By: Laura Orozco C.
Thanks to its LTI integration, the web conferencing tool, Blackboard Collaborate, works perfectly with most Learning Management Systems. We talked to Anneke Bates, Senior Product Manager for Blackboard Collaborate, about the open product philosophy.
E.L.M: How does Blackboard Collaborate show that openness is a true priority?
A.B: The goal of Blackboard Collaborate has always been to serve all customers, regardless of their LMS and that’s still true today – we provide services to the entire market, not just Blackboard users.
E.L.M: How are the LTI standards a part of the openness philosophy and how do they work in general?
A.B: LTI stands for Learning Tools Interoperability, and it’s been an industry standard for many years. I usually say that it’s like a language and it has its own vocabulary and rules. If you can make your tool speak that language, then it can speak to any other tool that also speaks that language. As long as everyone is LTI compliant, those tools will be able to talk to each other. This means that Blackboard Collaborate can speak to Blackboard Learn and many other LMSs.
The basic part about the LTI standard is that, depending on who you are, you have to be able to either send or accept a specific set of information about the item that you’re talking about. Meaning, if it’s a web conferencing session, you need to be able to send the user’s name, e-mail, and a role within that course so that you know whether someone is a student or an instructor. There’s a short list of information that everybody must be able to send and accept.
E.L.M: How do LTI standards specifically work for Blackboard Collaborate?
As a user, you want your LMS to work with Blackboard Collaborate, so that you can put links to the Collaborate session inside the courses. If everyone is LTI compliant, and most of the LMSs are, we just have to make our tool speak to LTI and it automatically works, which means a lot less work for everyone involved on both sides. Before LTI, Blackboard Collaborate needed to create a special component that could speak to each LMS, because they all spoke a different language. Most of the users don’t pay attention to whether the product they are using is made by Blackboard or any other tool providers; it’s all in the same environment for them.
E.L.M: How many Learning Management Systems, or any other learning tools can use the new Blackboard Collaborate Ultra thanks to the LTI integration?
A.B: The answer is changing all the time. The IMS Global product directory has over 250 different versions of compliant tools and consumers right now.
E.L.M: When you say tools, what other things besides Learning Management Systems you are talking about?
A.B: Other tools include plagiarism checking, recording tools, blogs, different discussion boards, and many others that you can put inside your course and students can interact with them. The LMS brings the tool providers into their system. For example, when a student is going to use Blackboard Collaborate, they initially go to their Learn system, then go to their course and find the link to their Collaborate Session inside. So, Blackboard Collaborate is the tool provider and Blackboard Learn is the tool consumer.
E.L.M: Why do you think the LTI standards are so essential for the e-learning community? What are other advantages besides the ones you’ve already mentioned?
A.B: LTI makes everything consistent and easy for everyone involved. It takes a lot more work for each tool provider to make the integration component to work with each of the different LMS.
Advantages for the LMS’ administrators include not having to install a new piece of code on their system. Anytime you install an integration component, there’s a risk to your system and you have to perform extensive testing to make sure that they work well together. With LTI, you don’t have to install anything else, and that’s great for the users.
Blackboard Collaborate can speak to Blackboard Learn and many other LMSs.
On the Blackboard Collaborate side, we developed an interface that it can be used outside of an LMS. Users can simply log into Blackboard Collaborate and schedule sessions. We use that same interface for the LTI experience, which means that when we add new features to the Blackboard Collaborate, those features automatically show up for anyone using the LTI integration.
The LTI integration really opens the possibilities for Blackboard Collaborate and allows users from different LMSs take advantage of the web conferencing tool. It integrates smoothly and users don’t think about who created the product, because all that matters is that everyone can use it and that it works perfectly.
*Anneke Bates – Senior Product Manager for Blackboard Collaborate.
*Photos by: AFP Tami Chappell