Virtual Learning Platforms Thread, vle's mis integration in Technical; This is one of the problems that SALTIS (The Suppliers' Association for Learning Technology and interoperability in Schools) has just ...
SIF is one route forwards, IMS Enterprise is the other. SIF is in some ways more ambitious because it requires a hub (or ZIS), which manages all data transfers. But if you don't have a hub, it won't work - the UK project has only just started its pilot and there is no way of knowing how comprehensive coverage of ZISs will be.
The industry also has concerns about the charging structure for SIF (you pay for the ZIS and then pay again to connect to the ZIS) - ownership of the hub brings a great deal of control and this affects the relationship between Local Authorities and schools as well as relationships within the industry.
IMS Enterprise uses bilateral web-services, so you would register an MIS with a LP and vice versa and they get on with it talking directly to each other. Easier and ready now - but ultimately not so scalable.
I see a need for both systems - but I suspect that IMS Enterprise has advantages in the short term.
Ben, this is central government strategy via Becta and Partnership for Schools. Government funding for much of this stuff, including BSF as I understand it, is based upon meeting these requirements. The LA (technical) role is to ensure that the technology is 'best of breed', meets legal requirements for data and child protection, provides the best possible opportunity for our children, etc., etc.
It would be good if you could raise specific concerns that you have (at Network Managers forums, etc.), so that these can be fully understood and addressed.
This is one of the problems that SALTIS (The Suppliers' Association for Learning Technology and interoperability in Schools) has just been set up to tackle.There are some notes on our student records project at http://www.saltis.org/project-records.htm
Crispin - this is interesting and useful stuff... Is the supplier representation a significant cross section?
We have 29 commerical members and 5 non-commercial partners. Have a look at our members list at www.saltis.org/members.htm (one member not on the page yet).
There was an initial meeting at the end of July and the group was formed at a second meeting at the end of October. But I have only just started telling people about it and the formal launch will be at BETT.
Membership is free - thanks to BESA for supporting this. Full members must be commercial suppliers, partners are other organisations - academic, government, associations or consultants - which the members think can help us in our objectives. Applications for membership and partnership now have to be approved at the next meeting, in early February.
But I am keen that others should also feed in their opinions. If SALTIS is to achieve effective interoperabilty (which would solve many of the problems which exercise people on this forum), then we will need a mandate from the wider practitioner community.
It may be central government strategy to procure everything centrally - but that doesn't mean that it the right strategy.
Aren't the people who use the stuff in the best position to decide what's 'best of breed' and what's best for the children in their school?
As for standards issues around data and child protection (and interoperability), wouldn't it make more sense to kite-mark products against exact technical specifications and then allow end-users to buy what they like, rather than have 400 local authorites all running expensive procurements, all going through exactly the same diligence procedures?
The only thing with kite-marking products is that schools will use different products in a variety of ways that sometimes have little to do with what others might purchase them for. This level of innovation is either born out of lack of funds so you use what you have got or an excess of imagination (or both!)
This is one of several reasons why Becta try to make all documentation product agnostic and why you need to read the functional specifications for ICT INfrastructure to go with the technical specifications. Too many people see the technical specifications as a shopping list.
Personally I don't see why a mixture shouldn't work ... remembering that the level of support varies from school to schools, from phase to phase and from region to region.
You have to take into account all avenues and there is usually a few people at each LA that recognise this. As for VLEs ... if you take one brand, they insist that a local box is best, where as another brand (actually the same technology) says a regionally hosted one (Or hosted on behalf of the region) is best. The first gives speed, security and flexibility ... the second give lower TCO, easier access to collaboration and a greater chance of sharing good practice between schools (including transition too).
It truly does vary for the needs from school to school and LA to LA. That is why in Northants we are trying to stress that the Learning Platform is to be complimentary to anything else you use, and to help tie in with schools, LA and RBC agendas.
You have to take into account all avenues and there is usually a few people at each LA that recognise this. As for VLEs ... if you take one brand, they insist that a local box is best, where as another brand (actually the same technology) says a regionally hosted one (Or hosted on behalf of the region) is best. The first gives speed, security and flexibility ... the second give lower TCO, easier access to collaboration and a greater chance of sharing good practice between schools (including transition too)
You have a point GrumbleDook. Once BSF comes along we won't have a say in anything like this anyway - centrally-hosted VLEs just make this whole process easier for LEAs and managed services.
I reckon there are kite-marks and kite-marks. I'm against setting standards for functionality/quality for precisely the reasons you mention - everyone wants something a little different, either because they are working in different contexts or because they make different subjective judgements.
I am particularly in favour of interoperabilty kite-marks which give a guarantee that a product passes the conformance test and will plug-and-play on different systems (maybe "feature mark" is more what I am after). Because it's an objective decision: either it plays or it doesn't (and a lot of marketing blurb won't give it to you straight). And if the kite-marking authority says it plays and it doesn't - then you have a legitimate complaint against the kite-marking authority. The mark is a guarantee.
But interoperability and other technical kite-marks do not imply any kind of recomendation: if you don't want your word processor to interact with your kettle then you are quite right to ignore that particular mark.
Most schools would not be in a position to ignore health and safety and data protection marks. Becta should do a rigorous evaluation against transparent criteria (encryption standards, firewalls, legal procedures...), mark the product, take responsiblity for having marked the product; and then anyone can buy it, without having to run expensive, parallel procurements and evaluations.
As for your last comment, shouldn't the LAs and RBCs be tying in with the front-line teacher's agenda, rather than the other way round?
On centrally managed services, I entirely agree with you and webman - I think they make more sense than local hosting.
But I suspect that you mean that the central service would provided by the LA or RBC.
I see it as being provided commercially, with the schools being able to choose from many alternative and competing services. All services being able to share data (e.g. for transition/sharing content) through robust interoperability, which would be transparent to the user. If you want to share content/best practice, why restrict yourself to the local area? And best of all, you have a market in which function is driven by the user (teachers) - if they don't like one service, they switch to another.
Markets always drive progress faster than central provision. And if you currently work in a Local Authority, you can always get a job with a commercial provider and probably get paid twice as much - because you will be working in a system which is so much more efficient than the current one.
I only work for the LA on behalf of the school. It does give me an interesting view of things. I don't think I would want to move away from working in a school as the main part of my job ... I agree with you that the schools is where it should be led from, for the needs of the students and the needs of the teachers. It is a shame that there are not enough schools capable of making the difference yet. Give it time though ...
I have previously described what the end goal is for RBCs and the NEN where there are regional IDPs but SSO from the desktop through to 3rd party providers, so it matters little where the services / application / content actually is. The limitations of locally (ie school-hosted) services is that it is difficult to let others in to collaborate, it is easier at LA or regional level. That is evident from what is going on in the Northants and, from what I can see of the above posts from Innermumbo, also in Norfolk.
I agree that SSO is very important - though I have never been sure that Shibboleth is the best way forwards as it requires customised implementations on content sites, which I think is unlikely to be achievable.
There is no reason why platforms should not wrap authentication information into their HTTP Get requests as they launch remote resources - although this requires the user to go through the platform (a restriction but possibly an advantageous one), it does mean that nothing special has to be done on the remote site.
This is something that SALTIS plans to look at as stage 2 of its content packaging profile.
There are other issues around distributed content: "cross domain scripting" - an issue connected with the SCORM runtime, and content discovery on a distributed system, which we would also look at.
it is easier at LA or regional level
Or, as I say above, even easier for a commercial company providing a service at national level to any school that wanted to buy in.