Our first podcast: CASE study

In this inaugural ACTNext podcast, we discuss the Competency and Academic Standards Exchange (CASE) with ACT Lead Assessment Specialist Brandon Dorman.

Brandon hosts his own podcast on EdTech Interoperability. He’s also the Product Manager of OpenSALT, a tool for creating, managing, and associating competencies using CASE, the IMS Global standard. Brandon was a content curator at OpenEd.com before joining ACT.

Follow Brandon on Twitter and check out his YouTube channel.


Why is interoperability with CASE Network important?

“For ACT, CASE Network will support us in our mission to help people achieve education and workforce success. In particular, the ACT Holistic Framework™—now represented in CASE—is more accessible to serve as a guidepost for defining an individual’s preparation and success beyond academics to include factors that encompass college and career readiness and easier to cross reference against other frameworks.” —Marten Roorda, CEO, ACT


In this video, Brandon describes a use case for CASE using ACT’s Holistic Framework.


Podcast transcript:

Welcome to the ACTNext podcast. This is the first one we’ve ever done and today I have Brandon Dorman on the line. Brandon’s going to talk about the CASE Network and what CASE is about. It’s the Competencies in Academic Standards Exchange. I’ll put some of Brandon’s links in the webpage that accompanies this so I won’t go into his whole resume and introduction but welcome Brandon.

Thank you nice to be here.

Start with CASE what is CASE and how does it work?

Yes, CASE is really an information specification. It’s the Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange. It’s attempting to be kind of the base amount of information that we share about competency frameworks competencies being learning standards maybe it’s regular standards in k-12 but really competencies is the cover we’re trying to use here and it’s a way to define what gets shared between systems and also what do we know about that particular learning standard at that particular time and so who uses it and how is it used yeah.

So it’s a relatively recent specification but IMS Global which is the educational organization that kind of says this is the information that can be shared between academic systems so CASE is being adopted for use all across the ecosystem it’s already used in a couple different ways to store information about how a student is doing so when we talk about a learning standard we typically talk about state standards right and so thanks to the CASE network we now have all 50 state standards in the CASE format and so that can begin to be referenced by learning management systems. You can also talk about how students are doing as opposed to just saying you know here’s where a student here’s what they know we can get very specific now with the CASE as more and more learning frameworks get into the CASE specification.

Okay and what were precursors to CASE or competitors?

Some precursors I mean there’s a larger story but essentially there have been common learning standard vocabularies before there was one ASN was an organization that was originally from the Gates Foundation. Eventually it was purchased by desire2learn who runs the Brightspace learning management system and it was doing fine but it kind of was limited in terms of some of the way that it was making associations between standards and it wasn’t an industry backed specification per se which case is.

So there’s a schema.org is a collaboration of Internet company as it says this is how data is represented on the Internet schema.org doesn’t have CASE per se but it does have what we call learning object reference and when we’re talking about learning objects we can now use the CASE uri or the CASE identifier as that learning object and so it gives a much more kind of uniform way to describe learning competencies around the web.

If we’re talking about competitors there are some proprietary what we call learning object identifiers or you know competency identifiers by other companies that are out there and whereas CASE is completely open so when you’re using a CASE identifier you’re going to know that that’s something that’s going to be open and accessible by anybody else that wants to use your product and refers your standard then you talk about the industry and is that testing industry and or what are you talking about education yeah I’m talking about education in general so we can talk about education but the education industry would be you know the textbook publishers the EdTech suppliers the universities the schools anybody who’s going to be interacting with this data anybody who cares about this information there’s gonna be someone that’s gonna be using or is using CASE in some way at some point in time right.

So it’s a matter of getting more people using the CASE identifiers to be that standard way that standards are referenced and so we’re on the road to that. The CASE network is a big step forward I’ll talk about that in just a minute but essentially we have to have a way to refer to learning standards and when it’s reliable and when it’s open in CASE does that and so then what was the need for CASE that it came to be about as open badges and other ways of micro-credentials are often called two ways of representing learning for students is shifting from this model of kind of the you know the monolithic four-year degree to as people or more people are getting kind of these micro-credentials and or kind of what they call bite-size learning and so we have to have a way to describe the learning that’s taking place right to say okay so you take a course online maybe a very short course on an online concept and so it’s like okay well I can write my SQL query now right? Okay so let’s write a competency for that let’s go through and say okay you know here’s an open badge this person can do this particular skill and so we take all the competencies together and we say okay this is part of this framework and so that’s kind of the need is to be able to reference these skills in a way that other people understand. So it’s not just me you know at a university in California and I’m taking a course and I say hey I took this course. Number one we want to make sure that that Algebra one has the same learning concepts as an ounce for one in Singapore or whatever it may be right? So because CASE has this this way of making equivalencies something standards we call them “association types.”

That’s really kind of the fundamental use case. Here is what we can do is we can connect any different learning competencies within domains within international and of course you know here in the States as well. But we can take equivalencies and say okay you learn this here and then I can also say hypothetically okay in the workforce you know this academic skill could translate to this skill over here so it’s kind of just this this CASE itself doesn’t do that right that’s gonna be the content that’s the word CASE but CASE provides a common means of exchanging data about these competencies okay.

Someone was talking about Caliper which is a different IMS global standard and they said it was like ISO 9000 it’s like a standard way across industry.

Yeah exactly. Beta versus VHS.

I always talk about it at the time last summer I was I was moving and as we were kind of talking about CASE and how the information flows whatever maybe think a lot about like a door frame right you build furniture and if you are building furniture one thing you have to think about is how bigger door frames right because you gotta make sure people get their couch inside their house and so thankfully we have standards for that. We have with a door is is X by X or X by Y right we know how Y that’s gonna be and so if you’re gonna build something that’s bigger than that it’s not gonna work very well.

So anything with this if I’m building this amazing taxonomy of learning concepts, for example, the ACT Holistic Framework is this collection of math academic and behavioral and cross-cutting and an academic career navigation domains and so we have all this great information in this taxonomy. We want to make sure that when we exchange that with our partners and with people that want to build assessments or build learning resources on our taxonomy we’re gonna be able to make sure that they can understand all the different contexts pieces about it and that’s again kind of what CASE provides. So you know you have with CASE you have what they call the competency framework item itself but any of all this this metadata around it so you have associations to other competencies you can talk about if it precedes another statement you also have you know what kind of subdued you know is it what kind of item type is it. So I think of CASE as the way to say no matter what learning center you have, you’re gonna be able to make that fit into your system. It’s gonna fit your system right just like the couch fits through the door.

What you do with it is up to you but we’ve made CASE as it’s easy to kind of understand that’s possible.

There’s all these are from a tour data fields but really what user people care about they care about simply like the full statement maybe the human coding scheme right and that’s all that we require you to put in is the full statement but if you want to find out more you can do that.

So with Caliper to get back to your question, Caliper is a way of measuring events that are happening on a question and so Caliper would simply refer if it even needs to the CASE identifier saying okay I’m taking a kid taking a test and it can tell me all information about the question that I’ve taken and it’ll play back the CASE and say hey it’s about this learning standard.

CASE is just in many of the most of the other IMS specifications CASE only uses reference point to say hey this is the learning standard that’s being assessed or being where we source on.

What is the CASE Network and why is it important?

Yeah the CASE Network is a clearinghouse of CASE frameworks public support organizations such as states and an assessment organization is like ACT. It’s important because it’s an industry-backed consortium. So it’s an industry backed place for CASE and frameworks to be published. That’s important because when we have this open stable referential place to have all of these CASE frameworks EdTech companies that are building software or building other products based on these standards can make it just work like plugging in a USB port right I’ve had hundreds of devices in my life and they all work with USB we want that to be the same idea with standards so that a student in Kansas City can look at their learning management system and they can see standards are local to them, that are important to them, the same as a student in Fresno, California.

Because right now sure it might work but there’s a lot more underground work pass to go on and we want this to be as simple and as efficient as a system as possible and the CASE network that allows us to do that again we can also be you know building products on top of these standards such as open badges we’ve mentioned we talked I guess about Caliper things like that and so having this open stable repository is a huge step forward for the learning ecosystem.

What’s ACT’s role in CASE?

Yeah so Steve Polyak is a researcher ACTNext, senior researcher who published information about machine readable standards around 2014 I believe even and that was before a CASE existed. But Steve already kind of talked about

how the metadata would have been able for exchange and data visualization and this kind of stuff so Adam Blum we’re on the kind of CASE network or a CASE Task Force I would say early days to actually define the metadata statements that would define what information is exchanged in CASE right which it’s funny because I remember going to some of those early calls and you know there would be a whole hour of discussion over there’s something that sounds simple but with when we’re talking about such the lowest kind of level here of information has far you know far-reaching consequences right now so something even obviously is for an example say if item type right so thinking about a CF item type we you could have something like reporting category you could have competency you might want to call that a KSA oh just to help kind of define what this statement is and there’s a debate about age we set an item type or should we say let the users to find that because then you might have people using all kinds of item types and if we call a non-controlled vocabulary so we said yeah with the users to find that we have suggestions on what those item types should be we wanted to let people choose what they want that I don’t have to be to allow the specification to be flexible so item type isn’t really needed for the information exchange but it is definitely something that’s very valuable for systems to know what kind of item type it is to be able to make you know recommendations on how that time is displayed how how it’s used and of course you know what kinds of resources are tagging our line against it.

ACT has been involved since the very beginning. I’ve been a co-chair on the CASE specification for the last almost year and a half and ACT was a founding sponsor of the CASE network because again we feel like these open identifiers or what they call public goods are a good thing for the industry and so this is something we want to support open GRU.

Sorry yeah a GRU is the technical term for what they call it along identifier essentially so it’s the it’s simply the is there’s like a long digit that say this is this exact standard as opposed to just saying you know oh this is my Common Core standard K.CC.three or something right it’s like saying okay well the Montana version of that standard has this long identifier the California the version of this town has this slide and if our now it might even be the same text but it’s it’s gonna be able to take that much more nuanced approach and say okay exactly this is the exact statement you’re looking for because of CASE how could our question is how can frameworks be used to improve learning outcomes.

I mean at ACT we’re very interested in you know this intersection of measurement and learning and career education navigation and so since the Holistic Framework is foundational to our transformation what what CASE frameworks can do is right now we’re using it like kind of in a traditional sense right but we but we can you know terms like a learning taxonomy but we can start to think about is how do we use these connections between brain works as well to scale like the learning within our organization you know right now every when you have a job you have a set of things you’re supposed to do right if we can start to use those and connect those within the organization and in the CASE format across different organizations too right so what we could start to say so okay I have this competency I can do certain things or put my main job maybe I can then use that if that was stored somewhere somehow someone could look up okay I need someone they can do a podcast right?

Okay well it’s not Brandon’s job but it’s a skill that he has listed and then he’s demonstrated competent then also then you can then find me and then do that so so what I think about frameworks I don’t I don’t like to think about kind of a narrow context I like thing about the broader context and the more that we’re kind of systemizing information in a way they can be easily disseminated I think it’s probably the best way I think about how we can use frameworks to improve learning because the more the more open we get with our learning statements the more we can connect those with badges and with what they call CLR which like digital transcripts down the line especially as we look at our learning products like ACT Academy. There’s also you know the RAD API things like this are all using CASE frameworks as their source of truth for the learning taxonomy and again CASE gives a really clean way to know exactly what we’re talking about and also it might lead to.

I asked you this yesterday but maybe we can talk about it some more. Is this the kind of thing that should have happened or could have happened years ago but it took this long for it to happen. What held it back? Why wasn’t there a standard for this fifteen years ago?

That’s a really good point about why this hasn’t happened before. I think that you know different industries are different companies within the industry thought that the way that they describe standards was perhaps something they didn’t need to be shared so easily really was leading the way when we published our analytic framework online Like say see Oregon 2017 because I think that it didn’t happen just because no one was really pushing for it to happen and then with IMS Global really gaining a lot of ground and educators really saying that it doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t make sense for a learning management system not to be able to talk to you a great book for example I thought that would be CASE but I’m just saying in terms of the general industry sense like we’re learning that it’s better to compete on the substance of our content than our technical roadblocks. We’re really working on in what CASE does again it just helps to provide that that stable common ground to share information about competencies. The OpenSALT role with CASE you kind of talked about this how OpenSALT helps CASE happen that SALT was really just intended to be a proving ground for the CASE specification there was a way to showcase the case structure you know in terms of like the technical database structure or the way that it makes associations even right so we signed on a few months after they’d started it. PCC education started it and then ACT joined with School City and some others around January 2017 in order to grow it and then eventually it’s actually become our internal and external way that we show competencies.

CASE is being used by Georgia and starting to be used by some other states.

Yeah right now there’s Georgia has a public CASE server at CASE Georgia standards org.

Texas has a public CASE server oh yeah South Carolina is using CASE internally. We also have smarter balanced publishing all their tested specification information

in CASE and and there’s more I mean of course the CASE network is a big step forward where we’re you know the CASE network did the work to get those state standards from PDFs out here into the open end CASE but I think that a we’re also getting there was a proliferation of the CASE specification we have more vendors that are wanting to ingest standards in CASE so that they can use the open the open nature of it to really expand the possibilities of what learning objects are possible so there’s a specification of learning object or LTI resource search which enables now that we have CASE again we have that common identifier so now if you have multiple learning object repositories you know there was a Knovation purchased by ACT but huh innovation has a repository of learning resources open ed which also was purchased by ACT in 2016 also has a learning object repository so a bunch of learning resources and you can now use the same standard identifier the search bold repositories at the same time before you just like translation and you know human coding scheme but make sure you’re switching for a specific state whatever right and NOC is that same identifier across anywhere else right no using you know XYZ 1 2 3 I’m referencing I’m getting resources tied to that learning standard and if I see that also like you said might maybe my Caliper results.

Do you foresee a time when it’ll be in all 50 states or kind of the universal standard?

Yeah I think even if all 50 states aren’t publishing natively which is what we’d like them to do we’d like to say no more PDFs right because the world is digital and so for states to have a PDF document that’s fine but I think that gives so much more information more context more power and even better for teachers and students I think if you are gonna be publishing in CASE because I mean what you can do there’s an example field in CASE so you could actually go through and say hey this is my standard and then this is an example of what knowing this standard looks like and so if more and more people are publishing in CASE and filling in all these fields I think we get a better understanding of the true intent of the standards authors and that’s a better place for everybody so why make a PDF that has to be extracted and revised and has you know maybe if you make a change no change was made right uh-huh well if everything stored digitally when we upgrade new versions of standards or we incrementally update these things you know we can create associations to actually know what was changed and what didn’t change and how it changed right? So there’s a huge advantage to storing everything in CASE and I think the more people start to see that again with the CASE network that’s a huge step forward the stronger will be okay and so that’s kind of the possibilities of CASE and other interoperability standards.

Do you want to talk about interoperability and why it’s so important?

Yeah, interoperability in general again as the ability for systems in education or anywhere else really right to talk to each other so again an example might be USB object and I plug it in anywhere any USB port it should work okay you know just matter if it’s a headphone if it’s a my computer charging right and so think about with USB and then you know it used to be kind of the wider thing and now like Apple has USB C which is a smaller one which transfers data faster and it does different things it’s actually you know the same USB C cable can be what you plug into the wall to charge for your whole computer can also be what you’re using to hook up your CD player or something like that right and that’s a standard as a specification as well we think about your operability we’re really just trying to be invisible when I think about even CASE right.

The whole point of CASE is that if you’re a student anywhere and you are one of looking up learning resources or you’re looking up an assessment item when you want to see your standard for where you’re at you don’t care how it got there you don’t care where it’s being hosted you don’t care if that atom was originally written for that specific standard if there’s a crosswalk of course right but that’s the whole point. Interoperability means that technology is invisible and it should just work and so that’s really what we’re going for here whether it be Caliper like you said for strong assessment results or qti is a way that a test item writers write you know questions and then are able to be portable again open badges just in terms of if I’m learning something I want to let people know what I’ve learned and so let’s make that portable let’s you know it doesn’t matter if you learn it at your local community college even right? This may be a wishful thinking use CASE

but if I learn something at a community college and I take a part of a course online at Udacity and then I take part of another course so that the same course maybe but expanded version right? Maybe I go to similar online university mm-hmm well I should be able to take all the learn that all the things that I’ve learned and I should be able to see that in a common place and that’s what the CLR specification aims to do is provide kind of the student owning their information because right now just again in terms of interoperability. We think of transcripts that’s what you’ve learned but learning is much bigger than that especially now. These interoperability standards are allowing us to exchange all the information of what we’ve learned and represented in a stable consistent format so there’s always a record of what we know and that’s kind of the bigger picture here.

Can you talk about LILI next week in San Diego and you’ll be with the CASE task force and what’s going to happen there?

Yeah so the Learning Impact Leadership Institute is the annual the big annual conference hosted by IMS Global in San Diego and there are a number of sessions what about other people but I’m involved just with anything related to CASE so there’s a bunch of sessions about States we didn’t blog post where I kind of collected some of those sessions I’ll be at the CASE Network task force on Thursday 1 to 5 where people that want to use the CASE Network are going to be going through some of the issues that they’re having with it maybe ways to make it better easier to on board talking about how a CASE network does kind of expand upon kind of the basic CASE functionality as well a little bit say things like hey this is you know like Georgia for example is an official verified standard whereas others won’t be that that kind of gold nugget truth right because you know they’re actually hosting a CASE server and then just showing it over on the CASE Network you know other folks other states aren’t ready to go there yet but we’re getting there and so they’re just gonna be saying ok that’s those are our standards we approve them it but they’re not actually hosting the center’s themselves so all those kinds of things are going to be at the CASE Network task force and it’s an open meeting.

See you there okay and we’re gonna debut this podcast during San Diego and again our guest today was Brandon Dorman and we were talking about CASE and the CASE Network. Thanks Brandon for being on the show.

Yeah thank you.

Our first ever podcast and you helped us get this going. I’ll see you next week in San Diego.

Thanks man see you there.