Thursday, May 10, 2007

Becta Standards Review Workshop

Becta in CoventryToday I'm at the above Workshop held at the University of Warwick's Science Park's HTI Centre (i.e. just down the road from Becta). At the invitation of Robin Ball, a group of people from LAs, RBCs and a CLC are here to be involved in a workshop facilitated by Becta to (quotes):

(to influence) the remit and direction for both mandated and proposed standards and specifications. This activity aims to look at the current standards and those which are proposed for future development...
(to explore)these in greater detail by asking questions and seeking answers to verify and validate a rounded viewpoint. This will provide a clearer picture which advocates both educational need and technological potential

This appears to be related to a similar workshop held last week which was reported on EduGeek, though that seemed aimed at the technical side of things in schools. There's also some other activity to do with Content Providers under way as well, it would appear.

Who's here?

On the list are people from: Birmingham, CLEO, E2BN, the Northern Grid, Dudley Grid for Learning, WMNet, West Sussex, YHGfL, Warwickshire, LGfL and the SWGfL. No-one from the South East Grid for Learning apart from Mark Granger and Steve Snowball from West Sussex and yours truly.

It's being recorded, so maybe it'll be podcast? Ah, OK, the recording is so that everything's accurately noted down - it's being led by Robin Ball and Rebecca Smart from Becta and here's some of what what people present want out of the day:

  • an understanding of how relevant a discussion like this is;
  • how it will affect schools;
  • what being "outside of the Becta LP framework" might mean and how do standards affect that;
  • an understanding of the principles on which solutions in the Framework are based and how that might affect learning.
One of the main issues from a quick series of introductions has been What is the difference between functional and technical specifications? (and potentially: Why are they separated - if they are)?
Robin's delivering a quick overview of the framework, including the 2008 and 2010 targets. He talks about the LP Services Framework, which was:
  • informed by functional specs adn technical standards & specifications, not by a product
  • developed in consultation with education practitioners and industry
  • developed to support aggregate purchasing

Issues arising

There's some discussion about the 2008 target - is the whole availability issue - described as a target with no teeth ("so what if I don't do it?") - a get-out clause for Becta? For Local Authorities? For schools?
So why should we do this anyway? What difference does it make to schools and why should they use it? What will the effect of Learning Platforms be in ten years' time - and if there is any, will it be: measureable; affecting standards; changing education; what else? When everything is driven by a standards culture, if something has no impact then it will probably be resisted by institutions.
Bren Taylor from Birmingham is sharing developments in a proof of concept in the use of SIF in schools in Birmingham - taking data from individual school MIS systems, passing them to the LA MIS and in turn passing that information to DfES-level systems. This would work in the opposite direction for something like Looked After Children - where the information would be passed from LA MIS systems to school MIS systems and then into (for example) a VLE.
A quick break for lunch, then it's...

Standards and Specifications

AA room of people and a banana.fter lunch? Now that's dangerous...

The work being done by Becta looks at specifications and asks if they are still valid - things like IMS QTI, SCORM, Curriculum Online, UPN (Unique Pupil Number), Shibboleth. We're being aske the following questions about each specification (if we know what they are):

  • What are the perceived benefits for Education?
  • Is the specification considered relevant to Education?
  • Is the specification considered relevant the function?
  • Do you consider the specification to be stable? Well maintained?
  • What are its perceived strengths and/or weaknesses?
  • What are the issues?
  • How would (we) rate stakeholder appetite?
  • What are our views on the development options?

One concern from someone present is saying is that a particular vendor who I won't relate here is that that vendor's product doesn't support a particular specification (in particular QTI, specification R1) "out of the box" - i.e. some modifications are required in order for it to open a QTI-compliant piece of content in the Learning Platform.

There's a big issue around the difference between companies and their services and a product - the framework stipulates that companies should sell services rather than products. One important point is that, to by "through the framework" a school should establish a "mini competition" and invite all of the companies on the framework to tender - if a school goes directly to a supplier and asks "for a Learning Platform" then it will be buying outside of the framework and hence shouldn't be expected to be covered by its provisions - including interoperability, legacy issues, technical standards, etc. - and will effectively be on its own (of course, some schools will prefer that).

At the end of the day we've probably not covered much of the agenda set at the start of the day, but it's been an interesting and informative time - again, as with many events, it's the sort of thing where the chance to meet people in a similar position is as useful as the meeting itself.

1 comment:

  1. what was the reaction if any to SCORM content?