Coming Back Home: BasicLTI for Sakai 2.9 – SAK-20774

It is kind of weird. Over the past two years, I have been putting a lot of energy into IMS Basic Learning Tools Interoperability and even have a new series of tattoos that are about IMS BLTI that are healing as I write this blog post. It has been my focus for a long time.

I started out a long time ago writing a Tool for Sakai 2.7 and this was one of the early crop of Basic LTI tools that staked out the territory. I kept the Sakai tool simple and direct, trying to also make it a nice example of how to write a portlet inside of Sakai. Since BasicLTI uses iFrames internally it was really nice not to have to solve the iframe-within-an-iframe problem in Sakai.

I wish more folks would either build new tools or convert existing tools to be portlets in Sakai. The Basic LTI tool really worked the kinks out of JSR-168 support in Sakai.

Once I had the Sakai tool basically functional, I spent my time trying to get the market interested in Basic LTI.

The path led to Barcelona where Marc Alier, Jordi Piguillem Poch and Nikolas Galanis built a Moodle Module for 1.9.

The great folks at Desire2Learn put it into their release 7.4.2 and announced it at Educause in November 2009. That was a great leap forward.

Then I decided to work with the folks from OLAT at the University of Zurich and I build a OLAT Basic LTI tool and visited Zurich to get it integrated into OLAT 7.0.

Both Learning Objects and Jenzabar added Basic LTI to their LMS systems.

Then we invented the IMS Basic LTI Extensions to send grades back to the LMS and allow a full roster pull from the LMS over REST web services.

I went back and added the REST web services to Sakai 2.8 and we built them into Moodle 1.9 and then ported everything to Moodle 2.0 with a whole new user interface that dealt with these services.

All the while we were refining the user interface.

Then late last year I decided to add Basic LTI support to ATutor. It was fun to work with the ATutor team and since they had just implemented IMS Common Cartridge 1.1, ATutor’s internal structure was well suited for Basic LTI and we build what I think was the best UI for Basic LTI.

Then early this year Blackboard released Learn 9.1 Service Pack 4 with support for Basic LTI. Their UI had some clever innovative tweaks and gave the instructor and admin the ability to look at and monitor where the active links were happening and find broken links, etc – it was very cool.

Then about a month ago Marc, Jordi, Nikolas and I ended up in a sprint to try to make Basic LTI into the trunk of Moodle 2.1 – we missed it – but should make it into 2.2. As the Moodle Central team reviewed our code, the biggest gaping whole was the lack of suport for import/export. So we (mostly Nik with help from Jordi) came up with an awesome UI and workflow for import and thought it through very deeply.

Blackboard also supports import of IMS CC 1.1 so they have it thought through as well. Seeing the Blackboard 9.1 SP4 UI was helpful as was the long discussions about Full LTI with Greg McFall of Pearson and Lance Neuman of Balckboard in the IMS LTI Working group.

So, the Moodle Backup/Restore turned out pretty nicely I think.

And then as real large companies like MgGraw-Hill, Pearson, Cicso, started looking at Basic LTI – they found a few tweaks that are needed in the area of URL remapping and instructor access to custom parameters. Look for an updated Basic LTI 1.1 soon – if you are interested in seeing it early – you need to come to the working group as IMS does not publish specs until Public Draft phase.

And for me, I also spent the last six month on the Sakai 2.9 portal and Chuck Hedrick’s Lesson Builder.

In am amazing sprint, Chuck built IMS CC 1.0 import, Blackboard import, and IMS CC 1.1 import into Lesson Builder. But LessonBuilder does not yet understand Basic LTI.

And so I find myself about 80 days away from Sakai 2.9 ode freeze and I take a look at our Basic LTI support compared to everyone else in the market place and realize that I have taken care of nearly every other LMS in the marketplace and left Sakai’s support for Basic LTI as nearly the clunkiest implementation in the market (but very elegant under the covers).

The advantage I have of having worked on/with every other LMS on the planet is that I now know what I like and know what the UI and requirements really are. I really feel that the ultimate UI that I want to build is a combination of the features in ATutor, Moodle, Blackboard and D2L.

So I have opened up a JIRA for the work:

And I have made a branch for the work.

For some strange reason I am a little nervous because I am building a bunch of new Sakai capability from scratch. I am sure I will get over my nervousness once code starts laying down and things start to make sense.

I am also nervous I guess because now I want Sakai’s Basic LTI support to be a completely awesome example of how to do it right – so puts a little extra pressure on me. :)