xAPI Higher Education

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It is happening again. The UK is showing America we stumbled on something good and they are helping improve it.

American guitarist and songwriter, Joe Walsh, confesses that it was the Rolling Stones and others in the UK who showed him the music that was going on in his own backyard. Blues, R&B, and Rock-n-Roll were all art forms that started from Blues/Jazz in America. The Rolling Stones came to America in the early 60’s to find their musical blues heroes broke and obscure here. The Stones revealed their American music heroes to the world and in so doing helped give them actual music careers. Maybe it is a leap to correlate xAPI and data interoperability to Rock and Roll and maybe not. I can hope for an xAPI invasion for Higher Ed in the US.

xAPI in Higher Education

Enter Jisc and the Jisc Learning Analytics Architecture. Jisc is a national and regional organization (Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) with more than 600 members and they have been busy birthing an open architecture for higher and continuing education. Jisc put about 18 months worth of engineering work into the Learning Analytics Architecture and it seems it all started here.

Hint: We have found this to be true 100% of the time in the past 3 years for the medium to large enterprise. When a large organization wants get into a new technology initiative they start with a little R&D, prototype, or proof of principle work. (This Jisc project will run until summer 2017)

We were honored to be invited to the sharing with the vendors on April 21, 2016 at Jisc vendor day. April 22, was a Jisc hosted xAPI camp and all of the presentations for this day are amazing and you can get them here. Jisc is looking to make this architecture more robust and form a solid Code of Practice for Learning Analytics

During the Jisc vendor presentation we were presented the cumulation of the first 18 months of work done proactively to reflect a TOTAL commitment to data interoperability for Higher Education in the UK. What Jisc is saying here is, “Vendors, if you want to play in our educational architecture here are the rules you shall play by.” Sadly, something similar is not yet happening in the US. Granted, the UK has a more streamlined University System than us which may be a contributing factor.

We were in the UK to attend these events at Jisc in London and then to Edinburgh Scotland for the LAK2016 xAPI Hackathon. What I found at Jisc and LAK2016 was an international Higher Education gathering. Between the London and Edinburgh events attendees and xAPI practitioners in educational data standards for Japan, Korea, Spain, Italy, where in attendance and more. It seems there is a great awakening abroad for xAPI.

In my day to day I am very receptive to epiphanies, they are not a frequent occurrence but they can result in excellent breakthroughs. I have recently had the epiphany about being part of the early adoption of xAPI worldwide and it is this, we have to be committed to saying the same things over and over because every place we go there are new faces. At this point, I have been talking about the practical application of xAPI and our growing xAPI client case at Riptide for 3 years. During my trip to the JISC xAPI Camp and the LAK206 xAPI hackathon I found very sophisticated group of xAPI practitioners even more technically proficient than me. Yet, there were still people in attendance saying, “Yes but why xAPI? What is this strange new thing? Is it even a thing?”

You can't get there from here.

For my part, this is what must be repeated: “If you are going to get into adaptive learning, automated tutoring, competency based curriculums, etc and et al,” – we need something like xAPI because you need learning data interoperability.  See, all of these goals for intelligent learning are impossible now, they are merely great new catch-phrases. To coin a New England expression, “You can’t get there from here.” In learning and development we have many individual learning softwares and systems speaking their own proprietary language, which is fine. There must be a specification for data interoperability because we must have data from these disparate systems. This is why we need something like xAPI. We cannot have a world of, “One LMS to rule them all.” The conversation about recipes is essential, the conversation about communities of practice is essential but we need data in order to progress, to iterate, to improve. I am less interested in what the data police have to say on this topic. As a technology provider, I must remain flexible to give you all the data you are asking for.

So hats off to Jisc and all of the worldwide participants in xAPI! Also, if you want a tryxAPI t-shirt like this:


Jim Harris from the University of Northampton

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