Robert Thivierge, President of the E-Learning Standards Advisory Council of Canada
CanCore Report - The E-Learning Standards Advisory Council of Canada (eLSACC); An Interview with Robert Thieverge
September 22, 2005
Norm Friesen (NF)
Robert Thivierge (RT)
(NF) I'm talking with Robert Thivierge, who is the President of the E-Learning Standards Advisory Council of Canada. Robert, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
(RT) You're welcome.
(NF) For starters, it would be great if you could give us a bit of background and information about the current status of eLSAAC.
(RT) Sure. Well, maybe first of all, I can tell you why we created eLSAAC. In Quebec, we have been working on standards to address some needs that have been identified in the education world. I've been working at the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities (CREPUQ; http://crepuq.qc.ca/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=164) for five years, and one finding that our studies continuously have shown is that the digital learning material being produced in universities is not being shared. This is not sustainable. Partly because of these circumstances, there is very little funding that is available for content development. It's a sort of an impoverished, throw-away culture. Professors develop their learning materials, in some case at great expense, and they and their students are often the only ones to use these resources. With multimedia, and with more complex development technologies, learning material becomes more and more sophisticated, more and more costly to develop. It makes no sense. So the idea was to find ways to make this material sustainable, to transform these "resources" into "assets." Funders will invest in assets - they won't invest in throw-away materials.
This is why we started thinking about standards. We made a study with the support of the Quebec Ministry of Education on the application of standards to learning materials. And this led us to international standards, and to the ISO Sub-Committee 36 on "Information Technologies for Learning Education and Training" (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC36; http://jtc1sc36.org/).
The idea of eLSAAC is to enable different provinces to work together to identify common requirements of their respective educational systems. eLSAAC will then be able to communicate these requirements and to provide support for those who develop standards. This is especially important because, as we found out during our studies, there are several standards available that are relevant to any one set of requirements. The situation is complex and dynamic; there are multiple standards in development, and we need to ensure that the standards being developed will meet our needs as completely as possible. So, in a sense, eLSAAC is a way to support Canada's participation in SC36, to feed Canadian representatives in SC36 the information they need to guide their work, and to keep their feet on the ground, so to speak.
(NF) Much of what you're saying so far will likely sound familiar in one form or another to many users of CanCore.
(RT) Yes; these are all significant and general concerns. In terms of history, the proposal to build eLSAAC was initially supported by the Minister of Education of Quebec, Pierre Ried. At that time, Pierre Reid was also President of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada (CMEC; http://www.cmec.ca/), and this allowed him to present this proposal directly to all of the other ministers of education. As a result of these initial steps, five provinces agreed to fund eLSAAC for a five-year period.
By the way, a five-year funding cycle is important because stable and consistent Canadian participation in standardization work is indispensable if that work is going to reflect Canadian priorities and requirements. The Standards Council of Canada (SCC; http://www.scc.ca/) and the e-Learning Marketplace Strategy Group of Industry Canada's e-Learning Directorate (Direction de l'apprentissage électronique, le Groupe Stratégie du marché de l'apprentissage électronique d'Industrie Canada) have kindly supported some of this activity in the past. But, despite their generosity, this support has not covered all of the costs involved; nor is it entirely stable and guaranteed from one year to the next. It has been difficult to find additional, stable funding. And we want to be sure that we "have our act together," so to speak, and that we have a good solid and supported team at SC36 for several years. Only in this way will our needs and requirements be well represented.
(NF) Yes; the importance of longer-term stability in both support and representation is essential for this kind of work. Robert, can you tell me the provinces that are currently providing support for eLSAAC?
(RT) Sure. Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta are the principal contributors, with New Brunswick and British Columbia also providing financial support. And all five provinces have agreed to provide this support for five years. So, the three provinces I mentioned first, Quebec Ontario and Alberta, are members of the Board of eLSAAC, and they will be steering eLSAAC in a way.
However, when we had our first meeting in September, we decided in our action plan that one of the first things we would do is to get other stakeholders to join eLSAAC. We asked ourselves: “Who is investing a great deal in digital learning resources and systems --and who therefore stands to benefit most from participation?” The first answer, of course is, is the ministries of education in the provinces. The second group is represented by those ministries involved in training. In Quebec for example, we have Emploi-Québec, which is an important ministry, and they spend several hundreds of millions of dollars in training every year, so they are major players. Then there is the private sector, e-learning businesses that work on a smaller scale, but that are significant in terms of experience and expertise. But, as I mentioned, in the first year, we are aiming at the involvement of the ministries of education, and also of larger public or private organizations that are involved in training.
(NF) Right. As you know, this interview, in part, is for work in CanCore. I'm wondering if you could describe how CanCore might be related to eLSACC and how the two initiatives might be able to build on each other's work.
(RT) Well, CanCore has developed a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience, and has done a great deal of research and development in the domain of e-learning standards. Certainly when the ministries of education define and communicate their requirements to SC36, CanCore --which is aware of a broad range of needs and issues-- can make a significant contribution to this process. Note that eLSACC is not a re-grouping of organizations that are already active in e-learning standards, like CanCore or Normetic, or other, similar organizations. eLSACC's purpose is to involve the provinces, the major stakeholders in eduation and training, in a coordinated way in identifying and bringing requirements to the standardization table. This is the primary objective of eLSACC. Initiatives like CanCore and Normetic will be working together with us to achieve this.
A secondary, but important objective of eLSACC is to help the ministries of education promote the use and implementation of these standards. These provincial ministries are best placed to do this because they fund the development of resources and they are responsible for policies regulating the funding, development or procurement of these materials. When you have this kind of leverage, and you have a clear vision of what standards are and the importance they have, you're in a good position to act upon it.
(NF) Great. One last question: You've mentioned SC36 a number of times. Are there any plans to have eLSAAC work in a similar way with IMS (http://www.imsglobal.org), or the IEEE LTSC (http://ieeeltsc.org/), or other organizations of that kind?
(RT) Yes. In the mission and objectives of eLSAAC, SC36 is identified as the primary standardization organization to work with. But SC36 itself is working with IMS and the IEEE. So yes, in our action plan what we say is that we will identify the organizations that may be in a position to address stakeholder requirements. At the same time, it is important to work in an explicitly and emphatically international context, and to adopt approaches that are as universal as possible, enabling the sharing of resources both within and between countries.
(NF) Excellent. Thank you very much Robert!