The scope is by using IMS open architectural specifications to build an IT infrastructure that will be used for general purposes and e-learning, pointing to the obvious advantages of such methods.
IMS – is a project, which unites the efforts of 29 representatives of industry, government apparatus and educational institutions for creating the packet of standards in 6 regions:
The project unites the achievements of developments in the remote formation and specifies them in the format of XML. Many firms and state organizations, which are carried out remote formation, accepted this standard, and now it is positioned as the size of the exchange of the data between the educational organizations. The information model of control (IMS enterprise information model) describes the structures of data that specify interaction of the training systems with the use of the Internet and systems of the operators’ real educational institution. The basic classes of applications for the supported model are the following systems:
- Management training process;
- Administration students;
- Administration library;
- Management of human resources.
This model is essentially specified interaction with the systems located within one institution. The standard specifies no exchange of data among different agencies. (Garrison; Anderson).
The information management model supports the following 4 processes, which usually requires training systems to interact with the local administration systems:
- The storage of personal data. This data is stored in the local administration systems of educational institutions and the necessary electronic training systems.
- Management groups: Management and storage of data of students’ groups.
- Control. Control – this operation over such types of data, such as the appointment of teachers.
- Processing of outcomes. This process is in the processing and preservation groups results (rating, implementation of the course).
This is the list of IMS specifications that are either ready or under development that will be used shown in table 1.
Table 1 – The set of IMS specifications. (Olivier and McKell):
|Meta-data||The tagging of any learning content.|
|Enterprise||The exchange of Person and Group information.|
|Learner Information Package||To exchange a Person’s profile or life-long learning log.|
|Question & Test||Used to support computer-based Assessment.|
|Content Packaging||Exchanging content with its associated learning structures.|
|Simple Sequencing||Adaptive learning routes through a set of learning content.|
|Reusable Definition||for Competency and Educational Objectives|
|Learning Design||The unified representation of different learning activities.|
|Digital Repositories Interoperability||Search and retrieval using meta-data tagged resources distributed across a federated set of databases.|
The specifications are focused on the exchange of information between systems. The specifications make no assumptions on how the data is managed within the communicating systems.
The exchange between the systems is to be defined in terms of the services being supplied by the collaboration of the systems. This service collaboration could take many forms as well as being based upon peer-to-peer and client-server techniques.
The set of services will be supplied as a ‘sea of components’ that can be mixed and matched to form a particular service. A single component may provide all or a sub-set of service but it will not provide more than one service.
The total set of services required to make an eLearning system will be modelled as a set of layers with each layer providing a clearly defined set of services. A particular layer will make use of the services in the layer below it and will provide services to the entities in the layers above it.
Behaviours and Data Models
A service will be defined in terms of its behaviours and data model. The behaviours will cause changes in the state of the data model and the state of the data model will only be altered as a result of a clearly defined behaviour. It may not be appropriate to define every service in terms of its behaviour and in these cases, only the relevant data models will be developed.
The information model is to be defined and represented using an established syntax and semantics. This will then enable automatic mapping of the information model into a range of different bindings. The bindings of immediate importance are XML and Web Services Description Language (WSDL), however, Java bindings will also be supported.
New specifications will only be created as required. Whenever possible, appropriate specifications will be adopted from wherever and either used ‘as is or modified to suit a particular set of requirements.
Key Use Cases
The service range covered by the abstract framework is based upon a core set of use cases that have been collected from:
- Higher education, community colleges and further education;
- Schools – education in the age range 4-16;
- Corporate training – this includes activities such as Professional Certification and Continuing Professional Development. (Smythe, “Abstract framework” 9)
The Abstract Framework
A review of a wide range of eLearning systems synthesis is shown in Figure 1. Figure 1 is a logical architecture based upon layer abstraction. The equivalent physical architectural model is shown in Figure
The logical representation consists of the following layers:
- Users – the set of users of the eLearning system e.g., students, administrators, teachers, etc. Users gain access to the system through an appropriate ‘user agent’;
- User agents – the agents that deliver the services to the users themselves;
- Tools – The tools enable the different services to be accessed in a convenient and ‘user-friendly’ manner. This includes assessment, tutoring, simulation, etc.
- Learning/education services – the learning services themselves;
- Support services – common services that are also required by non-e-Learning systems e.g., authentication, resource discovery etc..
- Communications infrastructure – the basic networking and data transport services that deliver information end-to-end.
The physical representation consists of the following core structures:
- Core network – the primary network that interconnects the core computer systems. This includes what is identified as the Internet. This is a part of the ‘Communications Infrastructure’ in the logical model;
- Access network – the network that links the delivery devices to the core network. Typical examples are cable networks and wireless networks. This is a part of the ‘Communications Infrastructure’ in the logical model;
- Federated digital repositories – the series of digital resources that are available in a variety of digital repositories, databases, web servers, etc. This is the manifestation of the ‘Digital Repositories’ in the logical model;
- Service delivery engines – the systems that are responsible for the provision of the full series of learning services. This corresponds to the ‘Learning/educational Services’ and ‘Support Services’ in the logical model;
- Delivery devices – the devices and their client support that deliver the learning material to the user. This corresponds to the ‘Tools’ and ‘user Agents’ in the logical model.
The abstract framework has to be designed such that it can be used to represent a wide range of architectures. (12).
Applications, Services, and Components
The entities in the application layer are a direct reflection of the eLearning domains.
Only some of the applications available for eLearning applications are detailed below. The types of applications that could use the abstract framework application and common services are:
- Assessment System – a computer-based application designed to evaluate a person’s level of understanding of a particular content area. This may take the form of low-stakes (quizzes) and high-stakes (formal examinations) assessment;
- Bulletin Board Tool – an application that enables information to be made available through an electronic noticeboard. Many bulletin boards can be made available with each one focusing on a particular topic area. The tool provides access to the general users and the appointed moderator;
- Content Authoring Tool – an application that supports the development of learning content. The nature of the authoring also includes support for native XML content and the creation of new content from the aggregation of reusable content;
- Learning Content Management System – a computer application that enables the flexible management of content elements (such as text, graphics, animations, etc.) within a set of learning resources e.g., the individual resource files in a Content Package.
In some cases, this may involve individual resources stored as XML described content which is dynamically rendered into alternative presentation formats, such as HTML, PDF, etc. The individual rendered files then make up the resources within the content package:
- Learning Management System – a computer application that enables the assignment of content to learners, learning, and reporting of learning outcomes. The LMS is responsible for managing the learning activity and for reporting the outcomes to the appropriate support systems;
- Library Management System – a computer application that manages the assets of a library throughout its lifecycle. An info seeker typically discovers these assets through an interface known as the Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC). The Library Management System may also provide digital asset management functions. Also, discovery and delivery services for assets located in remote repositories could be provided by this system or by a complement Information Resource System;
- News Tool – an application tool that supports the development of newscast services;
- Newsgroup Tools – an application tool that supports the creation and maintenance of email lists that allow groups of learners to exchange mutually useful information. Each newsgroup would normally focus on a particular topic or activity and membership and the information supplied would be subject to moderation;
- Portal – and application that supports push and pull technologies for the collection, collation and distribution of information on a particular subject. The capabilities of the portal include the ability to categorize and search for information using a wide range of criteria;
- Student Information System – a computer application that is a management information system for student information. Typically this system holds all of the information pertinent to the students learning within an organization. These systems exchange information with systems such as the LMS, LCMS, etc.
Application Services Layer
- Assessment – high and low stakes assessment provision; A service that is responsible for the presentation and reporting of an appropriate low-stakes/high stakes assessment. The assessment presentation and reporting is managed at the group and individual level.
- Calendar – scheduling of events with respect to a calendar; A service that enables events to be sequenced as per their date. The calendar has a resolution covering hours to years.
- Class Administration – the management of classes; A service allowing educational applications to use and manage information regarding classes and people. In higher education implementations this service typically defines the interface between educational applications and student information systems.
- Collaboration – support for interactions between two or more learners; A service that enables two or more learners to work together in an electronically mediated environment. Features include the provision of document sharing, white-boarding, application sharing, and videoconferencing.
- Commerce – services that support financial administration capabilities; A service that provides financial administration information relevant to the eLearning system
- Competency Management – management of learner’s competencies; A service that allows the management of the competencies-related aspects within an eLearning system. This includes the management of a learner’s competencies, the creation of competency definitions and the association of these definitions within learner content, etc.
- Content Management – management of learning content; A service that provides mechanisms for the creation, flexible management (e.g., aggregation, sequencing, dynamic rendering) and publishing of content. This service allows educational applications to publish, deliver, search for, and manage rights, roles and meta-data information on digital assets.
- Digital Repository Management – management of digital repositories; A service that enables access to, and the management, of a Repository. The repository may contain any type of content consistent with its function.
- Enterprise Services – management of course enrolments and learning activities; A service that enables the management of learning activities that are based upon groups e.g., courses. This is an aggregation of other application services.
- Group Management – the management of groups; A service that enables the management of Groups. A group can consist of other groups and may or may not have its own sub-groups
- Learner Progression Management – management of a learner learning experiences; A service that is used to access and manipulate the information related to the progression of a learner through learning activities.
- Membership Management – the management of memberships in groups; A service that enables the management of memberships. A party or group can be a member of a group. The membership information describes the role(s) that are undertaken as part of that membership.
- Meta-data Management – management of meta-data resources; A service that enables access to, and the manipulation of, the meta-data for a set of objects.
- Party Management – the management of parties (people or organizations); A service that enables the management of a party. A party is either a person or an organization.
- Portfolio Management – management of electronic portfolios; A service that enables the management of electronic portfolios.
- Profile Management – management of a learner’s profile, life-long learning log, etc..: A service that enables access to, and the manipulation of a learner’s profile. This service enables a single point of management access to a profile that may be replicated and or distributed in partial form across many Profile Repositories.
- Sequencing – the sequencing of objects according to a set of sequencing rules; A service that enables any set of objects to be performed in any particular sequence. The set of possible sequences is defined using an appropriate set of sequencing rules.
- Simulation – support for generic simulation services: A service that enables real-time simulation of a system to be rendered through a generic interface. Any type of system can be simulated and so this service defines the set of permitted interactions to a particular simulation.
Common services Layer
- Access Management – the management of learner access to learning systems and resources;
- Authentication – confirmation of the authenticity of an agent; The authentication service gathers required credentials from an agent and introduces the agent to the system. The invoking application can determine and manipulate the authentication status of an agent without having to manage the details of a particular institution’s environment. The service must work over various kinds of authentication infrastructure. Not only must the service handle different methods across the range of institutions, but it must also handle these within a given institution. Some applications might rely on user id/password; some on certificates; most users authenticate locally; some might remotely.
- Authorization – authorization of an agent for a particular activity inc. authentication; A service that allows applications and application services to establish and query Authorizations. An Authorization has three components: the Agent that is authorized; the Function that the Agent is authorized to do; and the Qualifier representing the context in which the Agent can perform the Function.
- Database Management – access to local and remote databases inc. digital repositories;
- Digital Rights Management – control over the usage of digital resources;
- Directory Service – access to the information about network-accessible entities;
- Discovery – the discovery of learning materials and other related information;
- File Management – the storage and manipulation of static content;
- Identification – locally and globally unique identifier allocation and manipulation;
- Querying – the searching of repositories to retrieve objects conforming to the given set of criteria;
- Registry – access to and manipulation of a registry;
- Relational Rules – the creation and manipulation of sets of relationships;
- Scheduling – the sequencing of activities according to a particular set of objectives;
- Security & Privacy – the encryption of the end-to-end data stream;
- Subscription – registration for a particular service;
- Tracking & Logging – the tracking and logging of key events for any other service(s);
- User Messaging – the synchronous/asynchronous exchange of messages between users;
- Workflow – the automation of a particular document flow process.
- Accessibility – e-learning preferences;
- Activity – e-learning products created by the learner;
- Affiliation – the set of affiliations for an individual or organization;
- Assessment – tests;
- Competency – competencies and their relationships;
- Content – the generic content model;
- Course Catalogue – the set of courses available for study;
- Glossary – keyword definitions for a particular usage;
- Goal – the aspirations and targets for a learner;
- Grade-book – the scores allocated to a set of individuals;
- Group – the collection of objects with a common purpose;
- Interest – the interests of a learner;
- Item – the question plus structure;
- LOM – meta-data labels;
- Manifest – the generic packaging component;
- Object-bank – sets of Sections and/or Items;
- Outcomes Processing – response processing for Assessments and Sections;
- Party – individual and organization details;
- PLIRI – the IMS GUID;
- Profile – a learner’s profile record;
- QCL – the qualifications, certifications and licenses for an individual or organization;
- Relationship – the tuple relationship between the identified objects;
- Result Report – results obtained from a test, quiz, etc.
- Section – hierarchy structure for Assessments;
- Security Key – generic security information;
- Sequencing – the sequencing of content or any set of objects;
- Syllabus – description of materials to be studied in some activity;
- Table of Contents – list of contents in some package, document, etc.
- Transcript – a summary record of performance;
- Vocabulary – a set of terms defined for a particular usage. (Smythe, “Application, services& components“ 6-22; “Glossary”)
The Composition of the Infrastructure Layer: The IMS specifications are focused on data exchange interoperability. To this end they define a data model of the information to be exchanged and a behavioural model that encapsulates the data model and constrains the way in which the data can be manipulated. An IMS information model is the manifestation of this behavioural and data description and an information model will consist of one or more IMS Components (these will realize either all or part of, an Application Service). These components can then be realized in a variety of ways; the defined IMS method is an XML-based binding. As such, this binding describes the way in which the data is exchanged in the form of XML messages/documents; however the actual transfer of these structures requires, at the very least, an appropriate communications system. (Koper, Olivier and T.Anderson).
The exchange of the data between the XML components within the abstract framework is defined through the Infrastructure Layer. A schematic representation of the system components in this infrastructure description is shown in Figure 2. This representation assumes that the system is loosely coupled e.g., as per web services.
The logical representation of a system is derived from one or more classes that are grouped using packages. The package shows the dependencies between the classes. Each class consists of attributes (the data structures) and operators (the operations permitted on the data structures). The system is then constructed from these components as shown in the deployment diagram. The logical structure is represented using packages and it is a representation that must be mapped using an appropriate binding. The advantage of this approach is that both the UML specification (the Information Model) and the corresponding set of bindings (of which XML and WSDL are just two) can be used for implementation. It is then possible to map together different implementations in different ways without loss of capability. The usage of an information model defines the common service capability between the different bindings.
The binding must take into account the attributes and operators of the class. In the original IMS specifications, the XML DTDs and XSDs were a representation of the attributes of the class. The behavioural representations are defined through the class operators. In this case, the binding is achieved by representing these operators as a series of messages exchanged by the communicating eLearning systems. The behaviour is represented by the sequence of messages and the content of the control field in the headers of the messages (a message is assumed to consist of a header, containing the control fields, and the body, containing the data to be transferred).
This sequence gives rise to three categories of information exchange, namely:
- Object operators – the operations defined in the equivalent class description;
- Binding messages – these are exchanged between the interoperating systems to implement the behaviours of the operator triggering the message exchange;
- Packets – the actual data packets that are sent across the data network (the binding messages are encapsulated in these messages).
The preferred IMS service binding approach is based upon:
- The usage of XML as the underlying data representation format. UML is the abstract representation of the information model but XML is the underlying binding encoding format;
- The usage of WSDL to act as the intermediate binding representation format. IMS will develop a series of recommendations on how to create the WSDL binding from a UML-based information model. These recommendations will also address the usage of different transport mechanisms within the WSDL description;
- The usage of SOAP with Attachments as the underlying common messaging mechanism, and the usage of HTTP/HTTPS (as opposed to FTP or SMTP) as the underlying transport mechanism.
It is possible to translate between different IMS bindings provided the binding of the information model has been reliably and consistently. This gives rise to the following forms of communications interoperability issues:
- End systems that use the same IMS binding mechanism can communicate using another binding (either IMS or non-IMS) provided the appropriate binding switch or router encapsulation is used;
- End systems that use the same IMS binding mechanism can communicate using another binding (either IMS or non-IMS) provided the appropriate binding switch or router transformation is used;
- End systems that use different IMS binding mechanisms can communicate through a gateway that provides the appropriate binding translation;
- An IMS binding’s switch/router fabric could be used to support the exchange of information between non-IMS systems. (Smythe, “Glossary”; “Abstract Framework” 22-26).
Profiling and Conformance
Domain profiling is the process that is undertaken to define which specifications and the detailed usage of the data objects within each specification are to be adopted to provide a particular solution. Therefore, the development of SCORM, using this terminology, was domain profiling undertaken on behalf of the US Department of Defense. In general, a resulting ‘Domain Profile’ or ‘Reference Model’ will be based upon a variety of specifications and standards i.e., it will not consist, solely, of IMS specifications.
The domain profiling process is based upon: Identification of the appropriate specifications by matching their functional capabilities to the requirements of the application;
Refinement of each IMS specification made by:
- Where appropriate, the constraints within the information model and binding are made stronger e.g., optional elements can be made mandatory. The constraints must not be relaxed otherwise the profile will not be valid with respect to the IMS specification. All default attributes should be changed to be required or fixed.
- Profile-specific extensions must be defined. These will take the form of new elements and attributes that should, in general, be required. Whenever possible these extensions should only be applied where permitted within the IMS specification. All profile-specific extensions should have their own unique namespace.
- All proprietary extensions locations should now be defined. These must only be permitted wherever the IMS specification allows extensions i.e., the profile may wish to remove some of the IMS defined extension locations.
- All free format data content should be typed according to the required data types e.g., whenever possible a number should be defined as an integer, etc. and the permitted range of values should also be defined.
- All of the vocabularies for the element and attribute data entries must be defined. The vocabularies will reflect the market and domain of the application. Whenever possible, internationally and nationally agreed vocabularies should be adopted;
- The new binding for the domain profile should now be produced. In general, an instance document for a particular profile should validate against the new binding control document for the profile and the binding control document for the corresponding IMS specification. The profile-specific binding control document will be capable of identifying errors in the instances due to the increased constraints on the permitted data content;
- The corresponding strong conformance statement and certification test specification should now be produced for the domain profile.
The issue now becomes one of how to map between different domain profiles i.e., this is inter-domain interoperability (the domain profile supports intra-domain interoperability. In many cases, different domain profiles will have a common core with only a small set of important differences. Mapping between domain profiles is simplified due to the usage of XML as the binding format. The mapping process is shown schematically in Figure 3 in which there are two, currently theoretical, domain profiles of QTI for SCORM and SIF. Each domain profile has its own XML schema that is the manifestation of the domain profile of the IMS QTI specification. These schemas are then used to validate the QTI-XML documents for the corresponding application profile. In each case, the domain profile would be used by an appropriate system e.g., a SIF LMS (it is possible that a single LMS could in fact support both the SCORM and SIF domain profiles).
The advantage of the usage of XSDs is that an XML Stylesheet Transformation (XSLT) can be used to support the transformation between the XSDs; there would be one XSLT for each QTI transformation i.e., SIF-to-SCORM and SCORM-to-SIF. (Barstow, McKell, Rothberg, Schmidt, “Guidelines”
The XSLT can be defined to handle the mapping of each element and attribute in the XSDs, including those defined in any extension – each domain profile must define the information model and XML binding for all extensions. In some cases, it will not be possible to map some features from one domain profile to similar features in the other. In these cases, there is a loss of functionality but this is a controlled situation in that the situations under which this loss occurs are well understood.
‘Domain Conformance’ will not be defined with respect to an IMS specification. These specifications contain too many optional features and are subject to regional and sector-specific amendments e.g., the inclusion of the appropriate vocabularies. Therefore, conformance will be against a particular Conformance Profile that has been derived from the corresponding Domain Profile. Conformance certification is considerably easier when all of the functionality is mandatory and so it is important for Conformance Profiles to remove as much optional functionality as possible.
First Generation Conformance
The key issue for conformance under the first-generation specifications is that they were not designed from the perspective of being testable i.e., exhaustive testing to show compliance is possible but not cost-effective. The reason for this is that the specifications are designed to support practice and not to impose a best practice. This has produce specifications that a largely based upon optional features and so the derived conformance profiles can have many disjoint features. The current specifications are data models and so the associated behaviours are assumed in the information model and not defined in a behavioural model. Once again this leads to important discrepancies in the underlying assumptions used by different application profiles.
Each of the first-generation specifications contains a conformance statement. In most cases, these statements are either a simple statement of the obvious i.e., the insistence that the information is followed or consists of a tick list of the features that are supposedly supported. In neither case is it possible to use the statements as a definitive guide to the compliance or otherwise of implementation to the corresponding IMS specification.
Second Generation Conformance
An underlying objective in the creation of the second-generation specifications is the creation of specifications against which conformance can be clearly shown. This means that the second-generation specifications must:
- Minimize the number of optional elements and attributes. Whenever possible there should be no optional features – this implies that we are moving towards supporting a set of best practice recommendations;
- Whenever possible define the behaviours that are associated with the elements and attributes. These behavioural descriptions must reflect all the perspectives of the service being defined;
- When supporting an XML binding adopt as many as possible of the features of XSD to support extensive validation by the parsers e.g., the use of data typing. Many of the first-generation specifications used DTDs and so only structural validation was possible;
- When defining the exchange messages ensure that different functionality is supported using different messages and that each message has no optional components, particularly in the body of the message;
- Be designed to ease the testing activities without compromising functionality and performance effectiveness. This implies the usage of many XSDs as opposed to one single monolithic XSD.
Unlike the first-generation specification, the second-generation ones will contain an extensive conformance specification that will form the basis for conformance against which the application profiles will build. (Smythe, 34-35).
Factors and Capabilities
With the use of information technologies and means of telecommunications in remote education, there are new aspects, which are concerned with the purposes and the content of instructions, organizational forms and methods of training work. Among the specific factors of remote forms and methods of education it is possible to isolate the following:
- A change in content and forms of the teaching of traditional disciplines with the use of computer textbooks, multimedia technologies and informational materials in the network or the Internet, the placement on WWW servers;
- The start in the curricula of new disciplines, connected with the study information and telecommunication technologies and applications on their base, as the tools of knowledge in the applied regions of human activity;
- The appearance of new forms of the independent search and research work of students, who assume the use of global computer networks and the distributed databases in the course of fulfilment of the students’ training, research and diploma projects;
- The instruction of students in the methods of the collective solution of problems with the use the technologies, (e-mail, teleconference, newsgroup, distribution lists, the interactive exchange of the communications, audio and video conference in the Internet, corporate Intranet and etc.);
- The combination of the methods between the group and individual work of students in working in the local and global computer networks;
- Intensive use in the daily work of the students of the contemporary office computer programs;
- The organization of the joint operation of the instructors of different disciplines (possibly, from different universities or different countries) in the stages of design and the implementation of interdepartmental and intercollegiate curricula;
- Training instructors for working with the new methods and organizational by the forms of instructions, to the intensive use of the means of net communications and new information technologies in the training process. On the basis of that stated above, training discipline, based on the remote forms of education, can be defined as the specific educational methods complex, which includes a computer, telecommunication, systematic and organizational components of the united training process, which passes in several geographically diverse training groups with the participation of several instructors, possibly, from the different universities. (Jeroen)
Distant education will move toward the working places. It is worthwhile to seriously think above the fact, what to teach in the times of the Internet, where to teach, and that we generally understand under development and instruction of personnel. E-learning – this is the integral part of a new reality, the new reality of business and work. The structure of the company, which corresponds to the instruction, regardless of the fact, it does act as a large corporate university, either as the small division of instruction, or generally as a function, must be focused at the worksite, but not on the training in the audience, and to develop instruction in such a way that it would support the people at the worksite. Traditional training courses which are taken individually will not manage.
E-learning will be less oriented on the course of lectures and more oriented on the acquisition of the concrete knowledge. The catalogues of online- training, (supported by the control system of instruction or not), are inclined to structure the contents by the subjects or themes (sale and marketing, IT, leadership, management), or according to the plan of instruction. Basic task is in ensuring simple access to the materials of course. Problem consists in the fact that the orientation in the catalog, how good and complete it was, is not a simple task. Therefore the approach, oriented on knowledge, in contrast to the approach, oriented on the distant education, implies the extended even more complete understanding of e-learning.
E-learning will be differently adapted to different levels of the skills. Technology will be considered secondary.
In reality of the e-learning it is necessary to perceive the distant process as a tool, which helps us to reach that desired goal, but not as a strategy. This is a way of realization, but not the final destination or the purpose.
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