We’ve been hard at work the last few months identifying what an xAPI Profile Server should do beyond the basic requirements in the xAPI Profile Specification as part of a BAA with ADL. Last week we took the show on the road to iFest in Washington DC. We brought along a poster which explained why a profile server is necessary and how it will improve interoperability. That poster won a people’s choice award for best narrative!
Congratulations to our poster winners! The people have spoken! The Jefferson Institute won Best Poster Design and Data Interoperability Standards Consortium won Best Poster Narrative. @Jeffersoninst @DataInterop #iFEST2018 pic.twitter.com/bY9EIrxFY1
— ADL Initiative (@ADL_Initiative) August 28, 2018
That’s why I’m writing this post, because we have never won a poster award. In fact, there are a lot of awards we haven’t won. And we’re okay with that. Since this one was a people’s choice award, we thought more people might like to see it. So, here it is…
Another post is coming with a summary of the profile server research. Big thanks to ADL for a great event and thanks to our designer, Jason, for a prize poster!
2017 is a year that is really testing our capacities and limits. Politics, natural disasters, cyber security threats, budgets… even ADL has hit some road bumps. We formed the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC) a few years ago specifically to hedge against disruptions to ADL’s capacity for spec stewardship so that the people who rely most on xAPI wouldn’t be held back the way the learning industry was with SCORM 2004 (after ADL stopped innovating on it… in 2004). Anyone who’s worked in or with a government for more than a few years knows to expect that there are these hiccups which, for an indeterminate amount of time, stall progress.
Industry and momentum, let alone organizational strategies, shouldn’t be subject to the whim of such hiccups — especially when the industry could address these on its own.
Working hand-in-hand with ADL over the last year, DISC and the xAPI Community hit some pretty major milestones that really stabilized xAPI, in terms of implementation, to enable more adoption, faster. Also with ADL, we identified a series of priorities to work on together over the next several years. ADL’s funding situation means that those plans would have to be put on hold for us to work contractually with ADL. However, that (realistically) could be almost a full year in waiting to get started. As an advocate for its progress, I’d rather we work on these things in a different way, not needing to rely on ADL, so that when ADL’s budget capacity is restored, they can advance things much further afield. As an industry that depends on xAPI, it’s in the xAPI Community’s best interests to keep things going.
Megan and I are sharing the priorities for open source development and documentation we worked out with ADL with the hope that the xAPI Community will seize this moment for the opportunity it presents: to chart its own path to growth and ubiquity.
- Stand up a xAPI Profile server. With the xAPI Profiles specification released in June, the xAPI Community has finally addressed a huge gap in achieving semantic interoperability. However, without even a reference implementation of an xAPI Profile Server, the spec will never see its potential to scale xAPI across industries, and we will continue to have challenges of semantic interoperability across implementations. There’s a minimal development effort as a lot of the xAPI Profile Server leverages existing JSON-LD tools.
- Stand up a service to test for valid, well-structured xAPI Profiles. Right now the only way to create xAPI Profiles in JSON-LD format is to do so by hand, which is a laborious process that is prone to manual errors. It’d be helpful to have something available in lieu of tools that validated an xAPI Profile, highlighted where the errors are and the nature of them, so that the people producing xAPI Profiles could do so easily, and so those xAPI Profiles could be used by others with confidence. This likely requires a bit more development than the xAPI Profile Server requires.
- Stand up a tool to help people publish xAPI Profiles in proper JSON-LD format. What would be even better than producing xAPI Profiles by hand would be a web-based application with an interface that made it much easier for people to create valid xAPI Profiles, so that subject matter experts (or, more likely, data people working with subject matter experts) could generate profiles without needing to encode JSON-LD themselves. Not only does this require some development savvy — it would benefit from having a product manager and interaction designer so that this could be both usable and useful to many, thus encouraging more organizations to generate and share xAPI Profiles.
- Develop conformance requirements and a conformance test for xAPI Profiles and the xAPI Profile Server. Much like DISC facilitated with the xAPI Community in 2016, it’s likely that many LRS vendors (and probably authoring tool vendors as well) will incorporate an xAPI Profile Server and want to validate the data collected in their LRSs against valid xAPI Profiles. It would be wise to get ahead of inevitable interoperability challenges and develop (first) conformance requirements and (later) conformance tests that could ensure consistency in what we deem to be “conformant.” Related — if it’s a common goal by LRS vendors and stakeholders that LRSs will validate statements against profiles, that should be made explicit in the xAPI specification and additional LRS Conformance requirements must be developed, as well as additional unit tests in the LRS Conformance Test Suite.
That’s a solid list, and the community could rally itself to take this on and commit to seeing it done in the next twelve months. The organizations willing to commit resources to develop these efforts to a defined set of outcomes should be embraced by the community.
The things listed above are needed now. The market can probably tolerate a year without it impeding xAPI adoption, so long as these things are available to the market and implemented as organizations budget for FY19. There’s more for to do in the coming twelve months, but in the general category of making things, these are things with definitive outcomes that would help everyone.
So… who’s going to take on what in filling in these pretty important gaps?
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I’m very excited to be at LAK next week. So excited that I’m arranging (free) drinks Tuesday at 5:30! You can find us at Malone’s Social Lounge and Taphouse. See that? Social is built right into the name, can’t help but chat xAPI with friends there. It’s just a 2 minute walk from the conference (evidence below.)
Drink freely with xAPI friends
Tuesday March 14th 5:30-6:30
525 Seymour Street, Vancouver, BC.
On the corner of Seymour and Pender
You. And anyone you want to bring along.
I’m heading to LAK 17 in Vancouver, BC to help a great crew from many countries, in a workshop on learning analytics policy (LAP). Since learning analytics policy is evolving everywhere, we’re looking for input from people, everywhere. K-12, corporate, higher ed – all important.
There’s opportunity to contribute a paper for this event, so if you’re really motivated, go ahead and fill out this survey.
Researching this for the learning analytics community, what we really need are more examples. Answers to any of the following questions would be helpful in establishing a baseline of knowledge we are putting together.
- What learning analytics policies have you encountered?
- How did they affect your implementation?
- What workarounds have you planned, knowing certain policies would need to be accommodated?
- How did a policy affect your outcome?
Narrative descriptions, case studies or just links to the policy documents would all be helpful. Please, send me an email at email@example.com if you have something to contribute!
Towards the end of last year, our big announcement was the formation of the not-for-profit Consortium formed to handle the governance and address the evolution of xAPI with/for ADL. xAPI, being open-source and licensed as Apache 2.0, doesn’t require ADL’s permission for us to do this. That’s a feature, not a bug — we licensed xAPI in this way so that it couldn’t be trapped in US DoD the way SCORM was. All the same, ADL’s done an amazing job stewarding xAPI through its R&D roots to now and to whatever degree we can work in concert with ADL (and US DoD, by extension) it’s to our collective benefit to do so. Which is why we haven’t done a whole lot in terms of visible activity since the beginning of the year. We’ve worked out the details of what we’re going to take on with ADL so the connections between DISC and ADL can be very explicit, very concrete and very visible. ADL’s announcement about our collaboration can be found here. Here’s a look at what we have planned over the next four years.
DISC’s Year-One Priority Outcomes
To ensure the interoperability of software and hardware that purports to be xAPI-conformant, DISC is revitalizing the xAPI Conformance working group and conducting a research effort to facilitate definition of the requirements for xAPI conformance. Concurrently, DISC will work with a stakeholder group to define requirements for software and hardware certification of xAPI conformance, and to make recommendations to ADL for a program that would confer certification on software and hardware with Learning Record Store (LRS) functionality.
DISC will develop and deploy a publicly available index of such certified LRS products for use by stakeholder involved in acquisitions.
The thing is, that focusing on LRSs is just the start. To make implementations of xAPI interoperable, we can’t limit the responsibility on LRSs. We also can’t focus solely on content for a lot of reasons. One lesson from the work done to test conformance and to certify content leveraging the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) was that certifying work products, such as content, offered diminished return on the investment in capacity needed to efficiently certify such work products. After about two years of research and requirements gathering, we’ve determined that a program to certify professionals who create learning experiences leveraging xAPI, with practice-based evaluation of their work products, is an idea worth championing so DISC will work with a stakeholder group to define requirements for a such a professional, Learning Record Provider certification program. We’ll explore the requirements for the contents of a body of knowledge, the competencies needed professionally and the evaluation criteria. This will inform the requirements for a program that confers certification on professionals who demonstrate competence in creating learning record providers that work interoperably with xAPI-conformant LRSs.
And, just to make sure we’re all on the same page — this is all within year one, going into June(ish) 2017. Aggressive goals? Megan and I would say we’re assertive, but no less so than any other goal we’ve put out there (and met). We predict there are going to be some serious reasons why we need to get LRS certification ready for early 2017, in terms of catalysts that will drive market adoption of xAPI. The time is now, friends.
DISC’s Year 2-4 Activities
In our first year, DISC will establish a baseline for data interoperability of the xAPI specification itself. To strengthen that for the long-term, DISC is going to vet the impact of supporting JSON-LD on existing implementations of xAPI, and, should stakeholders choose to support JSON-LD, DISC will take on responsibilities to update any hardware, software and/or professional certification materials, processes, procedures and evaluation criteria to support that evolution. That seems really geeky, but it’s important that before we go bigger on professional certifications and larger services, we figure out what, if anything, we’re to do with JSON-LD as an industry. Three years ago, it wasn’t big enough for us to rally support to address it (argue about that all you want — it wasn’t). Now it clearly is, so we’re going to address it.
To strengthen data interoperability and to reinforce appropriate cybersecurity and information assurance practices in applications of xAPI within US DoD and other verticals, DISC intends to identify a profile of xAPI as an exemplar for US DoD and FedRamp such that it serves as a model for other xAPI stakeholder groups to use in extending the xAPI specification to work with various laws and policies with which xAPI may interact. In other words – FedRamp describes what US government needs in terms of security. Other nations — other organizations — may have more or different needs. So, by doing this, DISC would produce best-practice recommendations with the intent of providing advice for data privacy considerations around xAPI and how personal data ownership may be defined to inform cybersecurity and information assurance goals considering situation-appropriate operational, business and technical perspectives.
These are just the highlights. Megan and I had some incredible help organizing our scope and putting the mandate into actionable outcomes thanks to our friend and Project Czar extraordinaire, Wendy Wickham, as well as our Board of Directors.
Referencing our previous post, DISC activity is just the first topic we had to update you on. Next, we’ll talk to what we’ve been seeing drive xAPI’s adoption recently.
Megan and I find ourselves grateful, as the year comes to a close. 2015 gave MakingBetter an amazing journey that was full of surprises. Most were wonderful and some were very scary. Through it all, we found ways to make our clients happy and successful doing work we believed in. When we had struggles and found roadblocks, we worked together to get over whatever the hump was and we got to a better place.
We created things with great people. Our projects ranged from designing and developing custom reporting for software products, training providers and large enterprises. We launched an online journal, the xAPI Quarterly, kickstarting the publishing arm of our business, Connections Forum, and we ran our first events, xAPI Camps that each were co-created with our participants. In January 2015, we planned for one and as the year closed we had four with five more scheduled in 2016. Our next one at the Autodesk Galleria in downtown San Francisco, February 11. We celebrated another amazing year with the amazing community, Up to All of Us, which will convene again in Sonoma County, February 12-15. We started a non-profit. More on that in a minute.
Grateful to Make MakingBetter Happen
Megan came on full-time with MakingBetter in June, this year. We took our first serious vacation ever in July. We spent a lot of time with our families and friends. We lived and worked, together, on our own terms for the first time in our lives. We dealt with emergencies and surprise medical concerns. We innovated when we needed to and we stuck to tried and true processes when we needed to, too. We lived well in 2015. I say all this because it’s important to celebrate success and to make sure that credit goes where credit is due. I write tonight grateful for a true partner like Megan, grateful for each and every client we had this year, grateful for each and every person who’s influenced how we do what we do, grateful for our sponsors and our partners and especially…
Grateful for the xAPI Community
It’s the xAPI community I want to talk specifically to now. There are a myriad of reasons why 2015 was good for Megan and I, but the one reason that stands out is the incredible gains in xAPI’s adoption that happened this year. We know there’s been incredible growth in xAPI adoption. Our business boomed and so did that of many software vendors who create solutions that are tailored to meet some of the many things people use xAPI for. We know projects are already being planned for the beginning of 2016 at a scale that equals the whole of xAPI adoption in 2015. These are measureable outcomes of an open source community that has been lovingly and painstakingly attended by the US Department of Defense and its particular initiative, Advanced Distributed Learning. xAPI is in every way a stunning success. It is proving that open government practices, a pro-entrepreneurial approach and an authentic embrace of open source can stimulate innovation, enable implemented approaches to complex and serious challenges, and catalyze economic opportunities. It is far from the applied research and development activity it was four years ago. It is a mature spec that is growing its own industry.
Grateful for xAPI’s Growth
xAPI is so successful that it’s actually becoming a challenge for ADL to support it to the scale it now demands. The Design Cohort program that began in 2013 became so well attended and populated that it couldn’t be supported by ADL anymore — they just don’t have the resources to do it on their own. The maintenance of the spec is labor intensive enough for the resources ADL has, that certification isn’t something they can handle on their own without stopping something else important. When SCORM was being created, it was an epoch ago for information and instructional technology, and ADL had over 40 engineers they could apply to SCORM alone. ADL now has dozens of high priority projects and there are maybe six full-time engineers they can resource for xAPI. Fortunately, those of us who brought to ADL the concepts that enabled xAPI’s creation knew that the day would come when specs and standards would need to move beyond ADL to truly mature. This is why open source was so crucial a path for xAPI. It’s because xAPI is licensed Apache 2.0 that anyone can take xAPI and mature it, and that’s just what we’re about to do, given ADL’s blessing and commitment to participate in the effort.
Grateful to Serve Our Community
The non-profit we started at the close of 2015 is the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium, or DISC (because, acronyms). There are many challenges to working with data: interoperability, security, privacy, professional competencies, validation, provenance, ethics, legalities, languages, formats, etc. We intend for DISC to offer the table where all communities of practice, individuals, organizations, governments and industries can work together to meet the complexities of working with data. It’s about more than xAPI, but make no mistake, xAPI is our priority in 2016. The transition from an ADL-organized xAPI Community to a DISC-organized xAPI Community will begin in the first quarter of 2016. By the middle of the year, we’ll have established working groups and special interest groups to explore ways in which xAPI may be extended as well as certification requirements. By the beginning of 2017, we’ll have a certification program in place and an array of tools that will make working with xAPI’s vocabulary much much easier.
That seems like a lot to get done in one year, and you’re right. It is a lot. But it will be done because it has to be done. xAPI is growing so much that if we don’t have certification in place by the end of 2016, we risk xAPI’s long term future. We predict a massive catalyst for international adoption to emerge by the end of 2016 in the way of procurement requirements for governments around xAPI, because having data that everyone can understand and can make use of is in the interest of public good institutions. When governments are a year away from requiring xAPI support and certified products are all that will be purchased, it makes right now the very moment where xAPI goes big. It is exciting, frightening and uncertain – and it’s fun, and this is what it’s like for us to be so fully invested when the stakes are this high. The fact that the stakes for xAPI are this high should be the reassurance everyone needs that xAPI really is a big deal and it’s worth our sweat to invest in its growth right now.
Grateful for a Future We Can Forge Together
Because xAPI is open source, and because xAPI will have an organization that is focused expressly on its maturity, it’s going to get the chance to grow in a way that no learning technology has ever had the chance to do. Megan and I are proud to have an incredible team on DISC’s Board of Directors from around the world who represent years of extraordinary work in leading professional organizations, the science of learning analytics, the development of industry organizations, professional practice and xAPI itself. Very soon, we’ll announce our founding Board of Directors and post our by-laws, our 2016 goals and objectives and we’ll open membership. xAPI will forever be Apache 2.0 and we intend to ensure that it remain open source and cared for by an open community as long as it remains relevant. The organization we’re creating will finally structure how decisions about it are made, balancing the needs of those most invested in xAPI requirements with the needs of those most impacted by xAPI applications. Without the burdens and caveats that come with moving this activity into large spec and standards groups, as a community and an industry with many verticals, we can design our own future with xAPI.
Grateful for Your Help In What Comes Next
There’s been only a few sketchy roadmaps for what Megan and I have been doing together as MakingBetter. There are even fewer notes on what we’re about to do with DISC in forming an industry organization to support a major open source project with the cooperation of its stewards in the US DoD. But, this isn’t the first time Megan and I have had to work with a community to create something that didn’t previously exist. We’ve done it with Up to All of Us. We did it with growing xAPI into a fully realized community of designers, developers, content and data wranglers. We did it with figuring out how to fit open source for US government. And now we’re going to figure out, with the full interest by and for the community, how we grow the industry and professional practice around xAPI. It will require paying members and continued open community participation. It will require a level of dedication, enthusiasm and grit that hasn’t been demanded yet. Given all that, I’ve never been more confident in our abilities, all of us together, to figure this out. We’ve been able to plan and go off-plan and get this far. It stands to reason we’re going to go a lot farther together.
Megan and I are staking our business on xAPI. We’re staking our families on xAPI. We’re committing our lives over the next couple of years to the community and industry around xAPI and we are grateful to do so.
We wish you all the best for this holiday season and for the new year to come. We’ve loved hanging with you. We’ve loved working with you. We’ve learned so much in doing so and we can’t wait for the next level shit about to happen!