A Brief Primer on Common Cartridge Conformance for End-User Institutions, Faculty, and Buyers of Educational Content and Learning Platforms

 

The IMS Common Cartridge interoperability standard provides a set of specifications that enable a wide variety of digital educational content to be accessed from a wide variety of learning platforms, including learning management systems, course management systems, virtual learning environments, portals, and web applications.  Downloadable or web accessible content developed to conform to the specifications will "run" in a wide variety of conformant learning platforms.



Basics: Content, Platforms, and Common Cartridge Versions


Digital content is said to be in a "common cartridge", meaning that it complies with a specific version of the Common Cartridge standard. The Common Cartridge version number to which the content complies is very important as it prescribes that the learning platform must support that specific version of Common Cartridge.

The reason there are multiple versions of common cartridge conformance is that the specifications are evolving over time to support more functionality, much in the way that other digital formats evolve over time (.pdf, .doc, etc). Higher version numbers indicate support for additional features beyond lower numbered versions.

To determine if a common cartridge will run in a learning platform, it is simply a matter of matching the version number on the cartridge with the version or version supported by the conformant platform.  So, for example, if digital content is designated as conformant to version 1.1 of common cartridge, it must be run in a platform that also conforms to version 1.1. Many platforms support more than one version or all of the versions of common cartridge. IMS provides a list of the platforms that have achieved conformance. The list includes the versions of common cartridge supported: see http://www.imsglobal.org/cc/allcc.cfm

Support for Common Cartridge Version Features


IMS also provides a table that indicates and compares the features of each version of the Common Cartridge standard.

Table 1. Common Cartridge Features

Features
Details Feature Available in Common Cartridge v1.0 Feature Available in Common Cartridge v1.1 Feature Available in Common Cartridge v1.2 Feature Available in Common Cartridge v1.3
IMS Manifest File   Yes Yes Yes Yes
Roles Metadata Instructor Yes Yes Yes Yes
  Student Yes Yes Yes Yes
  Mentor No Yes Yes Yes
.imscc file name   No Yes Yes Yes
RESOURCE TYPES          
LTI Links more information No Yes Yes Yes
Web Content   Yes Yes Yes Yes
  intended use attribute Yes Yes Yes Yes
Web Links   Yes Yes Yes Yes
Associated Content   Yes Yes Yes Yes
Question Types          
  1) Multiple-Choice (single Response) Yes Yes Yes Yes
  2) Multiple - Choice (multiple Response) Yes Yes Yes Yes
  3) True/False Yes Yes Yes Yes
  4) Essay Yes Yes Yes Yes
  5) Simple fill in the blank Yes Yes Yes Yes
  6) Pattern Match Yes Yes Yes Yes
Discussion Forum   Yes Yes Yes Yes
Authorization   Yes Yes Yes Yes

Curriculum Standards

Metadata

  No No Yes Yes
All LOM Fields   No No No Yes
Extensions   No No No Yes
Embedded Files APIP, IWB, EPub No No No Yes
Inline Descriptor File XML   No No No Yes

In viewing the features supported, it is important to note that even though a cartridge may be designated to be a specific version, it is not required to contain all of the features.  For example, even though discussion forums is a feature that is available in either v1.0 or v1.1. a particular set of digital content (a cartridge) may not include any discussion forum content. Use of any of the individual features by the content developer is up to their discretion based on which features they wish to provide. Therefore, if you would like content that exploits certain common cartridge features, it is important when acquiring cartridges that you ask the provider which features they make use of in their content/product.

It is also important to understand that a platform that is compliant to a specific common cartridge version may not support all features enabled by that version.  Features that are not supported are noted as"exceptions" in the platform conformance list. See http://www.imsglobal.org/cc/allcc.cfm and click on the name of the product to see any exceptions associated with it.

Even though a platform may not support all features, it must be able to ingest a cartridge without error and do something reasonable with portions of the cartridge it does not support. Typically this will involve a screen message to the installer of the cartridge indicating that something was found in an imported cartridge that is not supported.


Metadata & Common Cartridge

 

Digital Content Developers may use metadata to describe and categorize the content within a cartridge.  While metadata is only required at the schema version notation inside a cartridge it may be placed on any resource.  Developers must use a subset of LOM (Learning Object Metadata) to describe their resources. Specifically, CC v1.2 includes a subset of LOM at the cartridge and resource level.  There is also curriculum standards metadata at the cartridge, resource, and question item level.   Futher work is being done to expand the metadata availability inside of cartridges.  Ask your Content Developers to supply the metadata you need.

LTI & Common Cartridge


Learning Tools Interoperability v1.0 and v1.1 application links may be supported in Common Cartridge v1.1.  LTI provides a standards-based way to launch web applications that appear seamlessly integrated in the learning platform. A learning platform receives a separate conformance mark in addition to the Common Cartridge conformance mark for achieving LTI conformance. This is because platforms can launch BLTI applications that were brought into the system via a Common Cartridge (if the platform is Common Cartridge compliant) or installed independent of a cartridge. Common Cartridge v1.1 provides a very convenient "deployment package" for LTI links alone or LTI links intermingled with other content resource types.

 

The Why and How of Learning Platform Exceptions to Common Cartridge


Originally it was the expectation that all compliant platforms would support all features of Common Cartridge. However, as the diversity and innovation in educational content evolves, a wide set of platform providers see advantages in implementing Common Cartridge. This means that there has been a desire for greater variability in the features that can be supported.

An ideal Common Cartridge platform supports all features of a version. However, for example, perhaps it does not make sense for a certain type of platform to support discussion forums. If that makes sense for the buyers of such a platform, then it is to everyone’s benefit to allow Common Cartridge to be used to enable interoperability while just leaving out the discussion forums feature.

The set of features exceptions that are allowed for each specific version of Common Cartridge are carefully managed through the IMS community process. See http://www.imsglobal.org/cc/ccexceptions.html for a table of allowable exceptions. Only approved exceptions are allowed to achieve the conformance mark. Providers of platforms may petition the IMS community to achieve approval for an exception. This keeps the list of exceptions reasonable and subject to a community process that encourages convergence in supporting most features.

Requiring Common Cartridge Support in Requests for Proposals (RFPs)


When issuing an RFP for content or a platform that you wish to have Common Cartridge support, you simply designate the version or versions of Common Cartridge that you wish to have supported, along with the features. You do need to consider both content and platform acquisition requirements – as these need to match and support the Common Cartridge features you desire.

Procuring content:

  1. If you already have a conformant learning platform, determine what version your conformant learning platform supports by looking it up in the IMS conformance table or by verifying its conformance registration number.
  2. Click on the product name in the listing to see if your conformant learning platform has any approved exceptions.
  3. Ask your content supplier(s) to provide Common Cartridge conformant content in the same version that your platform supports. Only cartridges with verifiable conformance registration numbers are IMS conformant.
  4. You may also wish to require specific features of the Common Cartridge are used in content you procure. If so, specify which features from the table 1 above you desire. Note that your platform may not support all features as determined by exceptions found in step 2.

 

Procuring a learning platform:

  1. Include in the RFP a requirement for an IMS Common Cartridge Compliant platform.

  2. Look at the features of the various Common Cartridge versions above in table 1 to determine which versions of Common Cartridge content you would like the platform to support. Indicate in your RFP requirement which versions of cartridges you would like supported.
  3. Consider the exceptions to the feature list to determine if you wish to allow any exceptions to the full set of Common Cartridge features. You may list allowable exceptions in the RFP or you can simply ask the suppliers to respond with a list of any exceptions with their rationale for not supporting that feature or features.

  4. Indicate that a Conformance Registration Number must be provided in the proposal (Check the registration numbers online when you receive the proposals) .

If you need assistance, please send an inquiry via our contact form. We are more than happy to help.