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Virtual Learning Platforms Thread, EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute in Technical; Through the good offices of GrumbleDook, EduGeek has become a partner of SALTIS. This means that it will have the ...
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    crispinw's Avatar
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    EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    Through the good offices of GrumbleDook, EduGeek has become a partner of SALTIS. This means that it will have the right to send a representative to SALTIS meetings (next on 7th February), and nominated representatives will be able to view documents relating to work in progress etc.

    Although "EduGeek" and "corporate view" may not necessarily sit closely together, I hope that the EduGeek rep will be able to express views which represent a genuine consensus in the EduGeek community - because it is then that those views will carry real weight.

    I am posting this to invite comments on (a) what SALTIS is trying to achieve, and (b) what it should be doing (c) and how.

    SALTIS is not a forum for discussing desirable functionality, the relative merits of different products, or effective pedagogy - these are conversations which can happen between companies and their customers and in other forums. SALTIS is concerned with the infrastructure which needs to be in place in order to make the market work properly - and in particular, technical interoperability to allow niche products to plug into an integrated data environment. There is more information about our current initiatives on our website at www.saltis.org .

    Another "market infrastructure" issue appears to me to be about the free circulation of information (both objective and subjective) about products - and I am aware of a possible tension between free-speaking EduGeekers and those of whom that free speech might be critical. I have always found it bizarre that there is no Amazon-type site for user reviews of educational products - is this something that people would like to see - maybe something that EduGeek itself might be interested in setting up? If so, are there technical and legal implications which government should be sorting out first?

    I am happy to answer questions about SALTIS and to defend it against criticism - but it is not my role to marshal an EduGeek consensus - no doubt GrumbleDook and other EduGeek regulars will be able to do that.

    SALTIS' ultimate aim is quite the opposite of that of an industry cabal: it is to help support a market which gives real power to end users to choose the products they like and thereby to drive innovation. I hope that this is something that you will be interested in supporting.

    Crispin.

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    markcuk's Avatar
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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    WTF?

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    Why did you post this rather than an Edugeek admin?

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    I don't want to be rude but I've never heard of it before. Looking at the website it seems the list of members would be on my list of "worst offenders" for interopability issues which is a bit odd.

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribu

    I read this paragraph on the SALTIS homepage

    Quote Originally Posted by SALTIS web site
    As a consequence of this lack of interoperability, the market for learning technology has become inflexible and subject to the distorting effect of large, centralised, prescriptive procurements.
    Then while looking at the members noticed that Capita and RM were in there, does this not smack of hypocrisy, as I see Capita and RM as companies that would prefer a prescriptive approach to IT in schools.

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    Ok folks ... calm down, calm down.

    Crispin has posted this at my request as he is the best person to talk about what the group is about.

    We all have various opinions on what suppliers should be doing and what schools should be using. If we can put forward some level of input towards interoperability between platforms (since we are often the poor blighters that are told to make it work!) then it can only be a good thing.

    *after* BETT there will no doubt be a number of conversations, discussions, arguments and flame wars about Learning Platforms and VLEs ... again. If some of this can be used to help steer things *in addition to work by govt bodies* then it can only be a good thing.

    This is actually a different move to normal for EduGeek ... we are normally pushing the T&L aspect of LPs ... this time we are seriously talking technology ... interoperable file formats, data exchanges, protocols, performance tables, etc ...

    As for the free circulation of information ... this has been the drive on the original message.

    There are times when people are restricted from what they want or need to say about why things don't work. in a public forum this can be difficult, even if you are also putting forward possible solutions and improvements.

    Most suppliers actually want to hear about the difficulties and solutions (of course they want to hear about solutions that others have developed or discovered ... it saves them finding them! ... just a quick dose of cynicism before anyone else says it!) but sometimes people are gagged due to politics at school, LA or national level.

    SALTIS is an independent group that actually needs someone who is not a vendor to come along and get involved ... if we can help with that ... then brilliant.

    The group has been discussed in other locations and this is really the first time it has been brought to the attention of EduGeekers (apart from the sad people who actually *read* the NAACE lists).

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    crispinw's Avatar
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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribu

    I thought I was in the best position to introduce what SALTIS is about - but I agree that it is for Admin to take this forward, not me.

    You won't have heard of SALTIS as it has only been set up in the last few months and has only informally announced its existence in the last week or so. It will be launched formally at BETT (Wednesday 3 p.m. on stand Q32).

    The membership - now over 30 commercial companies - represents a significant part of the industry. I don't think it is question of anyone being an offender, as interoperability is not something that any one company can do by itself. Many of the companies which you might regard as offenders have been calling for better interoperabilty standards for many years. If this were a purely commercial market, like the music industry, then they would probably have got together and agreed the standards many years ago. But this it is an industry which is run very tightly by government: government provides the money and sets the standards and has not set interoperability standards in a clear or consistent way. It is also important to create interoperability standards that work - which is why industry consensus is the best basis on which to move forwards.

    My own background in this is, having argued for clearer interoperability standards on a number of govnt working groups over the last ten years, I complained about Becta's learning platform framework on the grounds that they specified a number of mandatory interoperability standards which they did not then enforce.

    But your comment about offenders recognises that there is a problem: and that is what SALTIS has been set up to address. And there is never going to be a solution without industry being on board - which if you come to a SALTIS meeting, I think you will see that they are.

    Crispin.

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribu

    Sorry to post twice in a row but in the flurry of responses I fell behind.

    Thanks for the rescue Tony. Tony is right that SALTIS is focusing on very technical work and also that it is important that that work is driven by the outcomes that users and implementers want to see - and that is where I think EduGeek has an important role to play.

    I suspect my comments about SALTIS *not* being a cabal might have been seen as provocative - an unconvincing denial of what everybody knows to be the case! So let me clarify how SALTIS was set up:

    1. I have a small company, Alpha Learning: I do not represent big business.

    2. I set up SALTIS by myself. I sent round a circular email to all the companies that I knew, inviting them to a meeting at the end of July. 28 companies came + Becta, QCA and a couple of consultants (I should mention that discussions on Roger Broadie's E.E.P. were very important in preparing the ground for the initiative).

    3. Under the BESA constitution, the Chairman is elected annually. I was elected in October and I might lose the Chairmanship next October but, so long as I am Chairman, and having set up SALTIS for this purpose, I will work for open standards and free-to-use interoperability. No hypocrisy there.

    4. Although the group was not founded on the initiative of the big boys, it has received strong support, both from the publishers and the platform and MIS vendors (including RM and Capita). I can assure you that there is a strong appetite in the industry for better interoperability - and I think that represents a real opportunity.

    5. I have announced SALTIS on EduGeek and NAACE before the formal launch, precisely because I want this initiative to command the support of, and be influenced by, the wider user community. Although you may not wish to get involved in the detailed technical work (though, if you do, you are welcome), I think you certainly have a role in guiding and informing that work.

    I hope this clarifies what SALTIS is, where it has come from, and why you might be interested in supporting it!

    Crispin.

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    Having contact with a few of the members, as well as knowing some of the partners, I can honestly say that most are finding the idea of a pretty independent body as SALTIS quite refreshing ...

    There will always be some that join because everyone else is ... but if they go with the flow too then it is a win win situation.

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    I shall be checking you out and finding out more at BETT.

    If I'm understanding it correctly, it sounds like a very interesting, beneficial and worthwhile venture, aimed at solving problems like the one I've just been tackling on my own, namely in my case linking Moodle into CMIS.

    Definitely something I shall be very willing to input into, I'm also pleased to see Sercos name in the members list.

    Mike.

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribu

    I can assure you that there is a strong appetite in the industry for better interoperability
    Ok.. but what stops this one going down that not uncommon path where pretty much every vendor with an investment in an existing solution basically turns up to fight for that to be the standard (so they don't have to reimplement) and everyone's special little extras all have to be crammed in somewhere thus making the solution a bit of an ugly compromise. Followed of course by the inevitably imperfect specs which get implemented slightly differently, leading directly to pain for end users (not least when vendors then blame the other one for their faulty intepretation)?

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribu

    Quote Originally Posted by PiqueABoo
    I can assure you that there is a strong appetite in the industry for better interoperability
    Ok.. but what stops this one going down that not uncommon path where pretty much every vendor with an investment in an existing solution basically turns up to fight for that to be the standard (so they don't have to reimplement) and everyone's special little extras all have to be crammed in somewhere thus making the solution a bit of an ugly compromise. Followed of course by the inevitably imperfect specs which get implemented slightly differently, leading directly to pain for end users (not least when vendors then blame the other one for their faulty intepretation)?
    Few interesting points to rise I know Tim Pearson (boss of rm) is very big on interoperability. Also they are with other interactive whiteboard makers are creating new open source file format.

    In these situations creating new standard stops infighting like that.

    Russell

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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    I agree with Russ. Its easy to be cynical after dealing with school IT for so long, but to be given a chance to change things should not be pushed aside. There are too many big names here for one to risk upsetting the others.

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    crispinw's Avatar
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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribu

    I agree that that is a danger, PiqueABoo. I think I have a role in this as someone who understands the technology but is a very small player and can therefore take a lead without arousing concerns about conflict of interest.

    In my work so far (on content packaging) I have made it a key part of the SALTIS proposal that any standard should be backed by (1) free tools, so that implementers don’t have to struggle with specs, but just have a tool which does it for them and does it right, (2) rigorous and, as far as possible, free conformance testing, where possible done automatically by the tool, (3) clear kite-marking, not for approved functionality or financial status etc (if you buy a rubbish product, that’s your problem) and not in one big rolled-up mark, but lots of separate “feature-marks” to show clearly and objectively which products plug into each other and at what levels.

    These “support actions” would require funding, probably from Becta. So far, Becta is not supporting the proposal, advertising instead a tender for someone to produce non-binding guidance on interoperability to be directed at publishers and practitioners (but not at learning platforms) – IMO, this would be worse than useless; but I am hopeful that Becta will reconsider their position.

    The reception of my proposal on content packaging on the group has been very positive. The only significant concerns are (1) that it should achieve global compatibility and (2) that, where there are significant existing assets, the profile should provide clear guidelines to ensure backwards compatibility. I think both of those are entirely reasonable and I am confident that they can be achieved (we already have very positive links to IMS, the guardian of the international standards, and they have suggested that we work with them to integrate our proposals with the next version of Common Cartridge).

    The cynics may say that it will be more difficult to achieve consensus when we move forwards to supporting more advanced functionality in version 2 (runtime and sequencing). But this will be largely virgin territory from the point of view of UK suppliers and it may well be easier, no-one having significant existing interests in the area – and particularly if there was a clear demand from end-users in the area.

    The initiative on content packaging is only the first: we are also going to look at defining data models for e-portfolio and looking at the transfer of student records from MIS to learning platforms – this is a more contentious area with both SIF and IMS Enterprise specifications in the frame: personally I don’t see why we cannot move forwards on a flexible basis, supporting SIF where LAs have established ZIS hubs and IMS Enterprise where they haven’t – but this needs to be worked through in the Spring. And we shall also be looking at issues around the location of content, moving away from a presumption of centralised to federated repositories and catalogues, and bringing with it issues of single sign-on, cross-domain scripting and content discovery in a federated system. Lots to do!

    I am happy to provide further information about the content packaging proposal – but do not want to swamp people with excessively long posts.

    Crispin

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    alan-d's Avatar
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    Re: EduGeek has joined SALTIS as a partner - please contribute

    Time will tell if this will work or not but quickly glancing around I notice there is no representation from Open Source Projects such as Moodle, Open Office and Linux OS.

    Is there a plan to rectify this?

    With the increasing costs of MS products educational organisations will be turning to the cheaper alternatives therefore any compatability issues and solutions should include those alternatives.

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