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Learning Impact Blog

IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | January 2021

 

"Going to keep on trying 'til I reach my highest ground" —Stevie Wonder

 

A big shout out to the IMS Contributing Members to start 2021!

It is a beautiful thing to strive to get better at what we do, the impact we have each new day. Right now, there are so many unsung heroes overcoming challenge after challenge from an unprecedented set of changing circumstances at all levels of education. Literally every day, the IMS staff and I are inspired by IMS community participants that are not only rising to the challenges of a pandemic but are finding insights that can be applied to make a better future. How inspiring it is to witness a partnership where a set of committed parties are working together over the long run to lift up all of edtech!

We have had some very insightful guest posts here on the Learning Impact blog in recent weeks:

If you take a few minutes to read them, you will gain useful insights and perhaps connect some dots in ways that are difficult to do in today's cluttered, headline-grabbing press and social media.

Insights from the IMS community have always been the most valuable aspect of IMS and IMS membership. From back in the mid-1990s, when at Oracle, I was one of IMS Global's early corporate sponsors. And it was clear then that IMS attracted the type of leadership capable of shaping the future–both in terms of insights and the ability to act on those insights.

For edtech suppliers, 2020 was a difficult year for many, but also a banner year for some. In 2020, IMS added a net of 40 new member organizations. We saw some notable "upgrades" in membership to the Contributing Member (CM) level. And, as we see every year, some members drop, and some members "downgrade" to an Affiliate or Alliance membership—mostly suppliers. Generally speaking, the institutional/DOE/system membership in IMS is remarkably stable.

What does it mean to be a Contributing Member in IMS? Why does IMS have multiple levels of membership? What is the difference?

Simply put, Contributing Members are the leaders. They lead the close and committed collaboration under the fair and neutral auspices of IMS, which is our not-so-secret sauce.

Fundamentally, IMS is about building trusted partnerships among a coalition of committed parties–that are working honorably and transparently together–to help themselves and everyone else in the edtech sector.

Our CM organizations are school districts, state DOEs, universities, university systems, and suppliers. Their logos are on our member page (in the first section). CMs are the only organizations in IMS that have a vote in the official proceedings of IMS, and in return, are legally held to a very high standard of integrity. The leadership tier is very admirably balanced among supplier and end-user constituencies.

We have also found that CMs typically, although not always, have the executive-level commitment to be a leader for the long haul. When it comes to standards-based interoperability, commitment is so important. As I have written about many times, the temptations to deviate from standards, the business motives around dominant platforms, coupled with the extra effort required to coordinate with the rest of the market, actually make collaboration, especially over the long run, very, very challenging.

Why do Contributing Members provide extraordinary leadership in this collaboration? Well, the greater good is definitely an important factor. But the larger reason is that engagement in the community is worth the investment many times over.

IMS Contributing Members have fully bought into the proposition that we can do open standards well enough to reduce expense while improving opportunity for innovation.

But the value gained goes way beyond standards. It goes to the heart of defining the future of edtech, realizing that no one organization can do this alone.

When I came to IMS as CEO in 2006, there was only the Contributing Member level. We added the Affiliate and Alliance memberships as a way for organizations that were not committed to leading the work to still benefit from a raft of resources that the CMs make possible and generate. IMS Global's ultimate product—interoperability specifications—are all free and free to use. But the thought with the Affiliate and Alliance members was to add developer community resources and the ability to go through significant testing, resulting in certification, thus encouraging the plug-and-play ecosystem that the education sector requires to justify investing in standards in the first place.

We appreciate all IMS members at all levels. We created the levels other than CM to do a better job at serving the broader edtech sector. But I wanted to dedicate this first post of 2021 to the Contributing Members because they demonstrate every day the executive leadership building the trusted partnerships required to achieve the future together. Working with an IMS Contributing Member organization assures you that they are committed to the leadership needed to sustain, evolve, and accelerate the future of digital transformation in education.

At our core, IMS only achieves what it achieves through an extraordinarily effective collaboration that lifts all to a higher ground. IMS Contributing Members are the major participants and leaders in the extensive collaboration required to get all edtech stakeholders to the high ground of an interoperable digital edtech ecosystem based on open standards. I'm very proud that the IMS community has, in fact, delivered on this value proposition—and continues to invest in ways to fulfill this promise even better in the future.

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Tim Beekman, President & CEO, SAFARI MontageJanuary 2021

 

Contributed by:

Tim Beekman, President & Co-Founder, SAFARI Montage, and Chair of the IMS Board of Directors

 

The New Normal for K-12: Digital Teaching & Learning in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond 

While K-12 schools have been moving toward digital teaching and learning for many years, COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the progress. The rapid move to remote online learning at the onset of the pandemic is an experience that I am sure most school and district administrations would not want to relive; however, the end results will have a lasting positive impact on their teachers, students, and parents. Digital instruction can no longer be considered ancillary for K-12 schools. This shift is something that we have been preparing for at SAFARI Montage and IMS Global Learning Consortium for many years and I am excited to see it finally come to fruition.

For many districts, the transition made clear the value of building an organized and sound digital learning ecosystem to support online instruction along with the importance of designing one focused on equity, access, and interoperability. I am happy to say that, from what I saw, the most successful districts were the districts committed to the adoption of IMS standards.

For the team at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), COVID-19 school closures reinforced their mission to ensure that every CPS student can benefit from high-quality curriculum and instructional resources. As teachers across the county went online last spring to find materials to piece together lessons, the need to address inconsistency in the quality of these online materials and how it contributes to inequitable access for students, which is a central goal of the CPS Curriculum Equity Initiative, has never been clearer. Using interoperability standards established by IMS, the district is on its way to building a comprehensive digital curriculum with content from multiple providers. I am proud to have the opportunity to work with CPS building a platform to meet their needs using the SAFARI Montage Learning Object Repository (LOR) and resources from fellow IMS member organizations Amplify, PCG, Vista Higher Learning, McGraw Hill , and SchoolCity by Illuminate Education.

Gwinnett County Public Schools have been long-time advocates for IMS interoperability standards and leaders in the move to digital teaching and learning in K-12. Their integrated enterprise solution—eCLASS—was designed to provide students with access to a digital 'Content, Learning, Assessment, and Support System' and put them in the position to make an almost seamless transition to remote and hybrid learning last year. Built upon a foundation that includes D2L and the SAFARI Montage LOR, eCLASS enabled the district to be up and running from day one of the pandemic. Their well-thought-out plans for eCLASS have yielded a remarkable level of engagement and usage this past year with 97% of their students participating in remote online learning throughout school closures.

The School District of Lee County, FL has also been able to leverage their established IMS standards-based digital learning ecosystem to ensure access to quality learning opportunities for students and staff. They have made effective use of the LOR integrated with Google Classroom to provide teachers with high-quality, standards-aligned resources to support flexible instructional models while providing students with a seamless and transferable user experience across virtual and live settings. The district also took advantage of the ecosystem to provide their staff with simplified access to nearly a dozen professional development courses which kept 2,000+ support staff productively working.

In Fulton County School, GA, Microsoft Teams and the SAFARI Montage LOR are being used to support their Universal Remote Learning program which was originally implemented to ensure learning continuity during extended time away from school prior to COVID-19. Teams provides their teachers with tools to build digital activities and assignments with curriculum-aligned resources from the LOR and facilitates synchronous learning via the integrated video conferencing feature. The integration of these platforms has ensured access to live and on-demand digital learning materials for their students at home and in school, while also offering strong documentation of utilization.

There have been many more notable examples within the IMS community of how K-12 districts have been able to build and leverage their plug-and-play ecosystems to support the unprecedented shift to virtual learning in 2020. It is without question that IMS standards have provided these schools with the ability to design their own digital instruction model based on their own desired outcomes. I am so proud to be a part of this community and I am looking forward to seeing how we can utilize the chaos of the past year for good and finally unlock the true potential of digital teaching and learning for K-12 classrooms and beyond. 

 

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January 2021

 

Contributed by:

Ryan Lufkin, Senior Director of Higher Education Product Marketing at Instructure

 

The Evolution of Student Success in Higher Education

Though the shift to online learning has made it possible for learning to continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also presented a myriad of challenges for faculty and students alike. While educators adapted their pedagogies to the technologies at hand, students struggled with the more basic need of accessibility now that the campus computer labs and high-speed WiFi were no longer available. The challenge of keeping students engaged with their instructors as well as their peers has loomed large throughout the return to studies. Amid these disruptions in education, it became clear that getting back to "normal" wouldn’t be happening any time soon and the short-term embrace of technology for remote learning needed to be replaced with a focus on intentionally designed online learning for the long haul.

Combined, these challenges have prompted institutions to reexamine the term "student success" and what it means to deliver on the expectations of students. And as our wait for a return to normal has turned into acceptance of our new normal, it’s clear that learning will remain virtual for the foreseeable future.

In an effort to address these high stakes in higher education, Instructure conducted a global benchmark study with Hanover Research, The State of Student Success and Engagement, in which 7,070 educators and students in 13 countries were surveyed to identify how they define student success and what they consider to be driving factors of engagement. 

Of all the results, the following statistics made it clear: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented institutional leaders with a catalyst for change.

  • 85% of students said that COVID-19 was most impacting their ability to succeed.
  • 71% of respondents said it has impacted student academic progress.
  • 70% of faculty said more students are falling behind on their studies than ever before.

With the expectation that courses will remain online indefinitely, it’s critical for higher education institutions to better understand what students believe they need to be successful and engaged. As I continue to connect with educators and institutional leaders in our Canvas Community, I am amazed at the resilience and creativity they’ve displayed as they evolve to meet these challenges. Below are a few of the ways institutions are adapting to focus on a more holistic approach to student development.

Aligning Course Objectives to Future Careers

Beyond the disruptions in education, the workforce has also experienced a great deal of change, and students want to know that what they're learning in their courses is directly preparing them for their next step. A key finding from our study supports this notion, citing career readiness as the number one priority for students.

“If you had asked me pre-COVID what student success would look like, I would have had a laundry list—here's our course objectives, here's our department objectives, here's the university objectives that we want to accomplish,” explained Dr. Karen Freberg, Associate Professor in Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville, during a recent webinar I hosted.

“But with COVID, what I've realized [...] is that it's not only about knowing the material and understanding their field of study a little bit more. A lot of my students have been asking me how they can apply their learning and bring assignments to life.”

This paradigm shift has presented institutions with the challenge of transferring hands-on learning experiences to an online format that is collaborative and rigorous enough to prepare students for real-world application.

In response to this, we are seeing many institutions using this challenge as an opportunity to connect with local organizations and community partners to provide educational opportunities that align with jobs.

Leading With Empathy in Online Course Design

As students strive to keep up with their courses, it’s important to remember that like many of us, they are balancing multiple roles in their life while also addressing the impact of COVID-19. Now more than ever, educators need to think beyond the lecture and provide flexibility, enabling students to demonstrate mastery of skills in many different ways.

Sean Nufer, an educator at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and Canvas 2020 Educator of the Year winner, said it best in a recent live stream discussion. “We need to be listening to our students more than ever. We need to be patient with them and recognize that while there is more than one way to teach, there are also multiple ways to learn.”

We see many educators leveraging technology to create a more immersive experience that allows students to discuss and collaborate virtually, rather than watching a one-way video lecture. We’ve also noticed institutions using audio and video tools to give personalized and targeted feedback to individual students, transforming the traditional grading process into another opportunity for connection.

Creating Opportunities for Faculty-Student Engagement

Amid the increasing use of technology today, both students and faculty continue to value the hands-on learning and collaboration that technology simply cannot replace. When asked what factors are considered to be the main drivers of student success, respondents named quality of faculty (88%), technology availability (86%), and hands-on instruction (86%), reinforcing that technology is best used when paired with interactive content and opportunities for connection beyond devices.

Sean Nufer also shared how he prioritizes connecting with students in a fully virtual learning environment: “The community that you have in a traditional classroom is not replicated online. We have to be purposeful in building those connections [...] and those connections are vital, because without that network, what are we? We’re not just repositories of information. What brings education value are the connections we make that last beyond the three credits or 16 weeks.”

It’s becoming clear that the accelerated evolution forced on education will result in changes to instructional delivery that are here to stay. Connecting educators and learners with technology and helping those learners connect with careers is becoming key, not just to the success of students but to the success of colleges and universities themselves. Educators, technologists, instructional designers, and academic leaders alike will continue to come together to forge a pathway to the future, celebrating and supporting each other along the way. That’s what is, and always will be, great about education.

We invite you to review the findings from our study to learn more about the newfound meaning of student success and how institutions can use these challenges as a catalyst for meaningful change. Learn more.

 

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George Moore, Chief Technology Officer, CengageJanuary 2021

 

Contributed by:

George Moore, Chief Technology Officer, Cengage

 

In the World of Virtual Learning, CIOs Play a Vital Role in Maintaining Academic Freedom

With the rapid acceleration in virtual learning due to COVID-19 and the associated widespread adoption of technology, CIOs at U.S. higher education institutions face new and unprecedented challenges. One of the most unique—and important—among these is helping to protect and to maintain academic freedom. 

In our current societal and political climate, it is more important than ever that the education ecosystem take steps to protect academic freedom. Academic freedom protects faculty and students and ensures that higher education is a space open to diverse ideas, pedagogy, and debate. While it is a central tenet of higher education in the United States, that is not the case throughout the world; in Germany, academic freedom is making headlines as scientists push for it, and thousands of students recently marched for the cause in Hungary. 

In 1975, William Van Alstyne, a recognized legal scholar, wrote this highly-referenced definition of Academic Freedom: ‘academic freedom’ is... [the] personal liberty to pursue the investigation, research, teaching, and publication of any subject as a matter of professional interest without vocational jeopardy or threat of other sanction... Specifically, that which sets academic freedom apart as a distinct freedom is…: an accountability not to any institutional or societal standard of economic benefit, acceptable interest, right thinking, or socially constructive theory, but solely to a fiduciary standard of professional integrity.

Over the past decade, technology has helped academic freedom to flourish. As the number of edtech offerings has increased dramatically, faculty and students have had the opportunity to leverage a greater variety of resources to inform and develop learning experiences.

However, colleges and universities across the country have transformed dramatically since the spring as the adoption of edtech solutions has soared. Even those institutions and faculty who have been skeptical of technology have embraced edtech, and it has quickly become a must-have to create valued, engaging, and impactful learning experiences for students. 

For institutional CIOs, this new dependency on technology poses a different – and broad –  set of challenges when it comes to efficiency and security. Traditionally, the CIO’s role is to implement, manage, and utilize technology solutions that help to standardize processes, ensure data privacy and security, and simplify the end-user experience. However, institutional CIOs have a unique dilemma that isn’t faced by their counterparts in other industries: they have an obligation to students to put their needs and educational experience first. 

With this mission in mind, institutional technology leaders must focus on creating simplicity without sacrificing data privacy and security or homogenizing the learning experience. Every individual faculty member teaches differently and uses a different set of resources. Similarly, all students learn differently. There is a danger that, if institutions create too much standardization, academic freedom could be called into question. 

As institutional CIOs adapt to the dramatic shift brought about by COVID, they must ensure that they take a step back, and carefully evaluate the balance between operational efficiency and academic freedom. Consider the following questions:

Are you fostering an ecosystem that ensures instructors can create unique experiences in a simple, integrated manner, and in alignment with IMS Global standards? Are students and faculty empowered to leverage varied sources and diverse thought in their content and activities? 

Are your procurement processes ensuring that new and emerging resources can easily be leveraged?

Do the policies and procedures intended to create a safe and secure learning environment also allow instructors to create unique, expressive, and engaging experiences for their students? 

Overall, are you balancing the desire to standardize with the need to let freedom of expression flourish in the context of digital learning experiences?

These are the types of questions that all of us in the education and technology ecosystem must ask ourselves. Technology leaders need to recognize these challenges now and identify a path forward that allows them to do their job—creating processes and protocols that uphold security practices and encourage efficiency—while also enabling the independent thought, teaching, and debate that has made the U.S. education system renowned across the globe. 

As we look toward the future of higher education, it is increasingly clear that the shift to online learning will have lasting impacts long after COVID-19. Once some level of normalcy emerges, the importance of academic freedom will resurface; CIOs should be prepared to respond and to enable progress as stewards of academic freedom.

George Moore is the CTO of Cengage, an education and technology company serving the education, K-12, professional, library, and workforce training markets worldwide.

 

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