of us. Townsend’s ‘devil advocate’ comments in his part of the presentation (especially the comparison of higher ed to being ‘near anarchy’ in its production models) was especially appreciated by me.

Another notable presentation was from Rob Ferrell of IBM who presented on IBM’s efforts on the “Dynamic Assembly of Learning Objects.” Ostensibly, if you go back far enough, this was one of the early motivations for the notion of learning objects, at least in the training communities. Interesting to see working code and architecture of how this can work in practice. Not sure that I’m convinced all of the obstacles to this happening regularly can be overcome, but clearly it’s not just a theory any more.

Finally, also of note for being a lone voice in the wilderness of this mechanized view of learning is David Wiley’s keynote to the ‘Working on Simple Sequencing and Navigation’ thread within the Plugfest. David makes the important point that things like SCORM don’t solve all the problems – they help with things like interoperability, and are necessary constraints that instructional designers must work within, but at the end of the day the fact that an object validates as a SCORM package does not mean it is effective learning (or reusable!)

Anyways, lots of stuff to ponder here. Happy viewing! – SWL

WebCT announces participation in IMS Tools Interoperability Working Group

I’m sure the chattering masses (hey, I don’t exclude myself from this grouping) will have something to say about this one – yea, as the prophets foretold, in the year of the mark of the sign of the beast, the ‘evil empire’ took control, yada yada yada – but from where I’m sitting, if there’s a way that 3rd party learning tools can interoperate with different learning environments that is not based on proprietary APIs, that seems like a good step forward. If, instead, the Tools Interoperability specification becomes ‘Powerlinks for everyone,’ well then clearly the eschaton is near, so praise the lord and pass the hand grenades 😉 – SWL

BECTA’s Packaging and Publishing LOs: Best Practice Guidelines

This new guide from Becta gives the grand tour through most of the relevant learning object related standards, and contains a few useful starting points, for instance the “Packaging and publishing checklist.”

The document rightly points out that “because content packaging is both a descriptive and mapping discipline, as well as a technical practice, it is recommended that it is addressed as a key process during the development of the learning object itself, from start to finish, rather than something that is performed once the object has been completed.”

Good advice it would seem, but what’s frustrating about documents like this and its ilk is that the various standards and specifications are presented to users as something to be concerned about outside of the context of specific content development tools and practices. This is not totally their fault – while others may argue differently, I think it fair to say that there’s neither an overwhelming array of good development tools which support this standards-based vision, nor well documented (or well practiced) instructional design processes that marry reusability with learning effectiveness as dual goals of the content creation process. In my mind, until both of these are addressed, resuability (and to some extent the lesser challenge of interoperability) will be things that remain at best tacked on at the end of the development process, and likely by only the more sophisticated professional developers. – SWL

CETIS ‘Interoperability in Action’ Video

Derek Morrison at Auricle points to this video from CETIS called ‘Interoperability in Action’ which is well worth a watch. It takes you through a step by step scenario of a user adding an object to the Intrallect Intralibrary-driven JORUM repository, and then a second user accessing that object, extending an existing course, and uploading that course to a variety of CMS/VLE.

At the very least, this illustrates one possible scenario and can serve as a starting point for discussion on other possible authoring and re-use scenarios (trust me, with my perfect 20/20 hindsight vision, you do want to start with scenarios).

Is this the last word in learning content authoring and reuse systems and scenarios? Of course not. It’s more like the first word – a start in demonstrating ’round trip’ content authoring and re-use using de jure standards, which is more than a lot of us can say. – SWL

Alt-i-Lab papers and highlights

Lucky for us all, the IMS have posted the supporting papers and slides in a publicly accessible area. Day Two of the sessions I was assigned to the Content working group. The promise of this group had been to tackle some of the questions laid out in the stimulating “Repository Management and Implementation” overview paper. But somewhat disappointedly to me, day one seemed given over mostly to talk of existing or emerging digital library standards, and while these are likely of interest and pertinent to others I found it hard to stay engaged.

Which led me on day two to migrate over to the somewhat oddly named “Tools” group, which ended up being a far more fascinating discussion on the world and problems of ‘learning design.’ Day Two in this group ended up being more of what I think of as a ‘working group’; real experts (James Dalziel, David Wiley, Bill Olivier and Gilbert Paquette, amongst others) hashing out real problems with the specification and what problems it is supposed to solve. It was both an honour and a learning experience to be able to sit in.

There really are a lot of worthwhile papers in this directory and they represent some of the state of the art thinking in the field, so take time going through them. Some of the powerpoint slides are also thorough enough to stand apart from their accompanying speeches; Brad Wheeler’s talk on how Open Source supports Open Specifications, Chris Etesse from Blackboard’s Ed Tech framework, and Fabrizio Cardinali from Giunti’s romp through the future of personalized learning all seem worthy of mention.

While there were lots of stimulating papers and talks, ultimately my first Alt-I-Lab will end up being remembered more because of the relationships begun and re-kindled. In addition to meeting fellow bloggers David Wiley and Raymond Yee for the first time, I spent a delightful evening with David Davies and Mark Stiles over a tasty Middle Eastern meal (go figure, easily the most popular restaurant in the small town of Redwood City.) All in all, well worth it, and hopefully I’ll find a way to next year’s event. – SWL

Reusable Learning site from NSDL/Eduworks

Based on a reference in a recent intro to learning objects I went back to a site I thought I new, but instead found this newly developed resource that the Eduworks folks produced for the NSDL. It is really worth spending some time on, for both newbies and old hands alike. The section on “Fostering Reusability in the NSDL” is very helpful, and the Reusability Framework is, I think, top notch and I would be surprised if I didn’t start to see it show up more as a canonical reference. – SWL