Opening Up Online Learning

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/10/09/cartridge

This has not exactly been a season of peace, love and harmony on the higher education technology landscape. A patent fight has broken out among major developers of course management systems. Academic publishers and university officials are warring over open access to federally sponsored research. And textbook makers are taking a pounding for — among other things — the ways in which digital enhancements are running up the prices of their products.

In that context, many may be heartened by the announcement later today at the Educause meeting in Dallas that three dozen academic publishers, providers of learning management software, and others have agreed on a common, open standard that will make it possible to move digital content into and out of widely divergent online education systems without expensive and time consuming reengineering. The agreement by the diverse group of publishers and software companies, who compete intensely with one another, is being heralded as an important breakthrough that could expand the array of digital content available to professors and students and make it easier for colleges to switch among makers of learning systems.

Of course, that’s only if the new standard, known as the “Common Cartridge,” becomes widely adopted, which is always the question with developments deemed to be potential technological advances.

Many observers believe this one has promise, especially because so many of the key players have been involved in it. Working through the IMS Global Learning Consortium, leading publishers like Pearson Education and McGraw-Hill Education and course-management system makers such as Blackboard, ANGEL Learning and open-source Sakai have worked to develop the technical specifications for the common cartridge, and all of them have vowed to begin incorporating the new standard into their products by next spring — except Blackboard, which says it will do so eventually, but has not set a timeline for when.

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