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Learning Impact Blog

Tim Beekman, President & CEO, SAFARI MontageJanuary 2021

 

Contributed by:

Tim Beekman, President & Co-Founder, SAFARI Montage, and Chair of the IMS Board of Directors

 

The New Normal for K-12: Digital Teaching & Learning in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond 

While K-12 schools have been moving toward digital teaching and learning for many years, COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the progress. The rapid move to remote online learning at the onset of the pandemic is an experience that I am sure most school and district administrations would not want to relive; however, the end results will have a lasting positive impact on their teachers, students, and parents. Digital instruction can no longer be considered ancillary for K-12 schools. This shift is something that we have been preparing for at SAFARI Montage and IMS Global Learning Consortium for many years and I am excited to see it finally come to fruition.

For many districts, the transition made clear the value of building an organized and sound digital learning ecosystem to support online instruction along with the importance of designing one focused on equity, access, and interoperability. I am happy to say that, from what I saw, the most successful districts were the districts committed to the adoption of IMS standards.

For the team at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), COVID-19 school closures reinforced their mission to ensure that every CPS student can benefit from high-quality curriculum and instructional resources. As teachers across the county went online last spring to find materials to piece together lessons, the need to address inconsistency in the quality of these online materials and how it contributes to inequitable access for students, which is a central goal of the CPS Curriculum Equity Initiative, has never been clearer. Using interoperability standards established by IMS, the district is on its way to building a comprehensive digital curriculum with content from multiple providers. I am proud to have the opportunity to work with CPS building a platform to meet their needs using the SAFARI Montage Learning Object Repository (LOR) and resources from fellow IMS member organizations Amplify, PCG, Vista Higher Learning, McGraw Hill , and SchoolCity by Illuminate Education.

Gwinnett County Public Schools have been long-time advocates for IMS interoperability standards and leaders in the move to digital teaching and learning in K-12. Their integrated enterprise solution—eCLASS—was designed to provide students with access to a digital 'Content, Learning, Assessment, and Support System' and put them in the position to make an almost seamless transition to remote and hybrid learning last year. Built upon a foundation that includes D2L and the SAFARI Montage LOR, eCLASS enabled the district to be up and running from day one of the pandemic. Their well-thought-out plans for eCLASS have yielded a remarkable level of engagement and usage this past year with 97% of their students participating in remote online learning throughout school closures.

The School District of Lee County, FL has also been able to leverage their established IMS standards-based digital learning ecosystem to ensure access to quality learning opportunities for students and staff. They have made effective use of the LOR integrated with Google Classroom to provide teachers with high-quality, standards-aligned resources to support flexible instructional models while providing students with a seamless and transferable user experience across virtual and live settings. The district also took advantage of the ecosystem to provide their staff with simplified access to nearly a dozen professional development courses which kept 2,000+ support staff productively working.

In Fulton County School, GA, Microsoft Teams and the SAFARI Montage LOR are being used to support their Universal Remote Learning program which was originally implemented to ensure learning continuity during extended time away from school prior to COVID-19. Teams provides their teachers with tools to build digital activities and assignments with curriculum-aligned resources from the LOR and facilitates synchronous learning via the integrated video conferencing feature. The integration of these platforms has ensured access to live and on-demand digital learning materials for their students at home and in school, while also offering strong documentation of utilization.

There have been many more notable examples within the IMS community of how K-12 districts have been able to build and leverage their plug-and-play ecosystems to support the unprecedented shift to virtual learning in 2020. It is without question that IMS standards have provided these schools with the ability to design their own digital instruction model based on their own desired outcomes. I am so proud to be a part of this community and I am looking forward to seeing how we can utilize the chaos of the past year for good and finally unlock the true potential of digital teaching and learning for K-12 classrooms and beyond. 

 

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January 2021

 

Contributed by:

Ryan Lufkin, Senior Director of Higher Education Product Marketing at Instructure

 

The Evolution of Student Success in Higher Education

Though the shift to online learning has made it possible for learning to continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also presented a myriad of challenges for faculty and students alike. While educators adapted their pedagogies to the technologies at hand, students struggled with the more basic need of accessibility now that the campus computer labs and high-speed WiFi were no longer available. The challenge of keeping students engaged with their instructors as well as their peers has loomed large throughout the return to studies. Amid these disruptions in education, it became clear that getting back to "normal" wouldn’t be happening any time soon and the short-term embrace of technology for remote learning needed to be replaced with a focus on intentionally designed online learning for the long haul.

Combined, these challenges have prompted institutions to reexamine the term "student success" and what it means to deliver on the expectations of students. And as our wait for a return to normal has turned into acceptance of our new normal, it’s clear that learning will remain virtual for the foreseeable future.

In an effort to address these high stakes in higher education, Instructure conducted a global benchmark study with Hanover Research, The State of Student Success and Engagement, in which 7,070 educators and students in 13 countries were surveyed to identify how they define student success and what they consider to be driving factors of engagement. 

Of all the results, the following statistics made it clear: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented institutional leaders with a catalyst for change.

  • 85% of students said that COVID-19 was most impacting their ability to succeed.
  • 71% of respondents said it has impacted student academic progress.
  • 70% of faculty said more students are falling behind on their studies than ever before.

With the expectation that courses will remain online indefinitely, it’s critical for higher education institutions to better understand what students believe they need to be successful and engaged. As I continue to connect with educators and institutional leaders in our Canvas Community, I am amazed at the resilience and creativity they’ve displayed as they evolve to meet these challenges. Below are a few of the ways institutions are adapting to focus on a more holistic approach to student development.

Aligning Course Objectives to Future Careers

Beyond the disruptions in education, the workforce has also experienced a great deal of change, and students want to know that what they're learning in their courses is directly preparing them for their next step. A key finding from our study supports this notion, citing career readiness as the number one priority for students.

“If you had asked me pre-COVID what student success would look like, I would have had a laundry list—here's our course objectives, here's our department objectives, here's the university objectives that we want to accomplish,” explained Dr. Karen Freberg, Associate Professor in Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville, during a recent webinar I hosted.

“But with COVID, what I've realized [...] is that it's not only about knowing the material and understanding their field of study a little bit more. A lot of my students have been asking me how they can apply their learning and bring assignments to life.”

This paradigm shift has presented institutions with the challenge of transferring hands-on learning experiences to an online format that is collaborative and rigorous enough to prepare students for real-world application.

In response to this, we are seeing many institutions using this challenge as an opportunity to connect with local organizations and community partners to provide educational opportunities that align with jobs.

Leading With Empathy in Online Course Design

As students strive to keep up with their courses, it’s important to remember that like many of us, they are balancing multiple roles in their life while also addressing the impact of COVID-19. Now more than ever, educators need to think beyond the lecture and provide flexibility, enabling students to demonstrate mastery of skills in many different ways.

Sean Nufer, an educator at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and Canvas 2020 Educator of the Year winner, said it best in a recent live stream discussion. “We need to be listening to our students more than ever. We need to be patient with them and recognize that while there is more than one way to teach, there are also multiple ways to learn.”

We see many educators leveraging technology to create a more immersive experience that allows students to discuss and collaborate virtually, rather than watching a one-way video lecture. We’ve also noticed institutions using audio and video tools to give personalized and targeted feedback to individual students, transforming the traditional grading process into another opportunity for connection.

Creating Opportunities for Faculty-Student Engagement

Amid the increasing use of technology today, both students and faculty continue to value the hands-on learning and collaboration that technology simply cannot replace. When asked what factors are considered to be the main drivers of student success, respondents named quality of faculty (88%), technology availability (86%), and hands-on instruction (86%), reinforcing that technology is best used when paired with interactive content and opportunities for connection beyond devices.

Sean Nufer also shared how he prioritizes connecting with students in a fully virtual learning environment: “The community that you have in a traditional classroom is not replicated online. We have to be purposeful in building those connections [...] and those connections are vital, because without that network, what are we? We’re not just repositories of information. What brings education value are the connections we make that last beyond the three credits or 16 weeks.”

It’s becoming clear that the accelerated evolution forced on education will result in changes to instructional delivery that are here to stay. Connecting educators and learners with technology and helping those learners connect with careers is becoming key, not just to the success of students but to the success of colleges and universities themselves. Educators, technologists, instructional designers, and academic leaders alike will continue to come together to forge a pathway to the future, celebrating and supporting each other along the way. That’s what is, and always will be, great about education.

We invite you to review the findings from our study to learn more about the newfound meaning of student success and how institutions can use these challenges as a catalyst for meaningful change. Learn more.

 

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George Moore, Chief Technology Officer, CengageJanuary 2021

 

Contributed by:

George Moore, Chief Technology Officer, Cengage

 

In the World of Virtual Learning, CIOs Play a Vital Role in Maintaining Academic Freedom

With the rapid acceleration in virtual learning due to COVID-19 and the associated widespread adoption of technology, CIOs at U.S. higher education institutions face new and unprecedented challenges. One of the most unique—and important—among these is helping to protect and to maintain academic freedom. 

In our current societal and political climate, it is more important than ever that the education ecosystem take steps to protect academic freedom. Academic freedom protects faculty and students and ensures that higher education is a space open to diverse ideas, pedagogy, and debate. While it is a central tenet of higher education in the United States, that is not the case throughout the world; in Germany, academic freedom is making headlines as scientists push for it, and thousands of students recently marched for the cause in Hungary. 

In 1975, William Van Alstyne, a recognized legal scholar, wrote this highly-referenced definition of Academic Freedom: ‘academic freedom’ is... [the] personal liberty to pursue the investigation, research, teaching, and publication of any subject as a matter of professional interest without vocational jeopardy or threat of other sanction... Specifically, that which sets academic freedom apart as a distinct freedom is…: an accountability not to any institutional or societal standard of economic benefit, acceptable interest, right thinking, or socially constructive theory, but solely to a fiduciary standard of professional integrity.

Over the past decade, technology has helped academic freedom to flourish. As the number of edtech offerings has increased dramatically, faculty and students have had the opportunity to leverage a greater variety of resources to inform and develop learning experiences.

However, colleges and universities across the country have transformed dramatically since the spring as the adoption of edtech solutions has soared. Even those institutions and faculty who have been skeptical of technology have embraced edtech, and it has quickly become a must-have to create valued, engaging, and impactful learning experiences for students. 

For institutional CIOs, this new dependency on technology poses a different – and broad –  set of challenges when it comes to efficiency and security. Traditionally, the CIO’s role is to implement, manage, and utilize technology solutions that help to standardize processes, ensure data privacy and security, and simplify the end-user experience. However, institutional CIOs have a unique dilemma that isn’t faced by their counterparts in other industries: they have an obligation to students to put their needs and educational experience first. 

With this mission in mind, institutional technology leaders must focus on creating simplicity without sacrificing data privacy and security or homogenizing the learning experience. Every individual faculty member teaches differently and uses a different set of resources. Similarly, all students learn differently. There is a danger that, if institutions create too much standardization, academic freedom could be called into question. 

As institutional CIOs adapt to the dramatic shift brought about by COVID, they must ensure that they take a step back, and carefully evaluate the balance between operational efficiency and academic freedom. Consider the following questions:

Are you fostering an ecosystem that ensures instructors can create unique experiences in a simple, integrated manner, and in alignment with IMS Global standards? Are students and faculty empowered to leverage varied sources and diverse thought in their content and activities? 

Are your procurement processes ensuring that new and emerging resources can easily be leveraged?

Do the policies and procedures intended to create a safe and secure learning environment also allow instructors to create unique, expressive, and engaging experiences for their students? 

Overall, are you balancing the desire to standardize with the need to let freedom of expression flourish in the context of digital learning experiences?

These are the types of questions that all of us in the education and technology ecosystem must ask ourselves. Technology leaders need to recognize these challenges now and identify a path forward that allows them to do their job—creating processes and protocols that uphold security practices and encourage efficiency—while also enabling the independent thought, teaching, and debate that has made the U.S. education system renowned across the globe. 

As we look toward the future of higher education, it is increasingly clear that the shift to online learning will have lasting impacts long after COVID-19. Once some level of normalcy emerges, the importance of academic freedom will resurface; CIOs should be prepared to respond and to enable progress as stewards of academic freedom.

George Moore is the CTO of Cengage, an education and technology company serving the education, K-12, professional, library, and workforce training markets worldwide.

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | November 2020

"Philadelphia freedom, shine the light." —Elton John

 

It’s with a great sense of gratitude to the IMS community that I write my last post of 2020, a year likely to go down in history for many reasons.

I am thankful for the way the IMS members inspire the staff and me every day. I am thankful for the IMS team and all they do to serve IMS members and the broader edtech community worldwide. I am thankful that an organization like IMS, which is all about a collaboration that will enable the edtech ecosystem to support every learner's needs, has managed to not just survive but grow and prosper. We have a long way to go, but it’s clear that we are a force for good on the path needed to spur innovation at scale.

Being one of the few people in the world that work on “standards” 24x7x365, I am constantly thinking about the unnoticed structures in things that can have profound impacts on the speed of innovation. Yes, and that even includes elections.

I believe most people can think about “standards” and realize that agreeing on some foundational things that are accepted and ubiquitous allow everyone to build all sorts of innovative things on top. For instance, standardizing the sizes and types of roads allows much more efficient cooperation on putting roads in place, leading to a focus on innovation in the vehicles that use those roads. These standards can have a profound impact on the innovations that can occur. That includes perhaps limiting innovation.

As the American elections have played out, I heard from people outside of the U.S. that are genuinely concerned that we are safe here, with all the divisiveness and appearance of fighting in the streets. They are surprised when I tell them that things are quite calm where I live in central Florida.

America is, of course, the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” But America is not only about people who are free. Since its inception, America has been about people who are trying to become free. And, so it goes to the present day.

Whomever you may have voted for, and for whatever reasons, I think perhaps a light that needs to shine is the ramifications caused by only having two choices. And this is what makes me think about the importance of standards. Is it the fact that we only have two choices a factor in causing the divisiveness?

What would our lives be like if we could only choose from among two alternatives in all things? Would education be better if there were only two possible alternatives? Would edtech? That seems like a silly question—as it seems like we have many alternatives. But if you look at consumer markets, especially markets that can be dominated via a network effect, well, you can see many examples today where the choices are getting pretty small.

Is this because certain organizations are evil? Or, is this because the stakeholders are perfectly fine with choosing from one of two alternatives? Or, if they’re not OK with it, perhaps they really can’t do anything about it? Sometimes you don’t choose freedom if you are satisfied with the status quo.

In 2006, when I became CEO of IMS with already decades of experience in high tech and pretty deep experience in higher education, the higher education LMS market was dominated by a single provider. While there was excitement from a relatively small number of suppliers about the potential for interoperability standards, I also had conversations with very experienced edtech executives that told me there was just no way that dominant organizations would move to open standards. I didn’t really know for sure myself. I was betting on the stakeholders in the education market, a unique market in some respects (diversity, cost constraints, the immaturity and untapped potential of learning science), being able to see the benefits of, well, freedom.

Then, like today, it comes down to how open standards allow collective focus on serving the market better because the market needs to be served better to get where we are trying to go—enabling all learners to achieve without limits.

I hope that during this holiday season, you experience the great love in this world we live in and, perhaps, have a moment or two to think about how our community is a force for good by shining the light on freedom in the edtech sector!

Thank you for everything in 2020, and you can count on IMS to do our best in 2021!

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | October 2020

"I’m gonna go out tonight, I’m gonna find out what I got." —Bruce Springsteen

 

We’re now into the 4th quarter of a year that none of us predicted. In recent months, I’ve been writing about IMS’s pivot in late 2019 in seeing a need to go beyond “student success” to a more specific set of success factors that might be at the center as we evolve toward the future of education. We’ve put out there a “straw-person” consisting of three specific agenda items that must be improved to go deeper into “student success.” These are equity, agency, and mastery. 

I suppose nothing highlights how fast things can change in the modern world than a global pandemic. When humans make adjustments during an emergency, some of those adjustments stick. People are losing jobs, and some have predicted that many of those jobs are lost forever. Of course, no one knows how many jobs will be lost or potentially gained as sector activity shifts. What we do know is that workers have to be more agile than ever to keep afloat and build careers. In a 2017 report on human capital trends, Deloitte estimates the average half-life of a learned “skill” is 4.5 years.  

It wasn’t very long ago when mainstream education considered ideas like competency-based education and Open Badges as interesting, but not something to adopt any time soon. As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is undeniable from the growth of interest in these and related topics in IMS (including the last face-to-face meeting we were able to hold this year—the Digital Credentials Summit) that ideas like competencies and digital credentials are now on the cusp of entering the mainstream of education and learning in K-12, HED, and corporate.

From its start, the competency movement in education has reflected new ideas about the “whole learner” and the skills that enable both career and life success. Initially referred to as 21st-century skills more than 20 years ago, we are now seeing detailed frameworks such as those created through the research at the Center for Curriculum Redesign: Collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, mindfulness, courage, leadership, and so on. 

It can be challenging enough to assess proficiency and fill gaps in highly objective areas, such as math. How can we do a better job of measuring proficiency in more qualitative skills? Depending on the type of job or career sought after, these may be more essential than the specific domain or technical skills. But the need for deep technical skills is also essential as technology changes the world of work continuously. Thus, the need for the ability to obtain mastery of subject areas in great depth. The “T-shaped learner” concept designates the two-dimensions of breadth and depth.

Suffice it to say that educators, educational institutions, and employers are still early in our understanding and ability to implement these concepts. But one thing is clear.

Learners of today and the future have a story to tell—their own. And our educational systems at all levels, from K-12 to HED to corporate, play a critical role in providing better ways to help them create and tell that story.

The results from IMS-member collaboration that I’ve highlighted in this series help to chart a path to learner curation, interoperable transmission, and matching of verifiable skills to opportunities. No doubt about that.

But, as we move forward in this work, I believe the foundational concept is at least as much about design as it is capturing. Individuals have the agency to be the designers of their learning profile, their lifelong concept of mastery, including the desired breadth and depth. And institutions/corporations are designers of what constitutes mastery of the programs they offer.

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, equity, agency, and mastery work in concert—they reinforce and enable each other. Equitable opportunities enable agency that, in turn, enables a focus on mastery, and better definitions of mastery enable equity. The world that Bruce Springsteen writes about in his lyrics is a tough and unforgiving place. That may never change. But as education leaders, we can begin to put in place constructs that can help students create and tell their story.

 

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | September 2020

"I see your true colors shining through." —Cyndi Lauper

 

I’m taking a brief break from the series on equity, agency, and mastery to give a shout out of appreciation to the entire K-12 edtech world for the overwhelming support of IMS Global’s OneRoster standard during return to school this fall. I will get to mastery and the overall summation of the series next month.

Why the pause? Because I just need to acknowledge that all that technical work, advocacy, and commitment to the OneRoster standard has clearly changed the future of edtech forever. So many people and organizations deserve so much credit. OneRoster of all IMS standards really exemplifies the “power of one” that is the heart and soul of IMS.

In many ways, we have come to take for granted that the IMS member school districts will go above and beyond to make a better future for all kids and teachers. They certainly made OneRoster happen. And we have also come to expect that some number of visionary and pragmatic suppliers will go the extra mile so that integration among products can be ubiquitous, seamless, and low cost. But the success of OneRoster has clearly gone beyond. Way beyond.

Similar to what IMS saw with the radical flip to open integrations in learning management systems with LTI, the OneRoster explosion has now initiated an even more dramatic 180-degree turnaround in a K-12 market where it seemed every publisher and SIS had their own rostering approach. Within a matter of 12-24 months, the market has turned. Why? A mix of common sense and focus from IMS community leaders on the good of students and teachers. Common sense was that the exchange of roster data with a publisher or SIS is not rocket science. However, even I was surprised how major publishers readily admitted that their technical approach (which amounted to every publisher reinventing pretty much the same thing—only in their “special” way) was costing them more than it was worth. Most also realized that charging school districts for custom integrations was not a scalable approach to the future of digital. The good for teachers and students is characterized by what we like to call “digital on day one.” While achieving a seamless digital on day one requires additional integration standards (like LTI), the rostering burden has been the largest blocker in K-12.

But perhaps the clearest sign that the market has changed is the literally ubiquitous claims by both suppliers and school districts that they are leveraging OneRoster, most of whom are not IMS member organizations. One of the most gratifying experiences as IMS CEO is to be on a webinar panel with non-member school districts and suppliers who are expressing overwhelming thanks to IMS for OneRoster and the other IMS work. We know from our long history with standards in IMS that the claims and acceptance by non-members mean that things will never go back to the past.

However, we at IMS are far from congratulating ourselves. As one IMS school district member once famously said, “Interoperability is not all unicorns and rainbows.” IMS is right in the middle of OneRoster usage in all size school districts, by significant publishers, LMS and SIS providers, and integrators. So, we see it all. There is much room for improvement. The net-net is that we (the edtech “ecosystem” collectively) are not all on the same page quite yet. And, as a result, the community is not achieving the level of return on investment that we know is possible and that we seek. 

Therefore, this is not the time to be slowing down the market support for OneRoster, but rather turn it up a notch to help all size school districts achieve the full benefits in terms of choice, innovation, cost savings, and digital on day one.

An important subcomponent of achieving everything we can for schools is that the edtech product companies that are the consumers of OneRoster rostering data and emitters of gradebook data must be able to have the same experience from any provider of OneRoster data or receiver of OneRoster gradebook. Along with that, every school district must have complete transparency into their software systems OneRoster data exchange. Simply put, divergence is not an option now that we have come this far.

If that sounds like a big promise, well, it’s an unprecedented convergence of the edtech ecosystem. The good news is we already have many of the key pieces as described in the Ecosystem Accelerator program required to help every market participant get OneRoster right. Recently, I recorded a 5-minute intro on why we need IMS Compatibility Check that you or colleagues may find helpful. Some additional pieces are needed, but I am confident that we can do this together.

Success in continued convergence and return on investment of OneRoster in the market will require ongoing leadership from the IMS members. I think we can count on that. But, an unprecedented level of leadership in both transparency of the details of OneRoster implementations and technical collaboration on identifying and fixing implementation issues. We are involved in some very serious conversations to refine market support for OneRoster and do it fast so that one year from today the OneRoster convergence in the marketplace is substantially better than it is today!

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | August 2020

"Together, we are going to a brand new home" —Cynthia Erivo

This month I am focusing on learner agency—the second of IMS Global's repositioning to a new way of thinking about student success from now on by improving equity, agency, and mastery. Last month, I discussed equity, which isn't about giving every student the same experience, but rather about providing the diversity of experiences that meet learners' needs.

Similarly, agency is about meeting students where they are and helping toward where they would like to go—creating a pathway to success. It's where motivations and interests intersect with opportunities. It's about the empowerment that comes with an expectation that one can chart a course in life.

Isn't it a beautiful vision for our educational systems that the educational process helps every individual find their place in the world?

Every person deserves a place in this world and can have a unique impact on making this world a better place. But finding one's place in the world is a daunting process that lasts a lifetime.

Can educational systems be designed to help develop this sort of agency in a person? 

Our educational systems worldwide are already impacting hundreds of millions of lives every day. And the passion of faculty, teachers, staff, and administrators to shape lives positively is a beautiful thing already. Yet, we know that learner agency can benefit from more authentic educational experiences that help build a learner's sense of accomplishment, empowerment, and perhaps even address the challenges relevant to their everyday lives. This is not a new concept. Experiential learning has been endorsed by a wide range of educational innovators, from John Dewey to Paulo Freire, and repeatedly reiterated in studies that learning by doing creates greater retention, transfer, and metacognition. 

As we think about adding more experiential learning, we grapple with the historical design of predominant educational and employment systems worldwide. The current systems are largely designed to suit the industrial age, even though, according to economists and philosophers, we are already in a post-industrial society, where knowledge has a higher value than production. 

It is daunting to even think about how we transform the predominant educational models from being focused on sorting and stratifying students to focusing on developing each individual's talents and strengths. It's not only that developing useful skills is gaining importance in the return on investment from education, but also the fundamental substrate of what it means to be educated needs evolution. For example, shouldn't the liberal arts be evolving rapidly to meet the changing needs of society? 

It is also extremely challenging to help young people find their place in the world when the world is so complex, and they are just beginning to learn about it. For many, the degree of agency and motivation in learning is directly connected with the actual opportunities that are at hand. Thus, better educational experiences and better clarity of how that education connects to real opportunity are two sides of the same coin. 

No doubt, these are some daunting challenges that aren't as easy to solve as creating a set of academic learning standards and assessing a student's ability to perform on them. Or by simply adding more "career days" into the curriculum. 

The good news is that we are already seeing the beginnings of the changes across K-12, HED, and corporate learning that guide us as to how to evolve to a world where opportunity and empowerment lead to more effective student agency and achievement on a broader scale. We should not kid ourselves that this is going to happen overnight. But, as usual, the changes are occurring among the most motivated stakeholders. The motivation might be pure belief and conviction. Or, it might be very pragmatic—like filling gaps in employment or college application pipelines. Or it might be both together. If you are in K-12, HED, or corporate learning, you probably see examples. In IMS, we are seeing many such as those discussed at our Digital Credentials Summit in February. This is very exciting! It's a time when innovation in new models is being appreciated that can directly connect learners to better opportunities—and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the need even more apparent as we more closely examine educational experiences, cost, and outcomes.

We have been working, along with our many partners, on enabling a connected infrastructure that encourages both sides of the agency/opportunity coin. While it is impossible to predict the many ways that innovative educational models will evolve, we in IMS believe that there is a common foundation that is an obvious way to begin connecting educational models, opportunities, and lifelong learner agency.  Simply put, we are finding broad agreement among educational and corporate leaders that we must get better at representing the full depth and breadth of student achievement and skills across all sources in a way that can be curated by individuals and connected to the dynamic market of opportunities. Learners have a story to tell, their own, and need a better way to do it. Educational systems can aid this process by validating a greater breadth and depth of achievement.

There's been much exciting news in the last year or so about interest in a better record of learning by various names such as the interoperable learning record (ILR) or the learning and employment record (LER). And, of course, there has been a lot of excitement about how blockchain might be used as the immutable distributed ledger underlying such records. Thanks to the good work of IMS members, our community anticipated these needs and is at the forefront of providing the foundation for the connected infrastructure with the combination of the IMS Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) and Open Badges (initially created by Mozilla Foundation and now improved by IMS members including Mozilla). Open Badges can be incorporated as verifiable achievements from numerous sources into the CLR. AACRAO recently recommended adopting the IMS CLR standard, and we are partnering to help higher education institutions across a broad range of needs through a series of public CLR roundtable discussions. Open Badges are being adopted in exciting ways in formal and informal education and corporations of all sizes. IMS is also working with our K-12 state and district members (via the Partnership for Interoperable Versatile and Open Transcript or PIVOT Project) on some very innovative things.

Next month I will tie together the three focus areas for defining student success of the future while adding mastery into the mix. Till then, I hope the same determination, skill, and empathy that is getting us all through an unprecedented "back to school" can be leveraged in the future to get us to a brand new home—where our educational and employment systems work better together to help every individual better find their place in this world.

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | July 2020

 

"I Hear My Train A Comin'" —Jimi Hendrix

 

Changing the status quo is hard. Changing the status quo in a sustainable way is even harder.

I'd like to think—and I believe there is good evidence to show—that the work of the IMS members over the last 20+ years has changed some very foundational things in sustainable ways. This type of impact has occurred, I believe, because IMS members have been able to look ahead in terms of how advances in technology and educational models will intersect. In recent years we have been refining the word "ecosystem" in edtech to mean something very specific in terms of products being able to work well and together reliably for the benefit of end-users. In future years we will be continuing this thread. Still, as I mentioned in my last post and the introduction to the recent IMS annual report, we have begun driving toward more specificity in the terms "personalized learning" and "student success." Our starting point is the more specific goals of equity, agency, and mastery.

In this post, I would like to begin digging into some of the pragmatic progress we are seeing in laying the foundation for equity, agency, and mastery. It's a long road and discussion ahead, but I think we can all begin to see the future taking shape.

First, a caution. Yes, some specific strategies and fixes have helped "getting through" COVID-19. In general, the school districts and universities that have done the best in terms of ramping up thoughtful digital teaching and learning have already been working on their digital ecosystems for several years. Putting in place an extensive and sustainable ecosystem does not cost any more money. In fact, doing it the right way reduces many costs. But it does require a well-thought-out strategy with respect to the instructional goals, the approach to evolution, etc. And those strategies require leadership that cuts across IT, curriculum, and instruction. There is no short-cutting that redesign takes strategy, leadership, and time to implement. I would say that this is the most important learning from IMS work over many years of experience.

So, with that caveat, what are we seeing during the period of COVID and beyond in terms of the tangible steps towards designing your ecosystem to enable equity, agency, and mastery?

Let's begin with equity. The generally accepted meaning of equity in education is that the educational experience meets each student where they are to help them achieve their aspirations rather than all educational experiences for all students being the same or equal. IMS cannot solve all the issues around equity in education. But IMS can ask,

"What does it mean for the digital education ecosystem to enable and support equity?"

We see in IMS that the first foundation for equity appears to be an extensive and diverse digital curriculum and supporting resources (such as library resources) available to all students and faculty. The recent Learning Impact on-demand series has featured the ongoing work on setting up a foundation for digital equity at Chicago Public Schools. The key feature is guaranteed district-wide access to quality curriculum aligned to standards that can be customized at the local school level to meet the needs of the school and ideally each student. Thus, local teachers are not burdened with creating curriculum from scratch, but rather can apply local understanding to fit local needs. The program is based totally on IMS standards enabling the support for a diverse curriculum and supporting products across many suppliers. The work in Chicago is just beginning to roll out, and the evolution of the interplay between central and local control will be critical to its success.

We are also seeing a somewhat similar trend in higher education via innovative offerings from publishers that ensure digital resource access. Cengage is a leader in this trend. Cengage supports not only course-level inclusive access for achieving digital on day one for all students in a course, but also provides "Cengage Unlimited" so all students can access a vast library of digital resources. The COVID experience of UC Davis in rapidly scaling access to digital textbooks from VitalSource (making extensive use of IMS standards for integration and data) has not been unusual. It provides another model for scaling access to a highly distributed student population. 

Importantly, the idea of equity is that it can work in a way that allows the right fit educational experience to reach a student—regardless of the source or distance involved. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to grapple with distance education as the primary mode. In my recent leadership interview with Cengage CTO George Moore, he details some challenges when the modality switches to entirely online. We often think of bandwidth as the only challenge to achieving digital equity. Still, there are others that George points out, such as the ability to support identity, privacy, and security. These and other issues that George elucidates are solvable as we continue to work together on the edtech ecosystem based on open standards. But it will take much longer and perhaps never reach scale if we don't work together.

As I mentioned in my last post, equity, agency, and mastery work in concert—they reinforce and enable each other. Equitable opportunities enable agency that, in turn, enables a focus on mastery, and better definitions of mastery enable equity. I will continue discussing the trends developing ecosystem foundations for agency and mastery in next month's installment.

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Inside the Digital Transformation - Part 3

This is part three in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post investigates the critical role of Student Information Systems in effectively and equitably responding to COVID and the continuity of learning.

By Monica Watts and Dr. Tim Clark

 

Sketch: remote attendance in K-12 (July 2020)

The Mothership of Our Data

A national snapshot shows that schools and districts with plug-and-play digital ecosystems using standards for interoperability are making the transition from brick and mortar to remote learning more seamlessly than their counterparts. Not surprisingly, these institutions were carefully designing, planning, and making these preparations for their digital learning landscape many years before COVID-19. They were strategically integrating their digital tools, resources, and curricula into a suite of various platforms to facilitate new learning opportunities. Of these platforms is the student information system (SIS). When it comes to student data, the strategic importance of the SIS has never been more essential.

In this blog, we examine five institutions that are continuing to pursue the above efforts, which helps mitigate some of the recent disruptions. Core to their design strategy is the dynamic use of student data that resides in their student information systems. As Greg Odell from Hall County (GA) states, “Infinite Campus, our student information system (SIS), is structured for managing data. In fact, it is the mothership for our data.”

Steve Buettner at Edina Public Schools (MN) echoes this sentiment. When asked about the tools that are key to their digital ecosystem, Steve mentions, “We are not unlike other school districts."

"We use the same types of tools other school districts use, but we have seen an evolution of which ones take priority and sit at the center of our ecosystem. Currently, our SIS sits at the center of our digital ecosystem. It is so important because it has information about our students, families, the courses, the historical transcript, and all other essential information.”

Much of this information is contained in the IMS OneRoster® standard to solve a district’s need to securely and reliably exchange roster information, course materials, and grades between systems.

Market Expectations

Now, more than ever, student information systems play a critical role in shaping state and district response to the current crisis. Major industry players build "best in breed" digital learning ecosystems by leveraging IMS interoperability standards to dominate the highly fractured, highly competitive K-12 educational technology space. Core to their strategies is the dynamic use of student data that resides in a district’s SIS. K-12 schools and districts implement various SIS providers, with some of the notable players being Infinite Campus, Follett Aspen, and PowerSchool. At the same time, some institutions even take on the task of designing their own SIS. School districts should expect to face new and complex schedule challenges to begin the new school year. The potential scenarios of hybrid online and in-person instruction will require a partner that is flexible and innovative to support the new scheduling scenarios.

One K-12 SIS, Infinite Campus, is addressing the challenges brought on by the pandemic by keeping learners connected, whether at school or home. Charlie Kratsch, Founder and CEO, is an advocate for providing connectivity to third-party learning applications. Charlie says, “Students enrolled in our SIS are scheduled into classes as in-person, remote or blended learners, and rosters are immediately updated. Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) single sign-on allows learning applications to be launched with a click directly from our embedded LMS. Assignments and scores are returned via OneRoster to our SIS for review by teachers, students, parents, and administrators.” Additionally, our long-standing commitment to IMS standards benefits K-12 districts as they address challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Uniformity Is Not the Same as Interoperability

There is no one-size-fits-all implementation of an SIS, as some states utilize an enterprise solution to address the needs of the districts throughout the state. In other states, the procurement of an SIS is left up to individual districts. Dan Raylea, Director of the Office of Research and Data Analysis at the South Carolina Department of Education, says, “The drive toward interoperability is enabling their adoption of a statewide rostering solution.” Dan notes some benefits in his statewide deployment of the PowerSchool SIS. By implementing the SIS at scale, South Carolina was able to deploy the platform more economically and rapidly for the individual districts. Then Dan can visualize consistent and comparative achievement data from districts throughout the state. One issue with such a uniform deployment is that the system may not be initially interoperable with the other platforms in use by the individual districts. Dan notes that typically the SIS is used to record and maintain student attendance. Still, he sees that with so many forms of distance and remote learning occurring to minimize exposure to COVID-19, that there may be a need to recognize student participation in digital lessons. IMS Caliper Analytics®; may afford that data, and he hopes the SIS will continue to evolve for better understanding and visualization of student learning activities.

Another district example is Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (TX). The district has made significant strides in building its digital ecosystem. Its vision is to automate the rostering of users into courses and classes from their SIS to all of their platforms, tools, and apps. OneRoster makes this possible and paves the way for students to use their ecosystem right away. The leadership at GCISD is now focused on scaling their ecosystem with tools that provide insights into application utilization to visualize the impact the tools are having on a student’s educational journey. This is evidence of their digital transformation strategy. It is the marriage of their interoperability strategy and pedagogical strategy to get to the next level of their ecosystem.

Spurring Innovation

As a key component of a district’s digital learning ecosystem, the SIS has the potential to contribute to the implementation of innovative instructional strategies. Such is the case in Chicago Public Schools with the district’s goal to achieve instructional equity by improving access to high-quality academic and technology resources. According to Lily McDonagh, Director of Education Initiatives for the district, “Follett Aspen is working to implement interoperability standards from IMS Global to assist CPS in achieving education equity in the district’s Curriculum Equity Initiative.” Having a positive partnership with vendor partners is essential for CPS. Lily notes, “in the future, there may be additional opportunities for Aspen to leverage interoperability for improving instruction in CPS.

An effective partnership that leads to innovation is essential for all stakeholders and the benefit of the SIS platform. To ensure that partnership, specify expectations for collaboration and interoperability in requests for proposals (RFPs) and contracts to address the educational vision, needs, and strategies. The list below includes some requirements when considering the adoption of an SIS.

Five Essential Requirements for an SIS

  • Secure management of student data while simultaneously meeting the reporting requirements for funding purposes

  • IMS certified interoperability with existing technology tools and platforms

  • Ease of use for multiple stakeholders—teachers, students, and parents

  • Adaptability to collaborate as a partner to achieve the instructional vision and mission of the institution

  • Proven success of other implementations

 

Now is not the time to overwhelm teachers, staff, and families. Keeping to essential school services will enable stakeholders to absorb the new complexities with encountering the challenges of returning to school this fall. The best way to maintain stability is to work with products that are IMS certified to ensure seamless integration and interoperability. You can view all current certifications in the IMS Certified Product Directory.

In the next post, we will explore student assessment systems in remote instruction.

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IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | June 2020

 

"A Change is Gonna Come" —Sam Cooke

 

Going into 2020—before the COVID-19 and the renewed urgent calls for equality in society—equity, agency, and mastery was IMS Global's new call to action and the theme of the May 2020 Learning Impact conference.

In last month's post, I reviewed some of the key takeaways from a series of interviews and panels I conducted for the Learning Impact 2020 on-demand series. I feel strongly that what we are learning from the pandemic pivot to remote education and the united response against inequity are reaffirmations that equity, agency, and mastery are what we want to stand for as leaders across the IMS community.

To me, one of the most used mantras for the last decade—student success—is a phrase that looks more at symptoms than root causes. It also sets the diploma/degree industrial model that seems to have taken us about as far as it can go after its 100+ year run as the primary goal. Personalized learning, another much-used phrase, while going beyond differentiated learning from the instructional perspective, has come to mean almost anything. In 2007, when IMS began the Learning Impact Awards program, we adopted what some called the "iron triangle" of access, affordability, and quality as the key criteria of impact. The goal with the triangle has been to improve all three simultaneously, an elusive goal that today still eludes us because little has changed in terms of the predominant educational delivery models that tend to trade off these parameters. 

Why are equity, agency, and mastery a compelling focus across K-12, HED, and corporate education as we move into the future? Well, we know we must get better at evolving our educational models toward the needs of society. Thus, we need to think more explicitly about the areas that we want to improve, hopefully, areas that are pillars that lead to educational system transformation. 

  • Equity of educational opportunity is not only a call to social justice, but it is key to enabling growth across underserved areas. Many believe that the pandemic will spur improved technical infrastructure to enable economic opportunity in underserved areas as the percentage of the population that works from home grows.  

  • Increasing student agency is a byproduct of more authentic and relevant educational experiences. Over and over, we have learned that educational experiences that connect to real-life challenges, questions, and interests of students open the possibility of student success and societal success.

  • Mastery stresses a better focus on what students have learned and what they can do. Current transcripts and approaches to assessment have created a self-reinforcing cycle that does not lead to better education. Instead, it is trying to drive forward while looking at the rear-view mirror.  

Most importantly, equity, agency, and mastery can work in concert, which is very different from the iron triangle's opposing forces. Equitable opportunities enable agency that, in turn, enables a focus on mastery, and better definitions of mastery enable equity. 

Next month, I will cover some of the interoperability areas that have accelerated as a result of COVID-19 and how they relate to equity, agency, and mastery. In the meantime, I am reminded of some words from my good friend and mentor Bernie Luskin, "If you want to change something, you actually need to change something." Sometimes extraordinary events remind us that we must do better. Noting that Sam Cooke wrote the song I am quoting in the title of this blog in 1964. We can and must do better—in society and education. 

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