The EDUPUB Summit: A Progress Report

The recent EDUPUB Summit—hosted by the IMS Global Learning Consortium in partnership with the IDPF at the IMS’s quarterly meeting in Baltimore on February 25—was an occasion to note continued significant progress in the EDUPUB initiative.

A Look Back and a Fresh Look Forward

Paul Belfanti of Pearson, the chair of the event, began by recapping the two-year-old history of the EDUPUB Alliance (a joint initiative of the IDPF, the W3C, IMS Global, and the BISG), and ended with a more extensive update on the results of the previous BISG-sponsored EDUPUB Summit in October 2015. That was an invitation-only event that gathered key leaders from the educational publishing and technology community, on the occasion of the publication of BISG’s Getting Started with EDUPUB, to assess what was needed to facilitate widespread endorsement and adoption of EDUPUB. He provided these takeaways from that meeting:

  • Improved branding and communication of EDUPUB is needed. (Note: this has prompted IDPF to rebrand the profile as “EPUB for Education”; the term “EDUPUB” is reserved for the EDUPUB Alliance.)
  • A clear understanding of what “supporting EDUPUB” means is needed.
  • Educational content is not primarily disseminated through the retail eReader channel that is normally associated with EPUB.
  • Thus the capabilities of third-party eReaders are not particularly relevant in the context of EDUPUB.
  • The distribution focus is on platforms and Learning Management Systems.
  • EDUPUB (now EPUB for Education) is a powerful format for infrastructure and interchange.
  • There is a big desire for analytics.

Integrating EDUPUB with LMSs Based on LTI

John Tibbetts from VitalSource—the primary partner in developing the LTI (IMS’s Learning Tools Integration) specifications in the latest EPUB for Education spec—presented a video that showed in clear and engaging detail how an LMS launches an EPUB for Education, which can then launch other needed LTI tools, passing critical information both forwards and backwards between the LMS and the EPUB. He pointed out that eTextbooks are “getting smarter and smarter,” becoming more like LMSs themselves.

Today, he said, you need to “think of a textbook as something you launch.” He showed how, in the VitalSource Bookshelf, you can:

  • Launch the Bookshelf from inside a book;
  • Launch another book from inside a book;
  • Launch other content from the publisher from inside a book;
  • Launch other content from other publishers from inside a book.

Single sign-on, authentication, and security—all critical issues for educational content—are managed across all of these transactions, including, for example, a grade book for an individual student.

All of this, while demonstrated in the VitalSource Bookshelf, uses the LTI aspects of the EPUB for Education specification. It is thus the first of what is hoped will be many such implementations.

The Need for Analytics

The next session, led by Daniel Green, VitalSource’s Director of Product Analytics, was a lively discussion between Mr. GreenMr. TibbettsEtienne Pelaprat from Unizen, Colin Smythe from IMS, and the audience. Although not yet incorporated within the EPUB for Education profile, IMS’s Caliper framework for analytics is an important foundation and part of the VitalSource implementation, which is Caliper 1.0 certified.

Mr. Pelaprat observed that most organizations are “at beginner stage one” with regard to analytics; the gap is not in understanding what learner analytics are, what the modeling is; the gap is in the practice. Mr. Smythe enumerated the three fundamental issues:

  • The ability to put analytics data into a repository;
  • The ability to find data that is in that repository;
  • The ability to get data out of the repository.

Caliper was designed to enable these transactions, and IMS created a number of different code sets for it (including Java, Ruby, Python, JavaScript, and .net) before even publishing the spec. Mr. Pelaprat agreed that “the spec is absolutely mature enough; the challenge is in the implementation.” Mr. Smythe noted that IMS did a demonstration implementation with Readium and Moodle in order to prove that it works.

A key challenge that was widely recognized by both the panelists and the audience was the need for implementations. Mr. Pelaprat pointed out that “Data (which is stable) is easy; Analytics (which must be actionable) is hard.” Nick Brown from VitalSource pointed out that people say “just implement Caliper, we need analytics” without realizing that Caliper doesn’t actually provide analysis, it provides a database for analysis.

It was also pointed out that in contrast to xAPI and TinCan, Caliper provides semantic consistency and contextual information that are essential. Mr. Tibbetts observed that “the main consumers of data are other computers,” requiring strict semantics. Mr. Smythe stressed that the system needs a complete “state representation” to provide a meaningful analysis—for example, not just knowing which questions a student answered, but which ones she didn’t.

EPUB for Education

Markus Gylling, CTO of the IDPF, led a panel consisting also of Mr. Smythe and Dave Stroup from Pearson (one of the chief architects of the EPUB for Education specification) that discussed the current state of the profile formerly known as EDUPUB and now rechristened “EPUB for Education.” The latest draft specification was recently issued, on February 22, 2016. The major advance in this draft is the integration of IMS’s LTI specs as discussed above.

Mr. Gylling stressed the importance of moving soon to address analytics. Some reading systems are already implementing analytics, many or most based on Caliper; we need to know how they are doing that and how it is working. The first priority, however, is LTI Certification, which used VitalSource as “a guinea pig” to pilot the process and draft the specification. Although the VitalSource Bookshelf has not formally been certified, VitalSource committed to talk about it at the upcoming IDPF DigiCon conference at BEA in Chicago May 10-11, and ideally to have become certified by then.

Mr. Stroup stressed that conformance and certification need to take precedence over further work on the specification itself. An accessibility profile is key; the development of a formal EPUB 3 Accessibility Profile planned by IDPF and being worked on by the Accessibility Task Force of the EPUB 3 Working Group is critical.

Making it Work, Making it Easy

The final session of the EDUPUB Summit was an EDUPUB Implementers Showcase moderated by Rob Abel, CEO of IMS Global.

Nick Brown of VitalSource announced—and demonstrated the current private beta—of the VitalSource Content Studio. This is a platform that provides a complete online, cloud-based, SAAS workflow for creating EPUB 3 publications that conform to the EPUB for Education specification in all respects, and which work not only in the VitalSource Bookshelf but in any EPUB 3 Reading System. In includes all the educational aspects, including the creation of assignments, learning objectives, etc., and “won’t let you mess up the HTML5.” He also mentioned that the rich integration of LTI in EPUB for Education is “working great”: VitalSource is now up to three million LTI launches per month.

Dr. Yong-Sang Cho of Keris in Korea demonstrated the open platform they are developing, based on HTML5 and EPUB 3, which enables “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) usage and accommodates analytics. This reference software, based on ReadiumJS, shows the power of the EPUB standard and the open source tools provided by Readium to enable tool development that will soon make the creation of rich, dynamic educational publications commonplace.

This article was originally published on EPUBZONE on March 8th.

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