More and more institutions are working to achieve a flexible and personal learning environment. This environment has a modular structure and comprises various applications from within and outside the institution. However, students prefer to experience these separate components as a single unit – and an integration infrastructure can present the solution for this. That’s because an integration infrastructure ensures exchange of data and functionality between various applications. And APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) form an essential part of such an integration infrastructure. An API controls access to the functionality and data of underlying systems, allowing them to be reused by other applications. One well-known example is Google Maps, whereby the API enables a website to integrate a geographical Google Maps map.
Why an Open Education API?
In 2013 SURFnet, in collaboration with higher education institutions, began development of the Open Education API. This open interface allows higher education institutions to supply internal information to application developers outside their own organisation. This mostly involves education logistics data such as timetable information, marks, available working areas etc. Some types of data are personal and are thus protected by OAuth 2.0. Each institution offering an API for accessing education data should do this via the Open Education API: only in this way can users, institutions and application developers derive the greatest benefit from a standard API and it prevents each institution from having to reinvent the wheel.
A working group has been set up in which 10 higher education institutions and suppliers are currently participating. In recent years we have concentrated on one main question: how do you as institution organise yourself so that the source data are supplied in the right way? We researched the possibilities of a transformation layer, for instance, to translate the data from various source systems into the required format for the Open Education API. Moreover we have developed tools that should make it easier for application developers to implement data from the Open Education API.
API manager and API standard
It also transpired that as a higher education institution you need to do more than just offer an Open Education API – you also require an API manager to control access to and use of the API. Which applications and which users have access to which data and for how long? In the coming months, in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences Leiden, we will be carrying out a proof of concept to explore these technologies.
In addition we are working to formalise the Open Education API standard in conjunction with Bureau Edustandaard. The working group is guiding the Open Education API to a 1.0 version; besides version management this involves making agreements about how you as institution can apply the Open Education API as flexibly as possible by adding your own extensions. These extensions can then in turn be added to the standard if they receive the support of the working group as a whole. In this way the standard propagates and both institutions and users benefit from a joint effort to make education data accessible.
Want to request more information and/or get involved?
As more and more institutions get involved in innovating the digital learning environment, interest in the Open Education API is growing as well. On 1 October 2015 we are launching the new website www.openonderwijsapi.nl where you can view the Open Education API standard. Would you like to contribute ideas for and help work on the Open Education API standard? Then register for the working group via firstname.lastname@example.org. And join the community site to stay informed about the project.
Kirsten Veelo is an Education Community Manager and works in the Customised Education Innovation Programme. She is involved in projects in the field of open and online education as well as flexible and personal learning environments.
Frans Ward works as Technical Product Manager in the Collaboration Infrastructure and Services department of SURFnet. He is involved in various projects in the areas of Trust and Identity, Service Delivery Infrastructure and in the Open Education API project.