WebCT is founding member and co-chair of new open source/commercial e-learning software group

March 29, 2005

WebCT, provider of higher education’s most flexible and widely used e-learning solutions, today announced it is aggressively working to make open source and commercial learning software – traditionally polarized camps – interoperate in campus e-learning environments.

WebCT Chief Technology Officer Chris Vento is a founding member and co-chairman of a standards panel dedicated to the premise, the new IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS/GLC) Tools Interoperability Working Group. The panel intends to make course management systems and associated learning tools interoperate without customization, regardless of whether they are open source or commercial products.

Vento initiated the establishment of the working group last fall after a seminal public appearance with a prominent representative of the open source community, Brad Wheeler. Vento and Wheeler, who is vice chairman of The Sakai Project, co-keynoted the 2004 edition of the alt-i-lab meeting organized annually by IMS/GLC. There they declared that instead of competing, open source communities and commercial vendors should collaborate to establish and disseminate open standards of interoperability.

The IMS/GLC Tools Interoperability Working Group, part of the IMS/GLC, is charged with demonstrating compatible software at the next alt-i-lab learning technology conference, which will take place June 20-22 in Sheffield, UK. Specifically, the panel will showcase an open source assessment engine and open source homework tool that will run both on popular commercial platforms, including the WebCT Vista academic enterprise system and WebCT Campus Edition course management system, and on leading open source platforms like The Sakai Project’s collaboration and learning environment.

“From our initial conversations preparing for and during alt-i-lab 2004, it was clear that Chris and WebCT recognized, and were very effective in articulating, the common interests of commercial and open source learning systems working together. We were likewise motivated to engage and realize the notion that open source and commercial systems are not an either-or proposition,” said Sakai’s Wheeler. “We’re doing our best in the IMS Tools Interoperability Working Group to come out with interoperable open source and commercial tools at the next alt-i-lab.”

WebCT saw the importance of open source early on in an industry where many considered it a threat. For years, WebCT has said open source teaching and learning tools offer institutions more choice and provide an institution with the ability to enhance the functionality of their commercial e-learning solution.

“Too many commercial software vendors misunderstand open standards,” said IMS Global Learning Consortium CEO Ed Walker. “As a member of IMS/GLC, WebCT, however, has held from the beginning that open source and commercial systems both are essential and should be harnessed together. Both commercial companies and open source development groups are taking heed.”

WebCT participates in a number of other open standards development activities, including the Java Architectures Special Interest Group (JA-SIG), The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative and numerous IMS/GLC groups.

“Some would say we should be fiercely competitive with open source, but our point of view is there’s a tremendous opportunity for co-existence between commercial and open source software to deliver the best solutions to the e-learning market,” said Vento. “Commercial platforms and tools can serve as the groundwork, and open source can provide specialized functions and enhancements to the course management system platform. In the end, it’s all about accommodating the diverse array of customer needs at every institution.”

The IMS/GLC Tools Interoperability Working Group includes representatives from, JISC, Cocoon Technologies, Indiana University, MIT, Open University, Pearson Education, QuestionMark, The Sakai Project, Sun Microsystems, UC Berkeley, Ufi, University of Michigan and Blackboard.