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INTEROPERABILITY - Findings and Recommendations


THE TASK FORCE FINDS:
  • Students need to have wide access to resources online, to connect easily with others who can support their learning and to have the ability to share their ideas widely.
  • Learners must be able to pursue their interests and share their data across different learning networks in order to maximize their learning.
  • Although there has been rapid growth in resources to support networked learning, much of this material exists in separate silos, proprietary formats or closed systems.
  • Ensuring interoperability of learning networks and of the resources they contain is critical to maximizing their value, including their ability to be affordable and sustainable.

In theory, broadband Internet provides students with virtually unlimited access to resources that they can use to further their learning. The Internet makes vast libraries of information available online as well as the riches of museums and other cultural institutions. E-science projects give students direct access to powerful tools (like telescopes and electronic microscopes) that they can use to engage in high-level research. MOOCs, which are openly accessible to all, provide access to courses from some of the country’s top colleges and universities. Open Educational Resources, which are freely available for all to re-use, revise, remix or redistribute, allow educators and learners to build on others’ work, with appropriate attribution, rather than always starting from scratch. Online social networks make it possible for learners to find and collaborate with others with common interests.

But too often these resources exist in separate silos or in closed systems, which limits their value, or in proprietary formats, which can be restrictive. If students are going to be able to assemble their own learning resources to create a personalized customized curriculum for themselves, they need the widest possible access to these resources and the ability to combine and “re-mix” them. Similarly, if they are to get credit for their learning experiences, a uniform system of accreditation is needed that works across all available platforms. And students need to manage their identity in different systems, through mechanisms such as “data backpacks.” Over and above the value of any individual resource, great value resides in the ability of these resources to interoperate. It is impossible to have a seamless connected learning experience without interoperability, assured secure transferability of data and the persistence of one’s identity.

THE TASK FORCE RECOMMENDS:

RECOMMENDATION
4 Support the maximum feasible degree of interoperability across learning networks.

Action M: Adopt open standards and protocols that simplify and promote interoperability of learning resources.

The financial services industry provides an example of how the adoption of standards has made possible global networks for financial transactions. These range from the transfer of bank funds among commercial entities to networks that allow individuals to make deposits, get cash and perform other functions at ATMs anywhere in the world with a high degree of confidence in their security. Though not as advanced as financial services, and not without its own set of problems, the health care field is engaged in efforts to allow better sharing of secure personal electronic medical records while protecting patient privacy.

In education, the Common Core State Standards represent a major effort by a majority of states to create enough commonality in academic standards to make it possible to create common instructional resources and evaluate student performance across schools. Common Core also creates an “interoperability” of resources and instruction among states that was impossible when there were 50 different standards. This not only helps teachers but also makes it easier for content creators to develop materials once and share it across the nation. Even if a state does not adopt the Common Core State Standards, there needs to be means for students to have access to resources across state borders.

There are many different strategies that can be pursued to enable interoperability across learning networks. These range from the adoption of templates to ensure commonality of format and structure for learning resources to the use of metadata tagging to simplify discovery and re-use of materials.

One promising effort to promote interoperability is the Learning Resources Metadata Initiative (LRMI), which has developed a schema for describing, or “tagging.” materials on the web to help learners or educators find and use appropriate learning resources.36 The LRMI has created a common framework that can be used to add education-specific metadata to learning resources that will be recognized by major search engines. The Ed-Fi Alliance (www.ed-fi.org) is also advancing the use of technology and standards that provide the foundation for enabling interoperability among secure education data systems designed to improve student achievement and teacher satisfaction. Finally, the voluntary Common Education Data Standards (ceds.ed.gov/) is the result of a national collaborative effort to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of education data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across education institutions.

Furthermore, as noted in the discussion under Action D above, “data backpacks” or similar concepts of student-owned data can allow for mobility and interoperability as students move from school to school or along their own learning networks.

This should include the use of protocols and open standards to transfer learning from source to learner, learner outputs to accreditation entities, or just to take one’s school data with him or her, moving to another learning environment.

Action N: As a condition of funding, require developers of learning networks and learning resources to make provisions to ensure interoperability.

Funders can help to ensure the widest possible use of resources developed with their support by requiring the use of open standards that promote sharing. Funders should also consider supporting projects that focus specifically on creating mechanisms that enable sharing of resources.

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