Monthly Archives: June 2010

Steven Githens: Etherpad And Basic Learning Tools Interoperability

At the Sakai Conference last week, Steve Githens spent a little over a day and built simple prototype Basic LTI support for EitherPad.

In his blog post:

he describes what he has done and gives a nice screen cast demonstrating Etherpad in Sakai. It is awesome work. I think that Etherpad is the coolest piece of software to be integrated into an LMS using Basic LTI. And in particular, it would be really difficult to integrate Etherpad into an LMS directly as it is pretty specialized software.

I add screenshots of Etherpad running in Moodle and Blackboard below:

OLNet Report: Integrating Cohere into Moodle Using IMS Basic LTI

I am very honored to have been selected as an OLNet Expert fellow:

My proposal was to bring my interest in interoperability for learning applications and content and help OLNet in its investigation of applicability and use of Open Educational Resources (OER).

We decided that the best way to structure my fellow work was to have several visits to the Open University to do joint work. My first visit to the Open University was July 8-11, 2010. In this visit, I worked with Simon Buckingham Shum, Michelle Bacher, and others to design and build IMS Basic Learning Tools Interoperability Provider for the Cohere idea mapping tool (

The video includes an overview of the visit and demonstration of Cohere integrated into Moodle using Basic LTI.

If you want to know more about IMS Basic Learning Tools Interoperability, please see:

I want to thank Simon, Michelle, Karen, Tanh, and many others for their kind hospitality while I was visiting.

I very much enjoyed staying at the Beech Cottage Bed and Breakfast in Milton Keynes. It was close to the central station and yet felt like I was spending my evenings in the countryside. I liked the Beech Cottage so well that I wrote a review for Google Maps.

NoteFlight as a IMS Basic LTI Producer – Cool Demonstration

I have been working with Joseph Berkovitz, the CEO of NoteFlight ( getting his software to support the IMS Basic LTI Producer specification. NoteFlight is a tool designed to teach music. Instructors can make assignments, perhaps giving them a partial composition and then students can compose and play music, handing in the assignment when done and then the teacher can again go back in and grade the student submissions.

For the impatient or those uninterested in the glorious philosophical and technical detail about how this was done, here is an awesome demo of NoteFlight in action running inside of Moodle using the BasicLTI4Moodle consumer for Moodle 1.9:


YouTube (lower quality):

Thanks to Joseph for sharing his demonstration with us.

noteflight-blackboard.jpgThis is the perfect example of a whole class of tools that are rather narrow when the entire teaching market is considered – but absolutely essential for teaching certain kinds of courses. Because of the narrow nature of the overall market for a tool such as NoteFlight, and the likely lack of financial clout for the teachers of those classes, it is not likely that a school will pay a large amount of money to integrate something like NoteFlight into their LMS system – so teachers and students would simply have to make new accounts on the NoteFlight site and keep track of separate passwords.

Of course, this is the kind of tool that we see IMS Basic LTI making possible. By reducing the cost of integrating into LMS systems to virtually zero and making it possible to place a tool in pretty much any LMS system with one integration, it allows tools like Noteflight to be made available to those courses that badly need the tool and keeps the costs of building NoteFlight low to allow NoteFlight to invest more in the tool itself rather than chasing after lots of LMS integrations just to get some business.

If you look at the demo, you will see an exciting implementation pattern in the NoteFlight support for IMS Basic LTI. It uses what we call “resource_link level configuration” where all instructor configuration is done on the NoteFlight servers (i.e. inside the frame). The use case is that the Instructor simply placed a generic “NoteFlight” tool as a Moodle Activity and then enters the tool and sets up the assignment. Under the covers, NoteFlight is detecting a new “placement” and keeps this new placement separate from all other placements. So the instructor can place many instances of NoteFlight in their course map and configure each separately.

noteflight-sakai-ctools.jpgWhat you don’t see is that if the instructor placed the activity and then did not configure it, and the student launched it, NoteFlight would say something to the effect of “not yet configured”. But since it is so natural for the instructor to place and then enter the tool, the configuration step just happens in the normal course of setup and the student simply never sees the tool in an unconfigured state.

It takes a while before folks used to writing deep integrations like a BlackBoard Building Block, Moodle Module, and Sakai Tool get the simple elegance of this approach. Most tool developers want to fight with the LMS until their particular and weird configuration needs are properly done in the LMS user interface. The problem is that then the end-user experience is under control of the LMS and they may change it or break it in some future release. Also, it really simplifies writing tool documentation. All of the configuration screens are the same for a tool like NoteFlight – regardless of which LMS it is running in, making documentation simpler. Tool writers kind of have been taught not to feel empowered when facing the daunting task of LMS integration. IMS Basic LTI gives tool writers far greater control over the user experience – which in my opinion is as it should be.

All in all, I want to thank Joseph for his excellent work and helping explore the capabilities in the IMS Basic LTI Specification (

Abstract: Impact Well-Beyond Market Share: Synergy Between Open Source and Standards

While there are a few very successful open source projects that achieve significant market share such as the Apache Web Server, Tomcat, Linux, and PHP, the vast majority of Open Source projects often achieve a relatively small fraction of market share. This is not surprising given the lack or a profit motive by open source projects. Individual participants in open source projects may have profit motives, but generally the project itself is focused on building the best quality software regardless of the ultimate market share. Even when an open source project has a relatively small market share, it can have a strong influence in the overall market by participating in standards activities as well as providing high-quality reference implementation of standards when those standards are approved. Open Source projects are often the best way to get a standard to the tipping point in terms of market adoption even if the open source software only represents a small fraction of the real market. This talk will discuss standards in general and in particular standards for teaching and learning produced by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. We will discuss the progression of the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability Standard and how open source involvement in the process has greatly affected the overall marketplace.