The Open Educational Resources (OER) debate was recently supplemented by the final report of the Online Learning Task Force (OLTF) commissioned by HEFCE ‘Collaborate to compete: Seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education’ (2011). This is something that I have been exploring but perhaps in the wider context. Our institutional Learning technologies review is coming to a close and the issue of module ‘silos’ and associated openess issues have writ large. In this context I have been exploring the spectrum of openess ranging from resources restricted to a specific module group through to open access, but also the further complexities when considering learner contributed resources. This has involved examining technical issues such as data feeds, access permissions, institutional metadata schema, federated search and content package standards. One aspect of this has been to look at the IMS Common Cartridge standard on which the rest of this post will focus.
Common Cartridge is a format / specification that allows learning content (could be complex consisting of multiple document types, discussion forums and assessment questions) along with metadata to be packaged and imported into any compliant VLE or other learning environment.
Common Cartridge Overview
Version 1.0 of this format supports files such as Microsoft Word as well as html and xml, and media files including mpg, jpg and mp3. In addition it supports the following assessment question types: multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, essay and pattern match. A Common Cartridge is not a self contained package but can be edited in a VLE including restructuring, adding further resources and adaptive release/conditional activity rules for example. The Common Cartridge package does not provide sequencing support (other than the order by which materials have been structured in the package) and does not use a runtime environment. In the case of assessments, Common Cartridge support the common assessment standard (IMS QTI) allowing the questions types listed above to be incorporated in a package. However when this assessment is accessed in a VLE it will run in the VLEs assessment tool (e.g. Blackboard’s Quiz tool) rather than in a separate runtime environment. Common Cartridge v1.1 additionally allows calls to external tools / resources via the ‘Basic Learning Tools Interoperability’ standard. This could be for example to embed an externally hosted Wiki or Blog into the resource or further content resources.
Common Cartridge in Practice
The following link provides a list of common cartridge compliant products: IMS Common Cartridge conformance. Products capable of handling Common Cartridge, at least in part, include VLEs (e.g. Blackboard 9.1 SP4, Moodle 1.9+, Desire2Learn), authoring environments (e.g. Softchalk, eXe), packaging tools (Common Cartridge Builder) and content packages (e.g. OU OpenLearn), both open and commercial. In addition there are two further useful tools in a Common Cartridge ‘toolkit’ – a Common Cartridge Validator provided by IMS GLC and a Transcoder provided by CETIS that allows different packaging formats to be converted.
Both Softchalk and eXe are authoring environments with the ability to create Common Cartridge (also SCORM) packages that can include interactive quizzes and discussion board forums. In contrast Common Cartridge Builder allows existing resources (e.g. Word documents etc) to be ‘wrapped into a Common Cartridge but with no authoring capability other than to create structures (e.g. folders) and simple ordering. At the time of writing I could not find a standalone authoring environment that was capable of importing an existing Common Cartridge.
There are a number of VLE environments that are Common Cartridge compliant but it would appear that Blackboard 9.1 SP4 is currently (January 2011) the only environment capable of exporting Common Cartridge, though I suspect not for much longer.
Testing and the VLE as a learning object editor
Common Cartridge packages were successfully created using Softchalk, eXe and Common Cartridge Builder. The Common Cartridge validator proved to be a valuable tool and provided minor corrections to packages.
To explore the ability of a VLE to manipulate a Common Cartridge two Common Cartridge packages from different sources (an OU OpenLearn unit and a cartridge created from scratch using eXe) were imported into a module in Blackboard 9.1 SP4. The VLE tools were then used to manipulate and integrate the packages, including restructuring and the addition of an objective question based assessment. The resulting materials were then exported in Common Cartridge version 1.0 format and then successfully imported into Moodle 1.9. No editing was required to use the materials in Moodle and ran the assessment correctly.
Although the package will not migrate VLE specific features (e.g. adaptive release / conditional activities) the integration of this technology into commonly available VLE’s makes the use of, integration, editing and production of standards based learning resources very accessible to staff within the environments they are used to. The Dr. Chucks Blog makes some interesting points about this capability including “In a sense, most of the current OER efforts are organization-centric – a widely available IMS CC authoring tool puts the distribution of OER materials in the hands of teachers”.
It also makes it relatively straightforward to incorporate student contributed resources into packages, subject to edit permissions and of course IPR etc.
Version 1.1 of the standard introduces support for Basic Learning Tools Interoperability (BLTI) which allows 3rd party tools to be called from within the package.
Two of the test Common Cartridge packages that I developed / reused are provided below:
Introduction to Common Cartridge – Created with eXe. contains more detail on CC and additionally includes a brief review of SCORM and recent developments.
Summary of Common Cartridge (CC) Resources referred to
eXe - Authoring environment that can export in CC
Softchalk- Authoring environment that can export in CC
Common Cartridge Builder - CC Packaging
Common Cartridge Validator - IMS CC Validating tool
OpenLearn - Open University’s OpenLearn units available in multiple formats including CC.
Transcoder - CETIS Transcoder allowing resources to be converted between CC and other standards.