During John Fontaine’s Blackboard keynote Blackboard Developer Conference (BbDevCon), Ray Henderson announced that Blackboard will release support for IMS Common Cartridge and IMS Learning Tools Interoperability by 1Q2011 in their core product line.
I am pleased and excited because this is an important milestone in the progression of the market adoption of these standards that I am convinced will positively impact teaching and learning in ways we cannot begin to imagine. But in a sense I was not really surprised. Strong support for standards and interoperability is very much in Blackboard’s best interest and for me it always felt like it was only a question of when it would fit into the Blackboard development cycle.
If you think about it for a moment, Blackboard has a pretty diverse customer base due to Angel and WebCT acquisitions and they would very much like to get to the point where they have a single overall learning product with the best features of Blackboard, WebCT, and Angel. That unifying product will naturally be a future version of Blackboard and one of the ways to get people to migrate to the latest version is to give them something in the latest version that they do not have in their current version.
I think that support for IMS Common Cartridge and LTI will be just the right kind of draw (among others) to bring customers forward and together in a positive way.
Beyond Blackboard’s customers, I hope that this is the beginning of Blackboard taking increasing leadership for the entire marketplace in terms of standards and interoperability. Even though Blackboard participated in both the working groups for Common Cartridge and Learning Tools Interoperability (Blackboard is co-chair of LTI), they were not the first to market for either standard. Now Ray has clearly made it a high priority to “catch up” and yesterday’s announcement was an indication that they will catch up pretty quickly.
I am imagining a future where Blackboard becomes increasingly open in what it is thinking about for next-generation approaches to teaching and learning.
While standards like IMC CC, IMS LTI, and IMS LIS are *very important* – they really are only the beginning of the kinds of standards we need to enable a true revolution in teaching and learning.
If we take the model where we go through the dance of (a) vendors create multiple similar proprietary solutions, (b) we realize that this new space is important so we start a standards working group to produce some common subset of the solution that is incompatible with any of the vendor solutions, and then (c) we try to “cat-herd” the vendors to add support for the new standard that is not all that different from the feature they originally built.
This whole process can easily take a long time! Actually if you look at IMS Tools Interoperability where the vendor solutions such as Building Blocks were coming out in the late 1990’s, and the equivalent standard is just making it into the marketplace, it has taken *over a decade*.
As a teacher and a student, wanting to learn and teach in new and innovative ways, a decade is far too long for a working, interoperable feature.
Going forward, we need to engage together looking forward and come up with one, interoperable solution from the *very beginning*. But this means we need to approach new ideas in different ways – the members of the market need to stop looking for win-lose scenarios and stop thinking that “proprietary and closed” is the way to compete – but instead – let the best products simply win without building proprietary APIs, Data Formats, and integration patterns as the first step.
I am optimistic that this recent announcement is only the beginning of engagement of Blackboard in standards and in particular standards around innovative ways to use technology to teach and learn going forward. I am going to do my part to try to bring this new approach into the market – one where we work together earlier rather than later – one where we reduce the time-to-market for standards that enable innovation and increase the quality of those standards as well.
Like a sports team that is in a playoff, I will savor this important and necessary milestone for a day or so, and then it is back to work to figure out how to do this all better and faster. Thanks to Ray and the whole Blackboard team!