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Virtual Learning Platforms Thread, Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop" in Technical; Several Edugeekers (including myself) attended a Becta "Standards Review Workshop" today (02/05/07). The basic idea being to look at the ...
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    Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Several Edugeekers (including myself) attended a Becta "Standards Review Workshop" today (02/05/07). The basic idea being to look at the Learning Platform Technical Specifications and see if they should be updated or modified.

    My notes are pretty sparse so I hope some of the self-confessed "lurkers" will flesh them out. Rather than write too much the pdf document (and the requirement numbers) should be referred to. Looking at the major points in turn.

    R1. IMS/QTI. This was accepted as being important but also the LP should have some way of marking the tests. Obviously m/c questions, true/false, etc should be relatively easy to implement.

    R3. SCORM was discussed for a while. Again all thought that it was important. Sometimes content providers didn't always implement all of the SCORM 2004 features.

    R5. Metadata. I don't think that I was the only one who yawned at this point. More useful I think for the content providers.

    R13. Accessibility was accepted as important and Becta are in consultation with then RNIB - so guidelines will probably come out on this. The content might be a different matter.

    R21. Access off site probably caused the temperature to rise. Several Edugeekers recounted tales of RBC's/LA's being less than helpful opening up ports/giving access to reverse proxies.

    R22. Shibboleth. This seems to have died a death. Always seemed like a good idea to me.

    R27/28 SIF looks like the one that seems to have been adopted. Even Capita have signed up - I think.

    Other general discussions revolved around authoring tools for SCORM and the need for LP inter-operability with management systems. The lack of a definition of an e-portfolio was also mentioned.

    Overall an interesting day and thanks to Becta for opening up the loop to get a wider view of the issues surrounding LP's.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    I attended the day and fully support the views of mighty grey eagle.

    When building scorm content you can sequence the activity. On a simple level if a learner does not reach a certain standard in part A they cannot proceed to part B.

    Instead of completing part A again they then go on to something different to help them with why they did not reach the standard in part A.

    I would have insisted on beefing up the sequencing as part of the standard. Whilst it is manadatory its at a minimum. You can still insist on it in your requirements. The standards are only minimums and you can specify your requirements to those on the framework.

    That will sort out the good from the bad!

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Interesting - being somewhat PNG on Becta workshops, I'm afraid I didn't make it!

    Very good news that the technical specs are being revisited. But I do not understand how any revision is actaully going to work. Is Becta going to tell platform providers that they must now conform to a revised set of specs, or else they are off the framework? Surely they can't do this - but unless they cancel the whole framework, anything else means that any revisions are nothing more than window-dressing, at least for 4 years. Were these questions raised?

    Other comments:

    R1. Completely agreed - unassessed assessments are of no use to anyone. What should be done is map out a rolling programme whereby certain subsets of the standards should be implemented every year, starting with the simple interactions you mention. Each subset should be accompanied by robust conformance tests and guidance on any ambiguities in the standards. Companies should be given a year's notice to implement.

    R3. Many people talk about SCORM as if it only refers to the content packaging - when the heart of SCORM lies in the runtime exchange of data (a 'Shareable Content Object', or SCO, is defined as a learning object which supports the runtime). Content providers do not have to support the whole of the standard, but learning platform providers do (they have to field anything that is thrown at them).

    The main problem is a content-platform impasse. What publisher is going to sink large amounts of money into producing SCORM-compliant content when there are hardly any SCORM-compliant platforms out there to run the content, and Becta did not enforce the requirement to be SCORM-compliant on the framework?

    It is a question of confidence. Becta should say to the content providers "we will ensure that there are platforms out there which will support your content"; and to the platform providers, "we will ensure that there is content out there which will run on your platforms". Then implement *credible* conformance testing and perhaps throw in some seed funding to make it happen. Define a minimum subset of the runtime which content developers need to support to get their hands on the funding. Plus technical help-lines, communications strategy etc.

    R22. I never thought Shibboleth was a runner in the schools sector - but the same result can be achieved with much less hassle using automatic authentication.

    R27/28. This is the next canard. SIF does not do import/export of student grouping data between MIS and LP - it is all about gathering data for vertical reporting to central government. At least, it does not have the data models to do the horizontal interoperabiity at present and there does not appear to be any work being done to develop these data models.

    The best data model for MIS->LP transfers is IMS Enterprise - but this requires a small amount of extra work to make it useable. Capita have produced a data model, but i think there is a case for having something under public ownership.

    It may be that in time (and I suspect quite a lot of time) an IMS Enterprise data model could be pushed over a SIF-like hub-based architecture. But there seem to me to be a lot of unanswered questions about SIF. The hub will be run by the RBC or LA. That means all school data, even internal data, will flow through the LA hub (and be accessible to the LA). Are schools happy about this? Have they been asked? Are LAs happy to commit the resources necessary to running the hub? These are the sort of questions that no-one bothered to ask about Shibboleth, while everyone was told for three years that it was the way forward.

    IMS Enterprise can be set up quickly and easily across bilateral web-services, perhaps based on the Capita model. Becta just need to do some work on creating a data model to cope with grouping information. Then, if and when SIF is established, the same data can be run through the SIF hubs.

    SCORM authoring tools. See above - why spend money developing this when no-one is running SCORM-compliant platforms? They will come, but after, I suspect, phase 1 when people gain experience and confidence deploying bespoke SCORM content (which isn't that complicated to do).

    Lack of definition of e-Portfolios. Very interested to hear that this was discussed too. Can you tell us where the discussion went?

    Crispin.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by crispinw
    Interesting - being somewhat PNG on Becta workshops, I'm afraid I didn't make it!
    I wonder why ...

    Very good news that the technical specs are being revisited. But I do not understand how any revision is actaully going to work. Is Becta going to tell platform providers that they must now conform to a revised set of specs, or else they are off the framework? Surely they can't do this - but unless they cancel the whole framework, anything else means that any revisions are nothing more than window-dressing, at least for 4 years. Were these questions raised?
    Irregardless of whether the framework is rejigged, revamped, rewritten it is not a bad thing to start looing at next practice whilst the existing system is already in place. It is part of change management ... if they said that they were not going to look at what needs to be improved or changed for 3 or 4 years I would be seriously concerned.

    Onto the comments about SCORM resources and content.

    The main problem is a content-platform impasse. What publisher is going to sink large amounts of money into producing SCORM-compliant content when there are hardly any SCORM-compliant platforms out there to run the content, and Becta did not enforce the requirement to be SCORM-compliant on the framework?
    There are plenty of SCORM compliant platforms around ... and a good number of those on the framework are either becoming SCORM compliant or working on it (admittedly, I have only talked with 7 of them ... but that gives some indication of direction). Then you also have to consider that content providers are not just creating content for those on the Learning Platform list. And if they know that in future revisions of the framework SCORM compliancy *will* be on the list then they will work now to create resources that can be used in later years. This is just good business sense. No point in re-writing resources again in another 2-3 years if you are woring on them at the moment.

    SCORM authoring tools. See above - why spend money developing this when no-one is running SCORM-compliant platforms? They will come, but after, I suspect, phase 1 when people gain experience and confidence deploying bespoke SCORM content (which isn't that complicated to do).
    See response above.

    SIF/IMS and Authentication ... I have a number of concerns with this anyway, but some of this is political. I worry that the driving of standards for sharing information or for authentication may get used in some LAs to brow-beat schools in adopting a single model of networks and network management, because the LA / RBC does not want to foot the bill of creating difference scenarios.

    Admittedly there will have to be some compromise from schools on this, but at the moment I can only see it being one-sided ... agree to be setup the way the LA / RBC wants.

    Please note that not all LAs / RBCs are like this, and a number of them are thinking of different ways they can adapt ... but this is partly because they are being pushed to by advanced schools.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by crispinw

    Lack of definition of e-Portfolios. Very interested to hear that this was discussed too. Can you tell us where the discussion went?

    Crispin.
    There were lots of "knowing looks" on the faces of the Becta people. I think that they were as much in the dark as the rest of us.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook
    Irregardless of whether the framework is rejigged, revamped, rewritten it is not a bad thing to start looing at next practice whilst the existing system is already in place. It is part of change management ...
    Agreed - I welcome the fact that these matters are being discussed. What I am concerned about that the change cannot now be made, while the framework stays in place, for another 3-4 years. That's a lot of time for looking!

    There are plenty of SCORM compliant platforms around ... and a good number of those on the framework are either becoming SCORM compliant or working on it (admittedly, I have only talked with 7 of them ... but that gives some indication of direction).
    ADL lists certified products and adopters at http://www.adlnet.org/scorm/index.aspx . Of the ten platforms on Becta's list, only one (Studywiz) is listed as an adopter. None are listed as certified. And I do not think too much weight should be put on providers saying "we're working on it" - you would hardly expect them to say "we're *not* working on it".

    Then you also have to consider that content providers are not just creating content for those on the Learning Platform list.
    Interesting that one of the best things that can be said about the list is that some people don't use it...

    And if they know that in future revisions of the framework SCORM compliancy *will* be on the list then they will work now to create resources that can be used in later years.
    ...or that one day it will be finished with (and that even before anyone has used it, there is already a change-management strategy in place).

    The trouble is that SCORM compliancy was "on the list" last time - the technical specs and test scripts plainly and forcefully stated that conformance with SCORM 2004 runtime and sequencing was mandatory. If mandatory specifications were not applied last time, why should anyone believe they will be applied next time? It is, as I stated in my last post, a question of confidence.

    This is just good business sense.
    The minutes of the Content Advisory Board, which I acquired under the FOI, state that many companies are cutting their investment in educational content because they no longer regard it as profitable. That is apparently what many businessmen now regard as good business sense. I wonder why?

    Crispin.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by mighty.grey.eagle
    There were lots of "knowing looks" on the faces of the Becta people. I think that they were as much in the dark as the rest of us.
    More of an "unknowing look" then . At least it is good to know that the point has been logged. I suspect that everyone needs to wait until we have some more convincing pilot evidence.

    Crispin.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by mighty.grey.eagle
    R22. Shibboleth. This seems to have died a death. Always seemed like a good idea to me.
    Can you give us a little more information on how this discussion over Shibb went? With the UK Access Federation kicking off I thought Shibb would continue to be adopted.

    Quote Originally Posted by mighty.grey.eagle
    R27/28 SIF looks like the one that seems to have been adopted. Even Capita have signed up - I think.
    Capita are certainly involved (they are on the SIFA UK Board). Also...

    The Schools Interoperability Framework UK specification 1.0 has been released for Public review over a 30-day period. SIFA UK are inviting their members and non-members to feedback on the specification which has been in development since the start of the Birmingham proof of concept.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by crispinw
    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook
    Irregardless of whether the framework is rejigged, revamped, rewritten it is not a bad thing to start looing at next practice whilst the existing system is already in place. It is part of change management ...
    Agreed - I welcome the fact that these matters are being discussed. What I am concerned about that the change cannot now be made, while the framework stays in place, for another 3-4 years. That's a lot of time for looking!
    This is one of the annoying things that I find with a number of suppliers.
    "oh .. there is a framework now so if anyone suggests anything new I don't have to agree to it until the framework is being renewed!"

    Just because there is a framework it does not preclude that further work should not be done on driving forward what happens with LPs. Yes, the framework does not change until it is renewed but there *should* be a level of pushing from schools, LAs and Govt agencies to keep things moving forward.

    Just because 802.11b existed I don't for a second presume everyone said "ok ... we've done our work now ... we can all go back home a rake the cash in!"

    There are plenty of SCORM compliant platforms around ... and a good number of those on the framework are either becoming SCORM compliant or working on it (admittedly, I have only talked with 7 of them ... but that gives some indication of direction).
    ADL lists certified products and adopters at http://www.adlnet.org/scorm/index.aspx. Of the ten platforms on Becta's list, only one (Studywiz) is listed as an adopter. None are listed as certified. And I do not think too much weight should be put on providers saying "we're working on it" - you would hardly expect them to say "we're *not* working on it".[/quote]

    Perhaps I should have been more explicit. Of the 7 I have met with 5 had live systems demonstrating the next generation which included SCORM 1.3 adoption with a view to certification. One of the others showed a non-live system but detailed road maps. The last one was a waste of space anyway.
    Then you also have to consider that content providers are not just creating content for those on the Learning Platform list.
    Interesting that one of the best things that can be said about the list is that some people don't use it...

    And if they know that in future revisions of the framework SCORM compliancy *will* be on the list then they will work now to create resources that can be used in later years.
    ...or that one day it will be finished with (and that even before anyone has used it, there is already a change-management strategy in place).

    The trouble is that SCORM compliancy was "on the list" last time - the technical specs and test scripts plainly and forcefully stated that conformance with SCORM 2004 runtime and sequencing was mandatory. If mandatory specifications were not applied last time, why should anyone believe they will be applied next time? It is, as I stated in my last post, a question of confidence.

    This is just good business sense.
    The minutes of the Content Advisory Board, which I acquired under the FOI, state that many companies are cutting their investment in educational content because they no longer regard it as profitable. That is apparently what many businessmen now regard as good business sense. I wonder why?

    Crispin.
    It is no longer found to be profitable because present delivery methods are not robust enough to fulfill requirements of schools due to the lack of structure within the eLearning environments in many schools ... the growth in compliant learning platforms can aid this but the purchasing model is unclear due to LA / RBC / Consortium politics .... (a bit of paraphrasing there from a rather frank discussion with a few suppliers at a similar meeting earlier in the year).

    Some suppliers are worried about the Thomas Telford influx again ... schools that have been ahead of the game and creating their own resources, including SCORM compliant materials (or even simple Moodle Courses) that can be sold on, or even simply shared between consortia or RBCs. There is already one school that is seriously pushing on this after working with one supplier of Sharepoint solutions and they are starting to get business with a few LAs.

    If schools want the materials they will either get produced or schools will produce and share their own. Some materials that are being written at the moment are being done as SCORM 1.3 but will not be released until 08 for a number of reasons.

    As schools it is up to us to say there is a requirement and need as well as the Content Advisory Board ... likewise we can help push forward the direction of Learning Platforms.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook
    Yes, the framework does not change until it is renewed but there *should* be a level of pushing from schools, LAs and Govt agencies to keep things moving forward.
    Agreed - but in the real world pushing power is closely related to buying power. Schools have had their pushing power virtually eliminated (OK, they can scrape together their own cash but, as you say, even then they have problems if the LA prevents them implementing their own platform). And competition has been reduced thanks to the number of suppliers which have been effectively excluded from the market by the framework. The idea that a single RBC could implement a single platform across a huge swath of the country is extremely anti-competitive, destroying everyone's pushing power other than Mr Big, who rarely if ever sets foot in a classroom.

    Perhaps I should have been more explicit. Of the 7 I have met with 5 had live systems demonstrating the next generation which included SCORM 1.3 adoption with a view to certification. One of the others showed a non-live system but detailed road maps. The last one was a waste of space anyway.
    OK - the rest of us will just have to wait and see the new systems. All I can say is that up to now, there has been a significant mismatch between rhetoric and reality, abetted by the fact that there is a lot of misunderstanding around SCORM runtime and packaging. Talking about "SCORM 1.3 adoption with a view to certification" is a bit misleading as there is no such thing as SCORM 1.3 certification, only SCORM 2004 certification. SCORM 2004 has 3 parts: packaging 1.3, runtime 1.3 and sequencing 1.3. Judging by where most of the systems on the framework were last year, they may well be talking about packaging 1.3, not runtime. Did they show the system exchanging data with content, tracking results in their own markbooks, managing preference, state, initialization data in the content? Did they show you output from the ADL self-test suite?

    It is no longer found to be profitable because present delivery methods are not robust enough to fulfill requirements of schools due to the lack of structure within the eLearning environments in many schools ...
    Completely agreed. Which is why I think Becta's failure to promote interoperability has been so damaging.

    the growth in compliant learning platforms can aid this but the purchasing model is unclear due to LA / RBC / Consortium politics .... (a bit of paraphrasing there from a rather frank discussion with a few suppliers at a similar meeting earlier in the year).
    Agreed again. But doesn't the politics flow inevitably from the central purchasing model and all the fighting over budgets? (that was what I was really thinking of with my "wonder why"). Give the money to schools and let them choose (there would still be an important support role for LAs but not, I think, for RBCs) and you would cut out all the politics at a stroke. And all the TCO issues - training, technical support etc. could be provided by the suppliers, in response to what schools actually wanted, rather than to what was imposed on them.

    Some suppliers are worried about the Thomas Telford influx again ... schools that have been ahead of the game and creating their own resources, including SCORM compliant materials (or even simple Moodle Courses) that can be sold on, or even simply shared between consortia or RBCs. There is already one school that is seriously pushing on this after working with one supplier of Sharepoint solutions and they are starting to get business with a few LAs.
    I don't quite understand you here. Are you saying that suppliers feel they are being forced out of the market by these DIY-ers? I think any model of content creation must include DIY-authoring, cottage industry, big industry in a continuum. I think if business cannot compete with DIY-ers then they do not deserve to be in the market.

    I think it is short-sighted of anyone to sqabble too much over the division of the cake when all it is at the moment is small fairy cake - but when it has the potential to be a huge 6-tier wedding cake. Make e-learning work (and I have spent the last 10 years arguing that proper learning platforms are critical to this) and I think there will be business for everyone - certainly in the field of content-creation, where the market is always going to be very fragmented.

    Some materials that are being written at the moment are being done as SCORM 1.3 but will not be released until 08 for a number of reasons.
    Interesting again. Can you elaborate on the reasons? Again, are we talking about runtime-compliant materials or just packaging?

    As schools it is up to us to say there is a requirement and need as well as the Content Advisory Board ... likewise we can help push forward the direction of Learning Platforms.
    What a pleasure to be in total agreement for a change ! My views on the Content Advisory Board are posted in response to Ian U at http://moodlea.blogspot.com/2007/05/...st-on-jam.html .

    But I can't quite square your view that schools should be pushing forwards the direction of Learning Platforms and your support for the Becta framework. The way I see the framework and the funding which accompanies it, it is all about disempowering schools and taking the decision-making to the centre.

    Crispin.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by crispinw
    R27/28. This is the next canard. SIF does not do import/export of student grouping data between MIS and LP - it is all about gathering data for vertical reporting to central government. At least, it does not have the data models to do the horizontal interoperabiity at present and there does not appear to be any work being done to develop these data models.
    I might have been over-hasty on this one. I see from the UK specification referred to by Andrew Evans that there are now objects for SchoolGroupType, SchoolGroup, and LearnerEnrolment which should allow student grouping data to be transferred from MIS to LP.

    I wonder if Andrew knows whether the proof of concept included the transfer of grouping data from MIS - LP and if so, which products were involved.

    Crispin.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by crispinw
    I wonder if Andrew knows whether the proof of concept included the transfer of grouping data from MIS - LP
    Crispin.
    At the SIFA Quarterly Meeting in March the POC team demonstrated Learner Data being moved from MIS to MIS (Vertical interoperability), MIS to LP (Horizontal Interoperability). They we moving Learner records from system to system but I'm not sure of the specific data objects they were moving. The data model was being developed during the POC. (BTW I’m not involved the POC just monitoring its progress so if you need a detailed response e-mail sifauk@becta.org.uk).

    It is worth noting that the hard work with SIF is getting the infrastructure right (agent and ZIS communication). Once you have that setup then SIF has SO much potential (POC2 in NI/C2K will be using SIF to move assessment data). The only negative to come out of the SIFA meeting was that the agent communication wasn’t event driven (live) data but a scheduled job.

    As for the data objects that must be supported by an MIS you should monitor the Certification Working Group (it's a closed community for SIFA members but I'm sure Nick Barron or someone at Becta or SIFA would share this information as it becomes available). I sat in on a working group meeting and they were talking about application profiles of the data model for MIS and Learning Platforms, which would outline the mandatory requirements (this is certainly an extension of the current SIF certification). Its early days and they need to firm up these “ideas” but they seem to be making good progress.

    Becta are planning to release a report of the POC at the end of the month so look out for that.

    I posted about the SIFA meeting a while back on my blog, check out http://www.andrewswork.com/2007/03/q...k-meeting.html for more (of the same).

    [quote="crispinw"]
    which products were involved.
    [quote]
    Netmedia were demonstrating their SIF agent with MyPortfolio and the MIS providers with Capita, Serco and Arete (sorry I don't know what products). I hope that helps.

    [quote="andrew.evans"]
    Can you give us a little more information on how this discussion over Shibb went? With the UK Access Federation kicking off I thought Shibb would continue to be adopted.
    [quote]
    One more thing, can someone address my Shibboleth question (above)?

    Thanks in advance.

    -Andrew

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks very much for this round-up - it sounds as if finally there is some progress being made - worth watching. How long it will be before LAs are implementing hubs is, I guess another question. One for BETT 2009 rather than BETT 2008?

    I can't give you up-to-date information about Shibboleth but the last time I was at a meeting, there was scepticism expressed (and not by me!) as to whether (a) LAs would have the resources to implement their bit of it (the identity server, I think), and (b) whether enough content providers would be prepared to implement it for their websites.

    My own scepticism is based on the fact that, if you implement learning platforms so that the student is accessing resources through the LP, then the LP can send authentication along to the content provider transparently, without any of the complications (technical, resourcing, user-interface, & data protection) that I thought Shibboleth would probably involve.

    Returning to the subject of this thread, I notice that in spite of advertising it on their home page, the discussion forum for Becta's Learning Platform Technical Specification Review has, in the two weeks that it has been open, only attracted one contribution - and that to report a broken link. Maybe other people share my concern that, if the framework has four years to run against the old specs, the review is a pretty pointless exercise.

    Crispin.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    One thing to remember about the ideals behind LA / RBC / Consortia purchases of products, whether they be VLEs/MLEs/LPs or just content / resources ... an economy of scale is involved (having seen the figures now I will *never* believe what I am asked to pay as a school, and that is even by companies I would be happy to say are on our side!), and we should not forget a very important factor ...

    Sharing resources and practices between schools is very important. We all undersand this here otherwise this site would not be as popular as it is ... unfortunately that is not the same story throughout all areas of all schools.

    If the LA / RBC can put pressure, or help develop models for sharing and collaboration then having a single platform can be considered to be a suitable pay-off rather than each school doing their own thing.

    From experience, if a school does their own thing then when it comes to other schools sharing with them, they are very isolated and often politically not interested ... or plain antagonistic.

    I am going to great pains to ensure this is not the case in our area, as our the ICT in Schools team. Collaboration is key to our LA, previously full of schools that want to be independent but are now starting to lose out in certain areas (partly because the LA is having to remodel itself to adapt to this!)

    Back to the SCORM issues, it was indeed 2004 certification but it was talking about against 2nd Edition Conformance Test Suite 1.3 ... I have mis-read and misunderstood that ... the move to certification was for 3rd edition ... no point in certification against 2nd edition when 3rd is round the corner apparently. (the changes in these standards make the release of service packs from MS look well planned!)

    I would also repeat that no review is pointless ... if nothing else Becta are likely to be learning that they need to find new ways of targetting the required ausiences ...

    Perhaps they should move from just using their own site and get interested groups together in small numbers to do some serious thinking ...

    erm ...

    I am not saying it is perfect .. far from it ... but we should not knock the chances to make changes for the future ... even if it is 4 years away that it is formally ratified.

    And I am sure we agree on a whole heap of things Crispin.

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    Re: Becta "LP Standards Review Workshop"

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook
    One thing to remember about the ideals behind LA / RBC / Consortia purchases of products, whether they be VLEs/MLEs/LPs or just content / resources ... an economy of scale is involved (having seen the figures now I will *never* believe what I am asked to pay as a school, and that is even by companies I would be happy to say are on our side!), and we should not forget a very important factor ...
    I agree with you that there has been an element of rip-off in a lot of pricing - I think a lot of this has been encouraged by an inefficient markets (buying in response to central directive, with centrally provided cash). And a lack of information in the market. I have argued on Becta working groups for years that there should be robust Amazon-style review sites where teachers can share information, give star-ratings and disagree with each other. Although there are good people at TEEM and Schoolzone, their reviews are paid for by the suppliers and their reviewers are specifically instructed not to be critical. And Curriculum Online should have been much more robust about insisting on the publication of objective information about software - in particular clear prices. Information is critical for the market. Becta's framework gives information to the market which is actually untrue.

    In the long term, prices are driven down by markets - not by central purchasing. My point in our exchange in another thread about the MacDonalds cheeseburgers is that you can achieve economies of scale by making lots of small sales, just as well as by making a few big ones.

    And I hear a disturbing amount of gossip about local authority buyers being treated to 'conferences' in Barbados and Hong Kong (I suspect that central purchasing nearly always encourages some degree of graft) and a lot of examples of very expensive central procurements which deliver very little at all.

    Interesting blog from Tim Eaglestone at http://www.ictintent.com/?p=23 . A book on disruptive technology he has just read suggests changing priorities in a market as the technology matures: first features, then reliability, convenience and only for mature technologies, price. The point, I think, about this is that it is only at the end that everyone knows what they are getting and most suppliers will be providing something pretty similar as well. At the beginning of the process, innovation is more important and so (a) you must allow for companies to be rewarded for innovation, and (b) you must allow and encourage diversity, and participation of smaller companies.

    Good management is often about doing the right thing at the right time. There is a time for loosening the reigns and a time for tightening the reigns. There may come a time when there is little scope for more innovation and when everyone is supplying more or less the same thing and then it would be reasonable to bear down on prices (in fact, the market will at that point ensure that prices come down anyway). But that time is not now. There is a desperate need for innovation & technology which can be shown to work.

    When you talk about collaboration - collaboration on what? If it is a question of sharing information, then why should that be limited to the LA - why not have national discussion forums, like this one. And discussion forums are very cheap to set up.

    If it is a question of buying together, then that's fine, so long as it is voluntary - and if it is voluntary, the money should go to schools, who can then put it into a central pot if they like what the LA is offering them. If they get the software they want so much cheaper, then it should be a no-brainer. But where is the pressure on LAs to provide a good service if their schools have no effective opt-out? And I suspect that it is the element of compulsion which introduces the antagonism into the relationship.

    I am sure that good school-school and school-LA relationships are very desirable. I have just seen cultures where 'to do your own thing' was seen as a act of betrayal. If you want innovation, you must encourage the maverick and the experimenter.

    Back to the SCORM issues, it was indeed 2004 certification but it was talking about against 2nd Edition Conformance Test Suite 1.3 ...
    Having followed the trajectory of many of these products for several years, I remain a little sceptical that we are going to have a rash of SCORM 2004-certified products by next BETT. Implementing the SCORM runtime is not something that you can bolt on, like an import/export filter - it involves a major rewrite of the entire product - and I wonder if there is the commercial justification for doing this just after they have got onto the framework. But we shall just have to see!

    I would also repeat that no review is pointless ... if nothing else Becta are likely to be learning that they need to find new ways of targetting the required audiences ...

    Perhaps they should move from just using their own site and get interested groups together in small numbers to do some serious thinking ...
    I am all for small groups that get things done, rather than large talking shops. I also like the idea of different interest groups (teachers, administrators, LP providers, content publishers) getting together to articulate different views from different positions, and, to be fair, it appears that Becta has been doing this alongside their discussion forums.

    If Becta is now really in listening mode, then that must be a good thing. But I have spent a lot of time and money attending Becta working groups over the last five years - we spent nearly two years on the Learning Platform Stakeholders Groups creating the Learning Platform Conformance Regime - to see the whole thing thrown in the bin by some senior mandarin who had not even bothered to get his head round any of the technical issues. It is very easy to be pleased that one is having an input into policy when the whole thing is a PR exercise for Becta and no-one is listening at all. When the Learning Services sub-group started to raise serious questions about the Technical Specifications in April/May 2006, Becta just stopped replying.

    but we should not knock the chances to make changes for the future ... even if it is 4 years away that it is formally ratified.
    So long as the review is increasing the chances of significant changes being made and not reducing them.

    I have been asking awkward questions in public. People must be noticing that Becta is not replying and I suspect that the silence may be becoming a little awkward. Maybe this is to give the impression of activity to cover over the awkward silence? Or to allow Becta to say "Mr Weston's criticisms are obsolete because they apply to the 2006 specs, which have now been updated"?

    The meeting attended by Ian Usher was attended solidly by RBC people. Now, Becta are very keen to persuade the RBCs and LAs to use their framework and to persuade them that it is kosher. So it is not clear to me that this is as much about changing the status quo as about persuading people to accept the status quo.

    That is why I think people participating in these workshops should ask for a little clarity from Becta: "if this review process recommends changes to the technical specifications, what are you going to do about it? What effect will the changes have on the framework and the funding of LPs?" Ian Usher quotes Becta on the purpose of the meetings as being "[to explore current standards] in greater detail by asking questions and seeking answers to verify and validate a rounded viewpoint." What? :?

    Crispin.

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