Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI)

LTI is a standard that allows third-party tools to securely integrate with Desire2Learn (D2L) and other Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

Why does this matter? 

As an example, integrating a book publisher’s site with D2L would allow students to be able to access e-books and electronic content right through D2L – no additional username or password or external site to bookmark. LTI allows D2L and the external site talk to each other so that each student in the class automatically has an account at the third party vendor's site and then can access it via D2L. 

Faculty report that students frequently express frustration with accessing multiple external sites in addition to D2L. It's unlikely anyone enjoys creating additional usernames and passwords, then having to learn the layout of another site. Some faculty conscientiously limit the number of new logins and sites they require their students to use. Integrating tools with D2L via LTI would eliminate this issue.

In addition, LTI allows the instructor to integrate external tools that require a login like they would any free online resource or D2L tool - they can provide a link on the D2L Content page directly to a page of an e-book, a learning object in a repository, or a discussion forum in Piazza. This provides the students a more user-friendly experience, allowing them to focus on the content - not the technology.

Some vendors provide additional features to benefit instructors when their tool is integrated with the LMS. For instance, integration with McGraw-Hill Connect would allow the scores from learning activities to go into the D2L gradebook, eliminating the need for instructors to manually enter those scores in D2L. In addition, some vendors such as CourseSmart offer instructors access to preview their entire e-text library.

What tools integrate with D2L via LTI?

This site indicates which tools are able to integrate with D2L and other LMSs like Blackboard or Moodle. The list has grown considerably since I first learned about LTI in the spring of 2012. Some samples are CourseSmart, Courseload, Piazza, Wordpress, MyOpenMath, ChemVantage, Barnes and Noble Nook, and VoiceThread.

How do we get LTI?

That's not the right question. LTI is not an additional program to install or anything; it is already built into D2L. It is just the standard that makes integration with these other sites possible securely. (I included this because this was a question I first had when I learned about it)

Ok then, how do we get third-party vendors integrated with D2L via LTI?

It varies depending on the vendor. 

Some vendors such as CourseSmart require a contract and a relationship with the integration team. The verdict seems to be that vendors who require a contract are not an option for UWEC right now due to the legal complexity of signing a contract (regardless of whether a cost is involved).

Many sites such as Piazza and Barnes and Noble have the installation instructions right on their websites and may just require an email with an integration person at the company to get it set up. They say that the installation is simple, but I am not the person to make this judgement! 

Here's what we need to determine at UWEC to move forward:

  • How do we decide which third party vendors integrate? What are our criteria? 
    • Faculty interest - there's no point in putting forth the effort to set up the integration if no one will use it. Are there a certain number of faculty who need to be interested, or is it ok to move forward with one person, try it out, and then promote it to the campus? 
    • No contract required. Nothing to sign. No contingencies. 
    • No cost! At least no up front cost - if we do end up integrating a book publisher, we'd need what they call a student choice model (aka, students pay for their own books). 
    • Security...but doesn't the existence of the LTI standard eliminate security concerns?
    • What else? 
  • Who is involved in making these decisions and then who actually makes the integration happen? 
    • Obviously the D2L admin, security representative, executive director, and CIO need to be involved - I can relay the faculty interest since they will probably ask me about it and research the tool by itself. Who else? 
I'll keep you posted on our progress! 

Caveat: I just want to say that I am not an expert on LTI and my expertise leans a bit more toward the educational side than the technical side, so I may not be 100% on all the technical details. Please comment if you can clarify anything. 

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