Cash for educational apps?

Developers of the best apps will receive $1,000.

Leading learning management system providers, including Instructure, Desire2Learn, and Blackboard, are offering $250 rewards to anyone who creates an app for the Learning Tools Interoperability standard, also known as LTI.

The “LTI App Bounty” initiative, announced May 13, is meant to encourage innovation and create a host of useful apps that could fill in missing functions in existing LMSs that have developed a reputation as “anti-social” in an age of social networking, said Brian Whitmer, Instructure’s co-founder.

“There’s agreement that this needs to happen to open things up a bit,” he said, adding that LMSs have resisted change an innovation for many years. “I’d like to say vendor lock-in has decreased, but I think it’s just starting to change. … I think that’s a symptom of an unhealthy ecosystem, and something that we really need to change.”

Launched by IMS Global in 2010, LTI provides data integrations for technology developers to create education apps that operate across LMS platforms, bringing grade-checking apps to popular LMSs, for example.

Officials involved in the bounty LMS initiative said it’s never been easier to incorporate outside innovations into LMS platforms used at the vast majority of colleges and universities across the country.

See Page 2 for details on the panel that will decide which developers get cash for their app concepts. 

“The LTI standard makes integration of educational resources exponentially easier and fuels innovation in education,” said Rob Abel, chief executive of IMS Global.

Apps submitted to the bounty initiative will be judged by a panel of educational technology experts from various fields, including Abel, Chuck Severance, chief Sakai strategist for Blackboard, Hong Chau, instructional designer at Brown University, and Barry Dahl, community manager at Desire2Learn.

Top picks, as determined by the bounty program’s panel, will receive $1,000 in winnings.

Whitmer said that the joint effort from three of the most popular LMSs on the market – Desire2Learn, Instructure, and Blackboard – show that there’s a willingness to improve the openness of educational technology.

“Cooperation in education is fundamental to learning, and I believe it’s fundamental to creating a technology ecosystem,” he said. “Unfortunately, old style vendor lock-in has been a drag on the level of innovation and growth of a true ed-tech ecosystem. But with initiatives like the App Bounty, we’re working to fix that. … Educational technology has been a little behind in innovation and adoption, We’re seeing that start to change now because we have a lot of new players. It’s exciting for me to help us catch up and push forward with this idea of openness.”