Instructure Offers Bounty for New Educational Apps

Isolated.  Too exclusive. Antisocial.

That’s how Brian Whitmer, a founder of Instructure, describes the education-technology sector, particularly the space occupied by developers of learning-management systems like Instructure’s Canvas. “It’s become clear that ed tech does not have the type of ecosystem that other sectors have,” he said. “It’s hampering innovation. We need to fix that.”

To call attention to that problem, Instructure and other learning-management-system providers, including Blackboard and Desire2Learn, are offering cash rewards to encourage the creation of apps using the Learning Tools Interoperability standard, or LTI.

Similar to Facebook apps, LTI apps focus on a specific function that may be missing from a larger platform—a better way to track grades, for example—while taking advantage of the platform’s existing features, like basic log-in methods and messaging services. The LTI standard, which was released by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a learning-technology nonprofit organization, in 2010, then allows those apps to function for any of those learning-management systems at once.

Developers can focus on what an app can accomplish, rather than building separate apps for each system, Mr. Whitmer said. The standard is particularly helpful for start-up and niche companies, he added.

Called the LTI App Bounty, the new competition will award $250 for every eligible app and $1,000 for the “best apps,” as determined by a panel of judges that includes Audrey Watters, a technology journalist; Chuck Severance, a co-founder of the online-learning community Sakai; and David Wiley, an open-education advocate. The contest began on Monday, following its announcement at the IMS Global Conference, and will last until June 10.

“We want to try to kick-start things,” Mr. Whitmer said. “We want to see more innovation. As they say, a rising tide will lift all ships. We want to make people realize the value of this ecosystem.”

Mr. Whitmer said the competition is open to anybody who can build an LTI app, and the types of apps he’s expecting to see will, he hopes, be just as varied. From finding a way to drop a map application into a system’s learning module to developing a digital-badge system to track attendance, he encouraged developers to “go crazy.”

Mr. Whitmer said he hoped the competition would be an early step in a movement to free up the space for smaller and independent developers and to create more openness among the companies involved in the competition.

“We’re a little bit behind the rest of the industry in terms of openness,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of the small players in the space who get that, and they’re going to help light a fire and get us caught up. They’re going to help people understand that it’s not scary and you’re not losing anything by becoming more open.”

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