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Blackboard Adds Standards Support to Blackboard Learn 9.1

Blackboard this week announced support in its learning management system, Blackboard Learn, for two open standards--Common Cartridge 1.0 and Basic Learning Tools Interoperability. Conformance for both standards was certified by the IMS Global Learning Consortium in November 2010 and the technology included in a service pack made available to customers in December. IMS Global is an organization for vendors to come together to work on common initiatives in education technology.

Common Cartridge allows people working with products that support the standard to share content and resources. Learning Tools Interoperability support provides a way for users to integrate other tools into their LMS environments more easily.

Support for the standards was made available to clients in December as part of Service Pack 4 for Blackboard Learn, Release 9.1. The company said it plans to continue support for each standard going forward to give its customers greater choice and flexibility in the use of course tools and course content.

"Blackboard deserves a lot of credit for its significant investment in helping to develop these open standards and making them available to clients," said Rob Abel, IMS Global's chief executive. "Educators and institutions using Blackboard Learn are going to realize significant benefits in terms of being able to remix content and access to a wide range of discipline specific learning tools."

In a recent CampusTechnology.com interview Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn and a member of the IMS board of directors, spoke about his vision for openness with the Blackboard product line. This vision, he said, goes beyond its long-time support for open APIs that enable developers to create "building blocks" that extend the LMS.

"We committed to being a leader in the development of open education standards--not just a participant, and we've now delivered on that initiative," said Henderson. "This is a big milestone for us and for our clients, and a sign of the maturity of the education technology industry."

The support for learning tools interoperability is being tested currently in work the company is doing with other vendors, such as McGraw-Hill Higher Education. The two companies are developing a new learning platform that integrates components of Blackboard Learn with McGraw Hill's Connect.

In July 2010 at its developers conference the company announced the availability of documentation for the underlying database schema in Blackboard Learn and gave a nod to those developers who wished to delve into the database. An intent of the philosophical shift was to encourage customers to create building blocks specifically to strengthen their reporting capabilities. Another was to make it easier for them to integrate their own tables with Blackboard tables. For example, a group of colleges has created Project ASTRO, which mines data from the Blackboard database and displays analytic information to a dashboard related to tool adoption and usage within a school. With the company's new focus on openness, the group can now make the building block available to other institutions.

Blackboard said "several hundred clients" have been interested enough in the database scheme to download documentation related to the topic.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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