Learning Tools Interoperability in Drupal! (and why you should care)

Learning tools interoperability is a big deal Drupal users and I’m hoping that this screen cast can start to illustrate why you should care.  If you are in the educational technology space (or even if you’ve just used technology in schools before), you are well aware of one fact: everyone hates them.

Context of the problem

It doesn’t seem to matter the vendor or the platform (or even the task); everyone seems to have a problem with the learning management system they use.  It isn’t because the tools themselves are bad, it’s because no one is going to be great at doing everything!  Most LMS functionality is similar to the scope of 10+ advanced, different use-case Drupal sites; all rolled into the same system!  The educational process is so organic that everyone views how they need and want to utilize tools in the classroom differently which varies even greater between disciplines.

Because of this, you’re never going to make everyone happy. (and everyone will let you know about it!) What ends up happening is that instructors turn to tools outside of the LMS to help bridge the gap in areas where they aren’t happy (understandably).  One of the major issues in this is that there are usually no good ways of getting roster information setup to securely get students into these other spaces.  Many external tools also have a high technical barrier to entry which limits who is able to set it up and how well they can use those tools.

The solution - LTI

LTI is essentially an OAuth request that allows for secure, on-demand, account creation and authorization.  This is a big deal because most major LMS vendors have adopted the standard into their platforms, which means with the LTI Tool provider module and minor configuration you can have your LMS talking to Drupal!

This screen cast shows that taken to the next level: Essentially mashing up LTI launches with concepts from Aegir in a distribution called Course Information System.  This allows for LTI launches against 1 system which has the ability to deploy any kind of Drupal 7 distribution. This video shows one such launch relationship with CIS setting up an instance of the MOOC distribution and then allowing LTI requests to pass through seamlessly to the course site created.

I will stress this is a proof of concept but I wanted to consolidate these ideas into a single post as I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it recently.

Currently everything is available to do this aside from documentation and the completed bash script providing the full automation on the back end.  These pieces are obviously both critical and will be made available in the near future. At the moment we are planning to run a course as a pilot in March utilizing these approaches to setup.

The automation script will be made available in a purely developmental state after it has been vetted thoroughly by a few more people internally.  If you have any feedback, questions, etc, please feel free to ask!  This is a critical component to extending the learning experience of students while lowering the technical barriers often times involved in order to do so.