A large part of the recent IMS quarterly meeting in Heerlen was devoted to their new Common Cartridge specification. Heavily backed by publishers and vendors (including Pearson, McGraw Hill, Thompson, Angel, Sakai,Desire2Learn and Blackboard to name a few) this specification claims to "define a commonly supported content format, able to run on any compliant LMS platform." which will "enable content providers to achieve lower production costs whilst expanding the effective market by eliminating platform dependency. This will both stimulate production by larger content providers and open up the market to their smaller counterparts. The LMS providers in turn, will have a stronger business case to take to their customers, as schools, colleges, universities, training departments and certification programs will have available a broader catalog of offerings reaching deeper into the curriculum."
But wasn't content packaging supposed to do that, weren't we being promised this five years ago . . . Well yes, but as the CETIS codebashes showed, making packages interoperable wasn't just as easy as implementing the specifcation, particularly when the specfication is able to be implemented in many different ways.
In essense the Common Cartridge specification is a profile of IMS Content Packaging which is begining to tie down many of the issues which imlementors and codebashes have highlighted. As well as IMS Content Packaging, this new specifcation also supports a number of other commonly used specifications including IMS Question & Test Interoperability v1.2, IMS Tools Interoperability Guidelines v1.0, IEEE Learning Object Metadata v1.0, SCORM v1.2 and SCORM 2004. Perhaps reflecting the more business (and dare I say pragmatic make up of the working group) support for newer versions of exsiting specifications such as QTI 2.0 is not being included in the initial release, as it was felt that there isn't enough widespread adoption of these yet.
So, is this just another case of 'old wine in a new bottle' or can this specfication actually offer true interoperability? In the brave new world of webserivces are IMS Tools Interoperability guidelines relevant? Well, for me the jury is still out. If publishers and vendors back this and there are large numbers of cartridges available, then it will have an impact on certain parts of the education sector. But as for teachers/learning technologists creating/using/reusing them . . . I guess that will depend on the tools that are around to create the cartridges and aren't we all just self generating content in wikis and blogs now anyway
To help gain a clearer understanding of the potential impact of the Common Cartridge, Kevin Riley from IMS Global Org, is giving a presentation at the next Educational Content SIG meeting on 7th December at Glasgow Caledonian University. There will also be a presenation about the recently launched OU Open Content Initiative from Patrick McAndrew. Following in the footsteps of the MIT OpenCourseWare project, this UK based project is offering free online materials. It was hinted at the Heerlen meetings that Common Cartridge could be a potential format for this project. Watch this space for more details, or better still come along to the meeting and find out more.