IMS Campus Case Study
Lone Star College leverages IMS Global Consortium's guidance and Common Cartridge standard to integrate content for online program and system use
The Lone Star College System (LSCS) provides teaching and learning opportunities for diverse groups of people – college and high school students, faculty, and high school teachers – and the impact of the institution continues to grow throughout Texas and beyond. The fact that LSCS is able to share content across so many different hardware platforms and software applications administrators attribute to guidance provided by the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS) and adoption of its Common Cartridge standard.
“IMS has helped us a lot with our development of content,” said Nita Schiro, communications manager for LSC-Online. “Interoperability is one of those behind-the-scenes things that is a critical component to the process of exchanging information, but one that most users are unaware of and take for granted. The best thing about a product like Common Cartridge is that it enables users to access content, regardless of the platform they use, and to do it seamlessly.”
Introduced by IMS GLC in 2007, Common Cartridge is a technical interoperability standard for exchanging learning content between learning management platforms. Common Cartridge also enables integration of digital content with stand-alone learning tools, such as adaptive tutors or assessment engines, creating a seamless learning experience for the student and teacher.
LSC-Online is the online learning division for LSCS. Located in the North Houston metro area on five campuses and at six outreach centers, LSCS is among the largest and fastest growing community college districts in Texas. LSC-Online had nearly 30,000 enrollments in online and hybrid classes in Spring 2010, a 35 percent increase over the previous year.
When administrators began looking in 2008 for a more robust learning management system (LMS), one requirement was an application that would allow for greater flexibility and sharing of content.
“Even before we put out an RFP to start looking for an LMS, I told people here that we were going to become members of the IMS Global Learning Consortium,” said William Durham, associate vice chancellor of LSC-Online. “I told them it was a good organization to be a part of because of the guidance they provide, the resources they offer, and their available research on products.”
After reviewing several options, LSCS elected to adopt the ANGEL Learning Management Suite. One feature that strongly influenced their decision, said Durham, was the fact that ANGEL was an early adopter of Common Cartridge. “We obviously have a lot of third-party tools and bolt-on services that sit on top of ANGEL. Add to that all of the publisher content that’s flowing in from companies like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Cengage. Basically, we need to make sure that all parties are on board with Common Cartridge standards, that they are seamless, and can play well with our LMS. Through our membership with IMS, we are able to work with IMS members (peer institutions and product providers) and staff to devise a strategy for integrating third party tools and content to address the specific objectives of our system and online programs.”
LSC-Online currently offers about 1,500 courses in an online environment. A continued goal for the system, Durham said, is to transition all courses into a uniform design so they have the same look and feel, which is important to students.
“We’re trying to get our faculty comfortable with the idea of creating their content outside of the LMS, using applications like SoftChalk ,” said Schiro. “We want them to be able to develop their lessons outside and then plug them in. That way, when they come up with a great training element, they can share them with their peers.”
One of the challenges, Schiro said, is being able to export the content out of SoftChalk to other platforms. IMS staff not only worked with Lone Star administrators onsite, but also guided SoftChalk in the modification of their product in less than three weeks to implement IMS Common Cartridge. ”Using the Common Cartridge format and enhancing that exportability gives our faculty that sort of packaged component they can easily share with people in their department and across different curricular areas.”
SoftChalk won first place for end-user satisfaction in the content authoring category for IMS’ 2009/2010 LearnSAT Award .
With support from a state grant and in partnership with Sam Houston State University, LSCS has created more than a dozen online training modules designed to provide K-20 teachers throughout Texas with the skills necessary to teach online. Schiro said the modules are designed using Common Cartridge-compliant SoftChalk platform and that instructors using the modules have praised their ease of use.
In support of its own faculty, LSCS launched in December 2008 the Lone Star Faculty Orientation for Online Teaching, a self-directed, open enrollment training course which certifies faculty teaching an online or hybrid format class for the system. Created using Common Cartridge standards to ensure maximum portability, the system is divided into three critical areas with supporting modules: 1) online classroom tools, 2) effective online pedagogy, and 3) support resources. In 2009, the system was awarded the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s Bronze Learning Impact Award for innovation and best practice.
Not willing to rest on its laurels, LSCS last year created the Virtual Teaching and Learning Assistance Centers, which are on-demand communication centers providing just-in-time training and support for faculty and students via an online chat tool. The Virtual Teaching Assistance Center was introduced in October 2009 as the faculty support center. The center provides access to a skilled LSC-Online staff member, scheduling with an instructional designer, plus access to online tutorials and other instructional support materials. Since the offering was launched, LSC-Online has fulfilled more than 2,100 chat requests from faculty and has provided them more than 450 hours of online support.
The Virtual Learning Assistance Center for LSC-Online students is being piloted as the student support center. Expected to become operational during the 2010 academic year, students will have access to dedicated online advisers and individualized academic assistance intended to encourage student retention and sustain student success.
Both centers received international recognition by winning the Leadership Award for Best in Class at the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s Learning Impact 2010 conference.
Schiro said another pilot project currently in development is a Learning Object Repository, a place where LSC-Online can store and organize learning content. LSC-Online also is working with McGraw-Hill to explore the possibility of making content available in online dual credit courses. “The idea is that by following Common Cartridge standards, faculty could virtually build their own textbooks by cutting and pasting content to meet specific course needs. But the project is still very much in the experimental stage. We’re working with a select group of faculty and staff to develop the concept.”
Through the process of transitioning to their new LMS over the past 18 months, and as they’ve implemented new applications and systems in support of their various constituencies, Schiro said they have really come to appreciate the value of their IMS membership and the guidance provided in understanding and adopting interoperability standards. “Going forward, every product and service we consider, we will make sure they are on the IMS bandwagon. We want to make sure our content isn’t locked into the LMS, but can be shared with our partners.”
From Innovation to Impact