Tuesday, April 13, 2010

D2L Enables Web Tools Interoperability

I just finished watching the recordings of the D2L webinars from March where they demonstrate the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) features of Desire2Learn. This seems like a major step forward, IMO.

You can find the webinar links inside the D2L Community. If you're not a member, I do believe that you will need to request access to view the recordings. The webinars were conducted by Chuck Severance of the IMS Global Consortium and Matt Teskey of Desire2Learn.

I've spent the past several years demonstrating ways of embedding web-based tools into D2L and other LSM platforms. However, in all those cases there was only the appearance of integration between the tools and the LMS - but now this is possible to happen in a truly integrated process. "Truly integrated" means that your authentication credentials can be passed between the tool and the LMS with actual single sign-on.

(Screenshot above CC photo from Chuck Severance, dr-chuck on Flickr)

Two specific applications that were demonstrated include MediaWiki and WordPress. That got my attention since we are hosting both of those open source tools on campus and have them tied into our active directory for credentialing. These appear to be easily added to a D2L course through the use of quicklinks. Looks very cool. A few other examples (shown through screenshots) are some new widgets/gadgets and Google Maps.

A few questions.

  • 1. Are there any hopes of greater integration rather than just authentication? For example, I would love to have Zoho tools available for word processing, spreadsheets, web forms and other Zoho apps. Single sign-on is a good start, but I would really like to see integration where you can save documents directly into D2L and share with the instructor and/or other students.

  • 2. Where is the on/off switch for this? I've looked in the Dome and can't find it. We are using version 8.4.2 at the current time and this is the D2L version that they are demonstrating in the webinar. My guess is that MnSCU has not turned this feature on at this point. Generally speaking, we don't get to use the new tools in a timely manner since we are self-hosted and apparently very risk averse when it comes to using new features in the platform.

  • 3. MnSCU has a tentative plan to upgrade to D2L version 9.0 in early June. Are there any changes or improvements to the LTI in version 9, or is it the same as version 8.4.2?

  • 4. What are some of the other tools that people would like to see the LTI bridge built for? For the most part, it seems to me that it would make sense for tools where the login is an essential part of the user experience (for publishing, in other words), but if all you are doing is viewing content that it might not be very important.

  • 5. They stated that accounts in the web-based tools are automatically created for the students and tied to their D2L identity. It sounds then as though a student who already has an account (let's say in WordPress) will then have two accounts with the new one tied to D2L. That might not be a bad thing, but I'm not sure. What about several courses at the same school using these tools - does the LTI piece know not to create another account for that student (sounds like a stupid question, but I can't tell any more)? What about students who are attending more than one MnSCU school? Would they have a WordPress/LSC account and a separate WordPress/CLC account as well (where LSC is Lake Superior College and CLC is Central Lakes College)?


Jeff Bohrer said...

One of the main features I am looking forward to is support for the full LTI specification. My understanding is that D2L now supports Basic LTI which is essentially authentication only. Full LTI will allow passing data back into the LMS.

I'm keenly interested in getting assessment data from a 3rd-party tool into the D2L gradebook. At Wisconsin, we have developed a number of small learning content creation tools. Many of these tools have light-weight quiz engines in them. It would be ideal for instructors to be able to send this assessment data back into the D2L gradebook. Full LTI should allow for this.

Matt Teskey said...

Glad the sessions were helpful. Let me try to touch on some of the items in your post, and then we'll go from there.
1. You're right, Basic LTI is really just about launching into another application with standardized single sign-on and whatever provisioning the tool might do. As Jeff pointed out, full LTI and LIS is going to add the ability to publish back assessment info, but I don't think the standard will necessary get to the more advanced two-way links where a tighter/native integration would. In some cases, Basic LTI may be the starting point to flesh out requirements for a native integration.
2. Trying to work with Dennis to troubleshoot that, but hopefully you can play around soon. (nothing in DOME, really driven by the tool being active and customizable role permissions)
3. No major changes in 9.0, but in the first MR there will be more advanced sharing and copying of LTI links around org units, sending of some more of the optional launch parameters that tool providers have been asking for, and some other small things like that. We'll try to keep pretty reactive, too, as more and more clients use it and give feedback, and more and more tools support it.
4. I am definitely interested in knowing the wish list as well! Chuck has been doing a good job educating the market and even helping to write code to enable some of the tool vendors. I'm sure tool vendors will love to see the demand for this on their side.
5. I think that is really up to the tool provider as to how they handle provisioning. Launch requests are able to send email addresses and other user information (if configured to share that with the tool provider), so the tool provider could in theory do some lookups and mapping before creating accounts if the user was going to use the tool both from LMS LTI launches and directly from the site. Or, maybe the tool doesn't do any provisioning at all and it relies on the other system alredy having user accounts and an ability to match up with users from launches. Otherwise, you're right, a user could have multiple accounts (although they wouldn't have to log in from the one associated with LMS LTI launches). Guess it really just depends on the use case and how the tool wants to handle it.

Looking forward to testing with more and more tool providers, and to answering any other LTI questions you have. Keep me posted.