I just got back from the EDUCAUSE conference and man, do I have a lot to write about. I’m going to start with the IMS’s announcement of the new Common Cartridge standard. Now, I know that technical standards aren’t always the stuff that gives you goosebumps. But if you are a teacher–particularly a unionized teacher–pay attention to this particular standard. This is a quality of workplace environment issue.As with any specification, the details of Common Cartridge can get complicated. (For a very good overview, I recommend reading Doug Lederman’s piece on it in Inside Higher Ed.) But the essence of it is that Common Cartridge (CC) provides a way of tagging content so that any CC-compliant LMS will know where to put it when it is imported. Discussion starters will go in discussion boards. Announcements will go in announcements. And so on. There are two primary benefits to this capability. The first is that creators of rich course content can create one package that will work with all CC-compliant systems rather than having to write a separate package for each one. Textbook companies gain from this because course cartridges are cheaper for them to write, but others could use this capability effectively as well. (Think OpenCourseWare.) That’s great, but the second benefit is the one that I want to talk about in this post. That benefit is the ability to move courses from one CC-compliant LMS to another with far less reworking than is typically required today.
Teachers put enormous amounts of time into their course designs to get the discussion prompts just right, tweak the assignments and quizzes, etc. In today’s systems, much of that effort is lost and has to be recreated after transfer. (A couple of the LMS development teams have done a pretty good job at improving import capabilities of other LMS’s non-standard content archive formats, but by and large it’s pretty weak across the board.) If your university changes LMS’s, or if you move to a university that uses a different LMS, or if you are an adjunct and teach for multiple schools using different LMS’s, you will have a very significant amount of work ahead of you. Even if your contract says that you own your course content, the lack of easy transportability of your course design creates a significant practical barrier to you taking it with you (at least in the form that it is in today).
Common Cartridge will change that. If you export your content in CC format, you should be able to import it into any other CC-compliant system with far less reworking required afterward. (No standard can bring the required rework time down to zero, since every system has at least slightly different capabilities that have to be accounted for in your course designs.) For this reason, teachers’ unions should demand that their schools use systems that support IMS Common Cartridge export. Import isn’t good enough; you need to be able to get your courses out of the system in order for it to do any good.
There are lots of reasons why LMS vendors and project teams may be slow to implement a standard. Some of these reasons are legitimate (e.g., limited resources) while others are less so (e.g., reluctance to make it easy for customers to leave the platform). Market demand, however, usually clears away both kinds of reasons. So by all means, demand it. Have your union or your faculty senate ask your LMS vendor when they will support IMS Common Cartridge export. And if you don’t like the answer you get, think about pushing to change vendors.