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Ministry invests in standards-based LMS

INTERFACE talks to Paul Seiler about the Ministry of Education’s review of managed learning environments and its plans to develop more standards-based LMS solutions in New Zealand schools.

What is a Managed Learning Environment (MLE)?
The Ministry of Education regards a managed learning environment (MLE) as the collection of software tools and digital content that support learning. From one perspective it is comprised of two hubs: the Student Management System (SMS) that controls the administration and management of student and staff information; and the Learning Management System (LMS) that controls much of the curriculum and pedagogical modules. Over time, many other services and applications will interact with one of the hubs. Such modules can include: authoring and publishing, collaboration, digital repositories, e-portfolios, social networking, content and library management systems, etc.

From your perspective, what’s been the problem?
Historically, LMS have been regarded as a single, all encompassing solution, whereas many commentators now believe that a mix of tools is a stronger, more stable approach to meet school needs, a view supported within New Zealand and internationally. The largest challenge in this ‘mash-up’ (which we refer to as a MLE) approach is the interoperability, the way the parts interact and play together. Also, schools are not able to share resources developed in their locally installed LMS unless the second school uses the same one. In some cases, even this is not possible. This means:

• a student or teacher cannot take their work with them and schools cannot exchange content. It remains locked in the first (proprietary) system; and
• if a new module is introduced from another provider, there is no guarantee it will be able to exchange data with your existing modules – in fact it probably won’t.
As a result, the movement of relevant educational material is difficult or time consuming!

Why have you chosen now to get involved?
While less than 20 per cent of schools currently have and use an LMS (in contrast, over 95 per cent of schools have and use an SMS) the interest in LMS and associated tools is high and growing. We believe that earlier involvement (before too many schools have made decisions and invested) to provide guidance and direction to schools and vendors is preferable to waiting any longer.

What has the Ministry done?
Our aim is to design and promote an educationally-relevant, open, modular, standards-based, sustainable approach to MLE development and use for New Zealand schools. The Ministry of Education has selected a few LMS vendors to work with to develop and implement the required standards and specifications. Add in the ongoing work with SMS and we expect to make good progress to ensure MLE components work seamlessly together for schools regardless of the providers of the modules chosen by the schools – thus ensuring that information can move between modules within a school and from one school to another.

Who are the LMS vendors?
Three vendors have been chosen. They will be announced when contracts have been signed later this month.

What will be the benefits for schools?
The MLE in New Zealand is relatively immature but the technology does offer schools 21st century ways of teaching, thinking and learning. We predict:

• Improved student outcomes from teaching approaches being adaptive, with the student at the centre, and able to take advantage of the evolving technology;
• Increased family engagement through the provision of a parent portal and timely reporting showing learning activity and achievement; and
• Quality MLE software modules available from the provision of funding assistance to take selected LMS vendors on an enhanced (educationally relevant) development path.

Has there been any sector involvement?
The Ministry has worked with a principals’ reference group to establish the strategy, assist with the vendor selection and determine the most appropriate priority order of the work to realise the most needed benefits in the shortest possible time. We also held four consultation meetings late last year to hear directly from more schools. The team remain interested to hear from any school.

Is funding available?
The selected vendors will receive funding for integration activities. However, at this point the Ministry is not funding schools to purchase or use an LMS.

What is the likely timeline of development?
We expect the first improvements to be with schools during Term One. The total time to enhance and develop all aspects will be several years.

Should schools delay their purchase of an LMS?
Yes. We are strongly recommending that schools keen to purchase a learning management system wait until we announce our selected vendors in Term One.

Where can schools get more information?
A roadshow will be held in Terms 1, 2 and 3, that will focus strongly on the MLE concept and planned activity. In the meantime, schools can contact us on 04 463 7666 or sms.project@minedu.govt.nz

Thank you.

Paul Seiler is a Manager at the Ministry of Education, with responsibility for Managed Learning Environments.

© INTERFACE February 2009

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