Home > Uncategorized > Who and what is the Shared Learning Collaborative? (Part 2)

Who and what is the Shared Learning Collaborative? (Part 2)

February 20, 2012

Part 2 of a 2 part seriesPart 1 | Part 2

The Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) asserts that its technology will provide personalized learning, providing access to materials that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Let’s dig in and see what they are offering.

Common Core State Standards
If you haven’t heard about the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS), in a nutshell it is an effort to set common learning goals at each grade level across multiple states. From the CCSS FAQ:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort to establish a shared set of clear educational standards for English language arts and mathematics that states can voluntarily adopt. […]

Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms.

For example, if you move to another state in the middle of the year, your child will find the knowledge they are expected to master in the new school not radically different from their old school – as long as both states are following CCSS.

Delaware has adopted the Common Core State Standards and is in the process of implementing them. Delaware’s transition plan and timeline shows currently we are in Phase II, culminating with Phase IV in 2014.

[…]

Common Core State Standards are not a direct SLC offering. But it should be noted that the Common Core State Standards are jointly sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Council is represented on the board of the Shared Learning Collaborative. SLC states that it is “Led by the vision of the Council of Chief State School Officers and nine participating states…”

Personalized learning
Here’s what SLC says about its personalized learning offerings:

The goal of the SLC is to establish a set of shared technology services that make it easy for students and teachers to have a full picture of their students’ learning and then find the resources and tools they need to provide personalized learning.

This is perhaps the sketchiest part of the infrastructure. So far the SLC tools for personalized learning consist of two items: the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), and Learning Maps.

Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI)
LRMI is basically a tagging scheme specialized to describe learning materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The idea is that content providers can apply these special tags to their CCSS-compliant learning materials and contribute them to a shared pool. Content could be just about any type of document or media: lesson plans, text-based resources, video, audio, images, documentation of specific learning activities, or more.

Teachers can then search for those materials using the highly specific tagging terms. Content providers may be individual teachers who wish to share their materials, or (more likely), organized content providers, possibly for-profit. These vendors could then market their content libraries to schools as being pre-wired for Common Core State Standards.

The main LRMI website is http://www.lrmi.net. You can review scenarios for using LRMI here, in a jargon-y kind of formal description called use cases. The tagging scheme itself is described here.

What makes it so sketchy is that there is no description of how to actually apply the tags to content. On one online LRMI forum, one person (presumably a vendor who wished to use the LRMI spec in his product or service) asked this very question, and here was the response:

We (the LRMI Technical Working Group) have been revising the specification since then and haven’t produced the full fledged examples that you refer to.

This is a priority at this time, though.

On another online forum, someone asked: “How likely is it that search engines will adopt the LRMI schema?” The question remains unanswered since October.

So currently, it appears there is no working product that uses the LRMI tagging scheme. I was not able to determine whether the tagging scheme would be capable of being used in free tools like Google, or only in more specialized search tools which may or not be free or open-source.

It should be noted that representatives of Microsoft and the Gates Foundation are represented on the LRMI Technical Working Group. Microsoft is a competitor to Google in certain respects and has typically been reluctant to do anything that would benefit Google.

Learning maps
Learning maps are another SLC offering to support personalized learning, but are apparently at the concept phase:

Learning maps are a graphical representation of student learning data that will help teachers and students visualize individual learning progress and needs. More information on the learning maps will be available soon. […]

Learning maps will connect teachers and students to relevant online content by utilizing Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) and Common Core State Standards tagging functionality.

How is Delaware involved with the Shared Learning Collaborative?
The SLC website states that Delaware is participating in Phase 2 of the SLC pilot. This makes sense, because Delaware has a working version of the system already set up (or about to be set up, when the first dashboards come online next month). In a sense, Delaware committed to Phase 1 before SLC officially existed. But SLC does not provide details of Phase 2.

Phase 2 may not be that big of a deal. Considering we already have much of the system in place or in development, it may simply be a matter of implementing a content search engine and choosing one or more content vendors.

But it is not clear which new features of the SLC platform Delaware will be adding, if any, or at what level it will integrate with the SLC offerings. So I asked DDOE who in Delaware was handling SLC issues, and what Phase 2 will consist of. Here’s the response:

As you indicated, Delaware was selected to participate in phase two of the pilot. As such, we are participating in functional workgroups and providing information about related initiatives in Delaware as requested. We are looking forward to learning more from the Phase I sites. Once we know more about what the specifics will mean for Delaware at the state and local level, we will share more broadly with stakeholders within the state.

It appears that by announcing Delaware’s involvement in Phase 2, SLC caught Delaware a little bit unprepared to discuss it. Who is participating in these “functional workgroups?” Keep your eyes open for any reaching out to stakeholders on SLC Phase 2 in Delaware, and be on the lookout for new RFPs.

Conclusion
The Shared Learning Collaborative is clearly an effort by the early developers of the technology to lock in and capitalize on their investment – or rather, the investments of the Dell and Gates foundations, and investments from early-adopter states (Texas and Delaware). The stage seems set for a wave of state-level contracts for SLC system implementations and related services.

The system appears to have originated among a group of Texas-based vendors, consultants, and academics centered in Austin, with assistance from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation; vendors who remain at the front of the line today.

And the name “McKinsey” seems to wind through the SLC membership. In education reform, McKinsey & Company appears to be a kind of Skull and Bones club, with the McKinsey firm involved directly, or with former McKinsey employees in key roles. The McKinsey firm itself is an SLC partner. Double Line Partners, builder of the first SLC-style systems in Texas and Delaware, has two former McKinsey employees on its team. And Jack Markell, Governor of early-adopter state Delaware, is himself a former McKinsey consultant.

Nonetheless, the SLC model has many advantages. The technology is innovative, at least by the standards of state Departments of Education. The act of unifying state databases into one data warehouse will allow states to use their own data in ways that were considered too costly or difficult before.

With the choice of an open-source license, the real promise of the SLC platform is the new features that can be added by states, and then shared with all other states. Currently states are generally running proprietary (closed-source) systems, and if they need to add a new feature or modify the system, are at the mercy of the vendor. The open-source license allows states to regain control of their own systems.

There is even the tantalizing possibility that one or more vendors could offer the entire system as a hosted, cloud-based service, which wouldn’t require any hardware installation or management at all by the state. This would benefit smaller states without the resources to set up or manage their own in-house system.

And while initial vendor lock-in will be strong, eventually competition will be inevitable, as hungrier and more innovative firms find new and better ways to implement or improve the products, develop new add-ons, or simply by the old-fashioned technique of providing better service.

Part 2 of a 2 part seriesclick here for Part 1

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  1. February 20, 2012 at 11:24 am

    After writing this, I think I’m missing something important about the content being shared via LRMI (see the main post). I think the content vendor may have something to do with the Instructional Improvement System required by RTTT.

    Part of Delaware’s RTTT plan requires schools to choose an “Instructional Improvement System (IIS)” from a list of approved vendors, or to submit their own IIS for approval.

    It strikes me that these approved IIS vendors may be the “content providers” I was speaking of in the article, and may already be on the scene here in Delaware. I don’t have the time to look into this for a few more days, so if anybody has more info about IIS or your District’s IIS vendors, please share!

  2. June 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Mike-

    As you probably know SLC has now changed its name to inBloom. It also appears to me that gathering all this personal data is the real impetus behind CCSSI. MOOCs as well. inBloom is sponsoring as the lead sponsor the Open Source Convention in July in Portland, Oregon. Last year Microsoft was the lead sponsor.

    This all looks like a tremendous amount of behavioral data being supplied to the very companies who know how to crunch it. It also explains Michael Barber’s career at McKinsey and now Pearson and why he pushed NYC to hire Cambridge to move teachers away from teaching content. Just as Benjamin Bloom always pointed to in his skills instead of knowledge pushes.

    Thanks for the info in this older post.

  3. June 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks, Robin!

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