In May 2019, the IMS Global Consortium® announced the public availability of Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) v1.3 and the services which comprise LTI Advantage. This release is an update to the LTI 1.1 framework and officially deprecates all prior versions of LTI, including LTI 1.1, LTI 1.2, and LTI 2.0.

LTI 1.3 is an updated security framework and provides the core of the new LTI framework. In short, LTI 1.3 uses OAuth2 and signed messages using JSON Web Tokens (JWTs) to securely authenticate students and pass data between the platform and the external learning tool. LTI Advantage is a set of three services that sit on top of the LTI 1.3 security framework: Names and Role Provisioning Services, Assignment and Grade Services, and Deep Linking. These services are intended to replace some of the integrated services offered by LTI 1.1 and to increase interoperability between learning tools and learning management systems.

Names and Role Provisioning Services

The Names and Role Provisioning Services (NRPS) is an LTI Advantage service which grants the tool access to the list of users and their roles for a specific context (e.g. a course or group). This service is an update to the former Membership service in LTI 1.1. NRPS is responsible for securely passing user information to a learning tool from a platform.

In LTI 1.1, the Membership service could only roster users in a tool for those users who launched the tool. This means that teachers, when accessing the tool, can not see the full list of students in their course who should have completed an assignment, but had not. This is because students who had never launched into the external tool were "invisible" to that tool. Similarly, there was no way for the external tool to discern (via the Membership service), that a student had left the course.

NPRS solves this problem by allowing the external tool to request a list of members from the context in which the tool is launched. Once the membership list is passed to the tool, the tool can read all students and teachers enrolled in the context, even if they have not yet launched the tool themselves. Teachers can now easily view which students have finished an activity and which ones have not yet started. Please keep in mind that a platform may only provision users from a specific context. For example, NRPS does not allow allow teachers to roster multiple classes together. Said differently, a tool can read the course roster from the context in which it was launched - but not from all of the user's courses. To retrieve information from multiple courses, the user would have to launch into your tool from each of their active courses.

Assignment and Grade Services

The Assignment and Grade Services (AGS) is an LTI Advantage Service which allows teachers to sync grades between third-party tools and their LMS. In LTI 1.1, this was called the Basic Outcomes service. This service will return numeric scores to an LMS gradebook, as well as comments from the teacher.

AGS builds on the LTI 1.1 spec by now exposing the status of the activity and grade. For example, a teacher can now view when a student has started an assignment and if that assignment has been completed or not. The teacher can also receive the status of a grade, such as if a specific grade requires manual input from a teacher.

Deep Linking

Deep Linking offers a more streamlined approach to adding LTI links to an LMS. This process was previously called Content-Item Message in LTI 1.1. Deep Linking messages allows external learning tools to appear within an LMS as internal tools would.

With Deep Linking, external learning tools can now allow teachers to configure specific content or activities within the tool. In LTI 1.1, an entire tool had to be launched, even if the teacher only wanted the class to view a specific resource in the tool. Deep Linking now allows the teachers to select whichever content they need and share the link to launch that content with their course. For example, a tool may let a teacher to configure a link that will launch a specific chapter from an e-book when their students select the link, rather than force the student to launch the tool and then navigate to a certain resource. This was previously possible through other means, such as special fields that could be passed through by the LMS, but support for these workarounds is inconsistent at best.

LTI Advantage Certification

In order to receive certification by IMS Global for LTI Advantage, the tool or platform must first complete certification for LTI Core version 1.3. The product must then receive certification for any one of the three LTI Advantage services. This is designed to give tool and platform publishers the ability to receive a certification for LTI Advantage even if they only need to use a subset of the available services. For a product to be certified as LTI Advantage Complete, then the product must receive certification for all three services.

The Future of LTI

LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage are designed to each grow independently. Security and privacy improvements can be made to the Core LTI 1.3 framework without impacting how LTI Advantage services are certified. Also, the LTI Advantage framework is designed so that future services can be added to spec without impacting the existing three services or the Core LTI 1.3 model. This will allow publishers to update their tools and add new services faster than previously possible with past LTI frameworks.

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