Assessment and Educational Content joint meeting review

Slideshows and mp3s from last week’s joint JISC CETIS Assessment and Educational Content SIGs meeting are now available on the wiki.  It was a lively and interesting day, covering a wide range of topics of relevance to both communities.

Steve Lay of CARET, University of Cambridge, who had kindly offered to host the event, provided an update on the IMS QTI specification.  Steve is co-chair of the IMS Assessment SIG which is responsible for the development of the QTI specification, and provided attendees with background information and an update on the current position of QTI v2.1.  The specification was released in public draft form in July 2006, and it was hoped that the final version would be released in early 2008.  Delays to the interoperability demonstration required before the specification can be released have set back release to later this year, with an addendum to the public draft scheduled to appear earlier.

Steve also described some of the issues around profiling specifications and the role of IMS’s Application Profile Management Group, particularly in relation to the IMS Common Cartridge specification which currently includes a profile of QTI v1.2.1.  His examination of the pressures put on the scope of the specification is particularly useful.

Wilbert Kraan from CETIS complemented this with an update on content packaging specifications, covering OAI Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE), Content Packaging v1.2, IEEE RAMLET and a proposed packaging transcoding service.  CP v1.2 is still in draft stage and will, like QTI v2.1, be released to the public once IMS members have developed implementations and shown them in interoperability demonstrations.  There is quite a lot of updated material in the new version but the lack of current implementations mean that it’s immediate future is uncertain. 

RAMLET is an ontology which enables mapping between IMS Content Packaging, METS, MP21 DID and Atom.  Wilbert raised the particularly interesting question of the applicability of this approach to question and test materials, not just in QTI but also other formats, potentially including html.  Steve confirmed the ease with which content should be able to be transformed to QTI, as well as highlighting the potential value for enhancing accessibility.

CETIS’s Deputy Director Adam Cooper presented a postcard from the IMS Quarterly meeting in Long Beach held the week before.  This was an extremely useful update on recent developments within IMS and current work in progress, which includes Enterprise Web Services v2.0, Learning Tools Interoperability v2.0, Common Cartridge and Common Cartridge Schools (CCK12), Digital Interactive Content Exchange and various ‘odds and sods’ including QTI v2.1.

Moving away from the more abstract topic of specification development to their real world uses, Ross Mackenzie and Sarah Wood of the Open University discussed their experiences with creating Common Cartridges for the OU’s Open Learn, releasing free content under a Creative Commons licence for use worldwide.  Content, largely drawn from OU archives, was transformed into XML, an approach which allows the subsequent rerendering of material in multiple formats.  After hand crafting a small number of cartridges, an automated process was developed which has so far produced around 400 cartridges for download; assessment material has not yet been covered but is of obvious interest.  Issues around certification and validation were highlighted, with proposals by some Common Cartridge Alliance members that costs of up to several hundred dollars would be appropriate for cartridge testing being inappropriate for an initiative which aims to give content away for free.

Cartridge creation tools mentioned included OU Publisher (which it’s hoped will be made available in Moodle at some point), eXe and Microsoft Grava; desktop players include UCompass based on Adobe AIR and a Microsoft development based on Silverlight; it’ll be interesting to see how this particular battle works out.

Assessment SIG regulars will be familiar with the work Niall Barr of NB Software has done around assessment and QTI, including some valuable developer resources.  He’s now moved into the area of working on the IMS Common Cartridge and Tools Interoperability specifications with particular reference to assessment and the QTI specification, and presented some of his work to the meeting.  An mp3 recording of his talk is available and we hope to have the slides available shortly.

Linn van der Zanden of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) closed the meeting with a fascinating look at some of the more innovative assessment activities the SQA have been piloting in recent months.  This particular project, led by Mhairi McAlpine, has introduced blogs and wikis to support assessment of a PBNC in Health and Safety.  This course places heavy emphasis on collaborative work which raises difficulties in assessing individual contributions.  The use of a team wiki enables assessors to evaluate individuals through the use of the history function, with discussion pages providing evidence of debate and dissent.  This approach also helps to identify ‘freeloaders’ who contribute little, and stronger personalities within the group which may take over activities.  Personal blogs support reflective learning, while traditional eassessment facilities support the submission of project plans.  Login requirements provide a degree of authentication of contributions, and students have responded positively to the approach.  The current small scale project involving fifty students in two colleges is likely to be scaled up for rollout on a wider scale over the next few years.

Our thanks go to our friendly and helpful hosts at CARET and to all our speakers who helped to make this such a useful and interesting event, and my thanks go to Sheila, our Educational Content SIG coordinator, for collaborating on the event and chairing the meeting so effectively on the day.  You can read Sheila’s discussion of some of the issues raised by the meeting on her blog.

Joint CETIS Assessment and Educational Content SIGs meeting announced

Registrations are now open for our next Assessment SIG meeting, and you’re warmly invited to book your place for this event hosted by the University of Cambridge.  It’s a joint meeting with the CETIS Educational Content SIG, something we’ve been planning to do for some time, looking in particular at two standards of interest to assessment: IMS Common Cartridge and IMS Tools Interoperability.

Common Cartridge hasn’t even been released yet, but has already generated significant interest amongst content vendors and publishers and has been heavily promoted by IMS.  It combines profiles of a number of different standards, including IMS Content Packaging v1.1.4, IMS Question and Test Interoperability v1.2.1, IMS Tools Interoperability Guidelines v1.0, IEEE LOM v1.0 and SCORM v1.2 and 2004.  The resultant learning object package or ‘cartridge’ is intended to be fully interoperable across any compliant system allowing content to be delivered to any authorised individual.

The appeal of Common Cartridge coupled with authentication and digital rights management systems to content publishers is clear, and the specification is particularly suited to the American educational system where there is a closer relationship between content vendor and courses than in UK Higher Education; in the UK, its primary impact may be in the schools and Further Education sectors where there is more of a history of buying content from publishers than HE.  The inclination of many UK HE lecturers to produce their own content and the bespoke nature of many higher level courses are issues we’ve already encountered when looking at topics such as open content and item banking, but there is some interest within UK education, in particular from the Open University.  As a major content producer whose resources are used far beyond their own courses, Common Cartridge has clear potential, and Ross McKenzie and Sarah Wood of OU OpenLearn will offer an insight into their experiences of implementing the specification and developing cartridges.  There has been very little work to date on the delivery of assessment material through Common Cartridge, a topic which will be addressed by Niall Barr of NB Software.  Our own Wilbert Kraan and Adam Cooper will update delegates on the current position of Common Cartridge.

IMS Tools Interoperability has received rather less fanfare, but is a valuable specification which takes a web services approach to seamlessly integrating different tools.  It allows specialist tools to be ‘plugged in’ to a learning management system, such as integrating a sophisticated assessment management system with a VLE which only provides limited native support for assessment, or discipline-specific tools such as simulators.  It also supports accessibility requirements through the (optional) incorporation of the user’s IMS Accessibility Learner Information Package profile to allow silent interface configuration.  Warwick Bailey of Icodeon will be discussing his experiences with the specification.

In the morning, Steve Lay of CARET, University of Cambridge, will be providing an update on the current state of IMS QTI v2.1.  Steve is co-chair of the IMS QTI working group (with Pierre Gorissen of SURF and Fontys University).

The afternoon will feature a presentation by Linn van der Zanden of the Scottish Qualifications Authority on the use of wikis and blogs in education and assessment, picking up on an increasing interest in the use and potential of Web 2.0 technologies in this domain.

The meeting is colocated with a workshop by the three JISC Capital Programme projects focusing on assessment to which you are also invited