LTI/Best Practice/Issues for Teachers and Students

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Issues for Teachers/Students

This section discusses issues relevant to teachers and students seeking to use LTI tool providers as part of their on-line courses.

Number of links per course

Typically a link to a tool provider is added to a content area of a course within a tool consumer in a similar way to adding any other form of content. There is no reason for teachers and students to know that a link is actually connecting them to externally-served content; it should form just another part of a seamless on-line course environment. Whilst the behaviour of following each link is dependent upon the implementation by the tool provider, the normal expectation is that they would act as unique connections to separate resources/activities. Thus, for example, if the tool provider is a quizzing application, adding a new link should add a new quiz to the course. The consumer key and resource link ID passed when a link is launched allow the tool provider to keep each link separate from others added to the same course, in other courses in the same tool consumer, and from those added to any other tool consumer around the globe.

Pre-populating enrolments and groups

Since the details about the user can be securely passed when they click the link, the tool provider is able to create/update any user accounts required at its end at the time of the launch request. Thus, there is no need for the external system to be pre-provisioned with users; they can be added "on-the-fly". LTI does not, however, provide a mechanism for sharing group memberships defined within the tool consumer. The closest solution is an extension to the unofficial memberships service which includes group information; this has been used for WebPA which, as a peer assessment tool, requires a teacher to have details of all the students so that assessments can be created and each student assigned to a group. [ceLTIc-H]

Managing outcomes

Many tool providers involve assessable activities and use the Outcomes service to return a grade to the column in the tool consumer's gradebook associated with the link added to a course. Only grade values between 0 and 1 (inclusive) can be passed, but most gradebooks would display this value as a percentage. In some cases teachers (or administrators) have the option to specify the number of points possible so that the grade can be displayed as a score. For example, with a points possible of 60, when a grade of 0.7 is returned it would be displayed to users as 42.

Grades may be returned from a tool provider as a result of an action by the student, or by the teacher, or as part of an automated (possibly regular) process. Once a student has launched a link their cell in the associated gradebook column falls under the control of the tool provider and can be updated at its discretion.

Whilst the LTI specification requires that a grade be transmitted as a value between 0 and 1, it need not represent a score. Some tool providers may associate the values with other meanings. For example, 0 may represent that a student has started an activity with 1 representing completion. The sample Ratings application uses the grade to represent the proportion of the items available which have been rated by the student. [ceLTIc-I]

Re-using content

Each launch link added to a course is identified by a unique ID. A tool provider will typically use this ID to associate the link with an activity/resource/work space. If a link in a course is copied the copy will have a different ID and hence the association made by the tool provider will be lost. However, some tool providers encapsulate the association within the launch URL (which would, therefore, be unique for each link) or as a custom parameter, in which cases the connection need not be lost by being copied.

Sharing content

With each link having a unique ID, a tool provider will normally treat them as entirely separate connections. However, there are situations where It could be beneficial for more than one link to be associated with the same activity; for example:

  • in order to allow multiple entry points from within a course;
  • when an activity involves students from different courses or different tool consumers, even different institutions.

There is nothing specifically within the LTI specification to enable such scenarios, but tool providers may provide a mechanism for doing so, such as a custom parameter. Such functionality has been incorporated into the open source PHP and Java class libraries which will automatically allow additional links to appear to the tool provider as if they have been launched from a primary link. [ceLTIc-J] Check the documentation for the tool provider to see if this functionality is available, as is the case for the LTI connectors for WordPress [SPVSP-A] and WebPA [SPVSP-D].

Mapping VLE/LTI roles

Most tool consumers allow users to be given a variety of roles within a course, such as:

  • course administrator;
  • course builder;
  • instructor;
  • teaching assistant;
  • learner;
  • guest.

A tool provider may not support such a rich set of roles or, if it does, may not have the same view of the importance of the roles. In particular, a teaching assistant role can vary widely between institutions in terms of the level of responsibility and access they are given to courses. Some tool consumers provide a mechanism for mapping course roles onto LTI roles but, otherwise, the tool provider may allow some control over roles and permissions via a configuration page available to instructors (or administrators). However, in many cases only roles of instructor and learner are supported so there may be issues as to whether course builders, teaching assistants and guests are given the desired level of access.

"Dummy" users

Many VLEs offer users the ability to view the system as if they had a different role; commonly this is used to allow a teacher to preview their course as a student would see it. If the teacher takes a test in this mode, the VLE may be clever enough to also exclude their marks when generating class statistics. At least in some implementations, this is achieved by generating a new user account which is used during this time.

So what does this mean for LTI connections added to a course. Well, the first thing is that there are no known implementations which actually inform the tool provider that the user who has performed the launch is not a real account. This means that tool providers cannot distinguish their activity from that of real users, hence this may distort the class numbers and statistics. It may also be the case that the user_id parameter is not changed, but merely the user's role will have changed from Instructor to Learner, for example. A tool provider always needs to be vigilant for users changing roles, but in cases like this the change is merely temporary and short-lived. There are, however, some VLEs which do use a different ID for these "dummy" user accounts, however, in the case of Blackboard Learn 9, their recommended practice is for a new account to be created every time the teacher selected the student preview mode. In this case, the number of "dummy" user accounts received by a tool provider could be quite large.

As a teacher, you should be aware that your preview account will not be recognised as such by a tool provider. If this has a side effect on class statistics or licence fees, then it may be advisable to avoid launching LTI connections when using this feature.

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