[Revision 1.0 – August 5, 2014]
Growing our Teaching Technology Toolbox at UofT
Innovative approaches to teaching and learning are evident throughout the University of Toronto. People at UofT are constantly discovering (or sometimes building) and evaluating new applications that enhance teaching and support student learning. While instructors try out apps, websites and services that may be appropriate for their own teaching contexts, there are overall institutional contexts that also need to be considered.
For example, we already have guidelines on using third-party or cloud-based services (see:
http://uoft.me/socmedia), but increasingly, people have been asking if we can incorporate these new applications into our Teaching Toolbox (aka The Portal) in some official way.
The purpose of this short document is to explain some of the factors that go into decisions about integrating these new apps and services; the processes need to be transparent, so everyone, including the app makers, know how it works.
In a nutshell, in order for us to even consider integrating new apps into our Toolbox, those apps need to meet some very basic, but very important, standards and specifications. Of course, cost is a factor, but first and foremost are the standards and specifications that ensure new apps will work well within the UofT technology ecosystem.
So, what are those considerations, standards and specifications?
New apps and technologies need to be well supported during an initial rollout, and sustained on an ongoing basis. Every time a new app or service is added to our Toolbox, the need to support the overall Toolbox increases, and of course, across our whole university, we have wonderful but limited resources (aka professionally staff). Thus, every time we are asked to consider adding another service or app to the Toolbox, we have to carefully consider the support implications.
UofT is a public institution and is government by many legislative requirements. One that may be fairly new to many people is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The AODA is a piece of legislation in the Province of Ontario aimed at making the places you work, live and learn as accessible as possible. But even if it weren’t legislated, being accessible is the right thing to do. Not only are we committed to making educational content accessible, we also want to try and make the tools in our toolbox accessible. So when thinking about adding new apps and services, this is a big consideration for us. (For more on AODA at UofT, please visit: http://www.hrandequity.utoronto.ca/about-hr-equity/diversity/aoda.htm ).
Data and Risk Protection
App makers and service providers need to protect our data! They need to protect personal information, they need to protect intellectual property, and they need to protect the physical servers upon which that information sits, and the networks over which it travels. Every new application or service added to our Toolbox is now being audited and evaluated for these factors. (See the ISEA website for more information: http://main.its.utoronto.ca/its-units/isea/ )
Single Sign On
In order to create a truly integrated experience for members of the UofT community, we’ve adopted the notion that apps and services should be authenticatable (yes, that’s a made up word, but you get the idea) using our standard UTorID system. This means that users only sign on once, using one user ID and password. Some app makers and service providers are able to do this out of the box, but most don’t, so before making a decision about integrating an app or service into our Toolbox, we work with the vendor to evaluate that possibility.
Learning Tools Interoperability +
Increasingly, we’ve been adopting a set of international standards and specifications that allow for the functional integration of different tools within the Toolbox. For example, these standards and specifications provide for ways to move grades from one application to another or into a grade book type service. One of the most useful of these standards and specifications is the Learning Tools Interoperability specification, or LTI. Other acronyms you may see are QTI and SCORM. (To read more about this, please visit: http://www.imsglobal.org/toolsinteroperability2.cfm)
Other course, there are plenty of other factors that go into making a decision about integrating new apps and services into our UofT Toolbox; cost and compliance with our various policies and guidelines, both institutionally and divisionally, are very important factors. It’s really a balancing act between enhancing teaching and innovation on the one hand, and protecting students, instructors and staff on the other.
If you have any questions or thoughts on this topic, please feel free to reach out to me at any time. Thanks. AJH