EDUPUB: Getting It Together for Digital Education
Despite the popular [mis]conception that digital textbooks haven't taken off, the educational ecosystem-particularly in higher ed-is where some of the most active digital developments are happening. Most college textbooks have associated online resources and are often available as ebooks or online. The textbooks themselves are almost all available in digital form through aggregators like CourseSmart and VitalSource (both of which have updated their platforms to be based on EPUB 3). The major textbook publishers all have sophisticated digital workflows. With the advent of tablets, even K-12 content is increasingly digital. Learning Management Systems (LMS's) are in use in almost every college and university. Interactive quizzes, tests, activities and multimedia are sprouting up everywhere. And all of this needs to be accessible to folks who need assistive technologies.
In an effort to bring standards and interoperability to this increasingly rich and complex educational ecosystem, Pearson Education and the IDPF (the International Digital Publishing Forum, which maintains the EPUB standard) convened a workshop in Boston on October 29-30 that brought together a broad range of key industry players-publishers, aggregators, technology companies, standards organizations, and others. The result: a high level of commitment to working together to create real, practical, implementable standards and solutions by the end of 2014.
Dr. Dan Cooper, SVP, Content Management Services for Pearson North America, gave a stirring opening keynote on the theme "Moving to Ubiquity," about content that is persistent, discoverable, manageable, reproducible, scalable, accessible, immediately available and unbound from particular formats. The "Foundational Principles" he provided emphasize output-ready formats (based on the Open Web Platform); semantic structuring optimized for education; the importance of metadata; and adherence to standards that reduce friction, support authoring, and provide useful analytics, and which thus provide no competitive advantage for one system over another.
To back up these lofty principles, Pearson offered to contribute to the industry their output specifications for EDUPUB, a rich, sophisticated model-based on HTML5, EPUB 3, and other key standards-that they have spent much of the past two years developing in the context of a major revision of their entire infrastructure and workflow. It is hoped that this will serve as the foundation for the development of a freely available EPUB 3 profile for the distribution of educational content. And to complement this, Metrodigi, the developer of sophisticated widgets for creating interactive and scripted features, announced the release of an initial group of ten widgets as open source, ideally to help kick-start an IDPF-sponsored set of open source widgets for EPUB 3.
Another key player in all this is the IMS Global Learning Consortium, which maintains many of the key standards for education, such as QTI (Quiz and Test Interoperability), LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability), ICE (Interactive Connected Ebook), and Access for All, a key accessibility standard. The IDPF and IMS have been working closely together to better integrate the EPUB standards for publication with the IMS standards for eLearning.
The EDUPUB workshop was organized around four themes: The Educational Interoperability Landscape; Rich and Interactive Content; Accessibility; and Production Workflows. Each of these featured a rich array of panel discussions and presentations from aggregators like CourseSmart, VitalSource, and Nook Media; technology firms like Inkling, Blackboard, Imagineering, Google, Wolfram, PubCoder, VersaPub, and Metrodigi; accessibility organizations like Benetech, NCAM (the National Center for Accessible Media), AMAC Accessibility Solutions, and DAISY; publishers like Pearson, Harvard Business Publishing, and O'Reilly; and of course standards organizations like the IDPF, IMS Global, CETIS (the UK's Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards), LRMI (the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative), and the W3C.
The keynote of the second day was provided by Dr. Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the W3C, the organization responsible for the standards comprising the Open Web Platform-XML, HTML, CSS, SVG, MathML, and a host of others. He pointed out that while the Web has had an impact on almost all industries, its impact on publishing has been the greatest because it is intimately tied to the intrinsic purpose of publishing (whereas it's secondary for other industries). The good news: "Web technology is now the most interoperable technology in history." The W3C has recently initiated a Digital Publishing Interest Group to help identify ways in which the W3C standards can be enhanced to benefit publishing.
Markus Gylling, CTO of the IDPF and co-chair of EDUPUB with Paul Belfanti, Director of Content Architecture at Pearson, wrapped up the workshop with a list of concrete actions and activities to be taken to move the EDUPUB initiative forward, including the development of an Educational Profile for EPUB 3 integrating QTI, LRMI, and LTI; developing an EPUB 3 Widget Spec and Library; providing a "reference implementation" of a fully accessible reading system incorporating all EDUPUB features; enhancing capabilities for analytics; and further aligning the EPUB and IMS standards.
In closing, Dr. Cooper presented a ten-item "100 Day Challenge" designed to inspire rapid development and focus on key priorities to ensure that this EDUPUB initiative will move forward toward concrete action for the benefit of everyone in the educational ecosystem.
Exciting times-watch this space!
Bill Kasdorf is the VP and Principal Consultant at Apex Content Solutions.