Saturday, March 10, 2012

CEDO 540 Week 6: To LMS or Not To LMS - SCORM is the Question

It's a tricky question about whether I liked using a Wiki more than Angel LMS for a course.
Years ago  was pretty excited learning about and investigating Learning Management Systems (LMS). I thought at the time that these were going to be wonderful things. Angel was open source back then and was a pretty nice system. I chose instead to follow Moodle and eventually played around with it here and there installing it on my own computers and testing it out at my school once.

On either an LMS, a Wiki, a Google Site or even other shared content tools, it's easy enough to post homework and links and such for a course. You can even get some collaboration and interaction. Some services even provide gradebooks and attendance and so on. The magic about LMS's are the kind of interactive courses you can use with them called SCORM content.

Simple, isn't it?

Simply put, a SCORM learning object provides a way to interact and automatically grade work done. Many of you have probably interacted with SCORM content in one way or another. If you've ever tested out that math site to see what it's like and it automatically grades you, it was probably a proprietary SCORM learning object, written for that particular site. All those fancy comprehensive core content material you can buy for your school are most likely SCORM content as well.

The problem with SCORM is that you need to find the right vendor with the right product and hopefully it will work with your LMS. Many times it will use a proprietary LMS not connected to the one you use at your school. This means you have another system to learn and maintain. This is the case with a lot of online educational content services as well now. Their content is SCORM, but it is proprietary and won't hook up to your LMS. Either they don't want to make it possible to do so or it is too difficult for them because it was not designed the right way from the start.

Another problem with SCORM content (or at least it used to be) is something called cross-domain scripting. For a SCORM learning object to keep track of all the students grades, which assignments they have done, which skills they need more work on and more, there is a lot of interaction with the program and the database behind it using some kind of scripting language. Ideally, it would be nice to find a program on the web and have it hooked up to your school LMS. But this is difficult to do because the severs with the program and database on the web need to interact with with the server running your LMS. Both are on different internet domains. There is an internet rule that says a server on one domain cannot send a script to run on a server on another domain. It's a good rule and keeps things safe and secure on the Internet. But this rule makes it very difficult for offsite SCORM packages to interact with your onsite LMS. This is one reason all those nice core content sites on the web have their own grading and tracking systems.They don't want to deal with the cross-domain scripting issue.  They may have fears about opening up their servers to attack. Cross-domain scripting can be done with some hacking, and done safely, but you need to know how to do it (I don't).

Another disappointment I've found with SCORM is that by now, I would have thought there would be a lot more high quality interactive content for downloading and inserting into your LMS. I thought the open source community would have been active in this. This isn't the case. I have had a hard time finding any quality free/open source SCORM packages. Yes, you can find a lot of courses that have text content, links, perhaps videos and so on. All the stuff you could put into a blog or find in LiveBinders but not the kind of interaction you find on that awesome math site such as BuzzMath. I think the open source community has in the past focused on programs and apps that do things. It's time now for a greater movement into the open source content. It's starting but it's not there yet.

For now, to effectively use an LMS to it's full potential, you either need to purchase expensive course content, have interactive content made for you or have people in-house working on creating all the content and an administrator that can make it simpler for everyone to use. Not an easy task no mtter how you look at it.

Because there are so many options now for delivering and interacting with content, it seems that going with what works best for individuals may work just as well. There will probably never be a comprehensive suite LMS that will give everyone just what they need and want. It would be super bloated as well. Yes, we'll still have to manually enter math grades into the grade book either paper or on the computer. You will still have to mark and grade those collaborative mindmaps separately. Using all these different web tools actually makes administration of things a bit more difficult. But if those who can have at least some freedom to choose the tools they are comfortable with, then perhaps it makes some things a little easier. Do your course here. Enter grades there. Mark attendance here. Collaborate there. Simple enough.

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