Adaptive learning focuses on environments that are responsive to learners as individuals.  The National Research Council's How People Learn (HPL) framework refers to this quality as being learner centered, one of four fundamental aspects of effective learning environments it emphasizes.  Adaptivity relies on recognizing individual learner differences and understanding how different learner situations can influence progress towards successful outcomes.  Adaptations encode this understanding, altering flow or materials to better scaffold each learner.

Over 35 years of research have been dedicated to applying intelligent systems techniques to creating technology-supported adaptive learning environments, represented today by intelligent tutoring systems and adaptive hypermedia.  These technologies focus on adaptation principally as a means of guiding learners through a corpus of instruction, typically based on an individual learner's differences from domain experts.  While our work is related to this inquiry, we focus on fine-grained, lightweight adaptations situated within learning activities and materials.  Our motivation is to enable educators to incrementally introduce adaptive features into their learning designs by making simpler capabilities for representation, interaction, and reasoning more accessible.

Our work is also related to the current generation of e-learning technologies and standards, although there are significant differences in context and focus.  Addressing use in the context of schools, we focus on blended learning more than distance learning, as evidenced by technology features for coordinating classroom-based and outside-class learning.  As a particular emphasis, we promote a reflective practice of design by educators through the use of embedded formative assessment, together with unobtrusive observations of learners, as vehicles for improving the responsiveness and efficacy of learning designs over time. Such improvements can be pursued individually by educators or cooperatively for designs shared within a community.

This site provides information about the technologies we have developed to support adaptive online learning and their use in blended learning environments.  It provides descriptions of our visual authoring technology, called CAPE, and our adaptive web-based learning platform eLMS.  Together these technologies comprise an infrastructure with novel capabilities for creating, enacting, and evolving learner-centered designs.

Examples of such designs, created by educators participating in the VaNTH ERC, are available online at the VaNTH Portal. A description of this dissemination vehicle and its integration with CAPE and eLMS is provided on this site.

Howard, L., Johnson, J., & Neitzel, C. Examining learner control in a structured inquiry cycle using process mining. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference of Educational Data Mining (EDM'2010). pp. 71-80.

Joeng, H., Biswas, G., Johnson, J. & Howard, L. Analysis of productive learning behaviors in a structured inquiry cycle using hidden Markov models. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference of Educational Data Mining (EDM'2010). pp. 81-90.

Howard, L., Johnson, J., and Neitzel, C. Reflecting on online learning designs using observed behavior. Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 179-183.

Howard, L., Johnson, J., Pap, G., Pence, K., Juracz, L., Affordances and Form: Applying Lessons from Informal Learning to Formal Learning on the Web. Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Education. Pecs-Budapest, Hungary, July, 2008.

Roselli, R.J., Gilbert, S.B., Howard, L., Blessing, S.B., Raut A., and Pandian P., Integration of an Intelligent Tutoring System with a Web-based Authoring System to Develop Online Homework Assignments with Formative Feedback. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, July, 2008.

Imsand, E., Howard, L., Pence, K., and Dasgupta, D., Online Information Security Education through Anchored Instruction. Proceedings of the 12th Annual Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education, Dallas, TX, USA, June, 2008.

Roselli, R.J., Howard, L. and Pap, G., Assessment of Diagnostics and Feedback for Online Homework Assignments. Annual BMES Conference, Los Angeles, CA (CD ROM), 2007.

Harris, T. R., Howard, L., and Linsenmeier, R., Design of a Repository for Bioengineering Educational Materials. Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Conference, Chicago, Illinios, October, 2006.

Howard, L., Remenyi, Z. and Pap, G., Adaptive blended learning environments. International Conference on Engineering Education, Session T3K, July, 2006.

Debelak, K., Howard, L., Xue, Y., Lee, C. and Sztipanovits, J., Introducing security in a chemical engineering design course using adaptive online learning. International Conference on Engineering Education, Session T1H, July, 2006.

Roselli, R.J., Howard, L., and Brophy S., Integration of formative assessment into online engineering assignments. Computers in Education, Vol. 16, No. 4 (2006) 8-17.

Roselli, R.J., Howard, L. and Brophy, S., A computer-based free body diagram assistant. Computer Applications in Engineering Education, Vol. 14, Issue 4 (2006) 281-290.

Roselli, R.J. and Howard, L., Facilitating the design of diagnostic learning modules with CAPE. Proceedings of the American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference, Session 3409, June, 2006.

Sztipanovits, J., Biswas, G., Frampton, K., Gokhale, A., Howard, L., Karsai, G., Koo, T. J., Koutsoukos, X., and Schmidt, D.C., Introducing embedded software and systems education and advanced learning technology in an engineering curriculum. Trans. on Embedded Computing Sys. 4, 3 (Aug., 2005), 549-568.

Howard, L., Adaptive learning technologies for bioengineering education, IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, 22, 4, pp. 58-65, July, 2003.

Roselli, R.J., Howard, L., et al. Integration of an interactive Free Body Diagram assistant with a courseware authoring package and an experimental learning management system. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education (CD-ROM DEStech Publications) Session 2793: 10 pages (2003).

Rothney, M.P., Roselli, R.J., and Howard, L., Creation of an online vector addition tutorial: Exploring the advantages of providing diagnostic, multilevel feedback in basic skills remediation, ASEE Annual Conference, (CD-ROM DEStech Publications) Session 2793: 7 pages, 2003.

Roselli, R.J. and Howard, L. Development of online homework problems that provide instant feedback and remediation to students. Annual BMES Conference, Nashville, TN (CD ROM, Omnipress), 2003.

Howard, L., CAPE: A visual language for courseware authoring. Second Workshop on Domain-Specific Visual Languages, Seattle, WA, November 4, 2002.

The development of CAPE and eLMS was funded the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Bioengineering Educational Technologies (called VaNTH), including Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.  VaNTH is a multidisciplinary center involving learning scientists, technologists, psychometricians, and educators who have collaboratively developed new HPL-based approaches to teaching and learning in bioengineering.

CAPE and eLMS have also been adopted by the education program of the Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST), an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC) focusing on trustworthy systems.

Our newest sponsor is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Grants and Training. CAPE and eLMS will be used as part of a new program called "Adaptive Cybersecurity Training (ACT) Online" that will provide training for first responders in the area of information assurance. This 3-year, $4M program will train up to 6000 learners nationwide through an online system that embeds eLMS technology. Adaptive features of CAPE and eLMS will support tailoring curricula for individual learners, based on their prior knowledge, and guiding learners through online modules.
A largely non-technical overview of our work is available in a paper appearing in the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine (22:4).  Our current year project summary, taken from the VaNTH ERC Annual Report, provides additional details of our goals, status, and future plans. 

CAPE's online documentation is also a valuable source of information about the technologies.


Below are public meetings where our technologies and learning applications built with them will be presented.

June 2-4, 2008 Dallas, Texas
Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education

July 22-25, 2008 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference

July 27-31, 2008 Pecs-Budapest, Hungary
International Conference on Engineering Education

CAPE and eLMS are freely available to VaNTH and TRUST participants from primary and affiliated institutions.  The technologies can be made available to others by agreement with the VaNTH ERC.  Use the contact information below for inquiries.


Larry Howard
Sr. Research Scientist
Institute for Software Integrated Systems
Vanderbilt University

For technical support, CAPE and eLMS developers can be contacted at the following e-mail addresses:

eLMS (

Mailing list have been established for CAPE and eLMS users. You can subscribe at:

eLMS (
Our motto, Eruditio pro totus (Learning for all), captures for us what is essential about adaptive learning. First is that educators should view themselves as learners, with a responsibility to consider poor performance, or failure, by individual learners as potentially a reflection on the instruction itself. Openness to this possibility is necessary to motivate inquiry by educators to understand failure, and from this understanding the consideration of opportunities to reduce it.

Second is that learners are individuals, and, despite all attempts to achieve a uniform preparation for the instruction they are to receive, they will nonetheless exhibit differences in prior knowledge and skills, differences in motiviations in pursuing the instruction arising from individual interests, differences in receptivity to selected instructional methods, and, therefore, different experiences when pursuing the given instruction. Often times learners can accommodate their differences from assumptions embodied in the instruction's design through their own adaptivity. But the responsibility for adaptation should not be the learner's alone.

While adaptive learning is not made possible by technology, we see roles for technology to play. Technology can enable a richer understanding of how learners progress through learning activities, by virtue of greater instrumentation of the learning environment. And technology can enable this understanding to be encoded as adaptations within the design of learning experiences that meet special needs of individual learners. The primary aim of our research has been to facilitate these possible roles.
Our adaptive learning infrastructure consists of two primary technologies:
The Courseware Authoring and Packaging Environment
The experimental Learning Management System

The diagram below shows some of the relationships between CAPE and eLMS.  The Flash version can be animated using the controls in the upper right corner.

The infrastructure reflects a separation of concerns between learning materials and how they are used to create a learning experience.  The design specifications created with CAPE are basically "instructions" to some delivery machinery embedded in an eLMS server for how to enact an experience with a learner, potentially performed over multiple sessions.  The materials themselves are created with conventional web authoring tools or else repurposed from existing web content.  What is essential in this separation is that traditional link-based navigation among content elements is replaced by the learning design itself.  This allows reasoning performed when enacting the design to change when materials are made available to the learner and how they are presented.

Another way of looking at the relationships between CAPE and eLMS is by means of a concept map.  The concept map below summarizes various details about the technologies and the courseware they create and deliver.  If the map's text is too small, you can view it in a separate window.
The CAPE authoring environment supports an enactable design representation for on-line learning designs involving static, interactive, and dynamic content elements created with conventional web authoring tools and within CAPE itself.  The designs specify when, or under what circumstances, content elements are presented to a learner during the course of a learning experience.  Interactive elements can elicit information from a learner, and the outcomes are available immediately to adaptations incorporated into designs.  A data modeling facility enables capturing facts, including data defined abstractly by expression, for use in realizing adaptation schemes.  Simple sequencing constructs can be extended with computational components for more advanced reasoning.

Sequencing Model in the CAPE Authoring Environment
CAPE designs involve other kinds of specifications in addition to sequencing models.  These include the statement of learning objectives and their association with content knowledge represented by curricular taxonomies, as well as tagging with community-specific and standards-based metadata.  Such specifications play no direct role in design enactment, but are used to communicate the original designer's intentions to other authors and to provide additional descriptions of elements and resources for use by other tools.

The design representation used by CAPE is a domain-specific visual language, where hierarchically organized icons and connections represent concepts and relationships in the language, respectively, and attributes uniquely characterize occurences.  The choice of a visual language for CAPE reflects our interest in a representation that is both expressive and easily constructed.  The interface style for such languages, consisting predominantly of drag, drop, interconnect, and specify operations, offers many affordances over textual representations.  As a desktop application, CAPE lacks the convenience of web-based authoring tools, but enjoys distinct advantages over forms-based authoring, especially in terms of scalability.

Principal features of the CAPE design representation are presented in the concept map below.  If the map's text is too small, you can view it in a separate window.

CAPE supports both elaborative (top-down) and integrative (bottom-up) approaches to design.  Rapid prototyping of adaptation schemes can be performed prior to content development.  Existing content and design elements can be readily incorporated into new designs.  The environment supports design-time adaptation by providing abstraction facilities that can be used to capture invariants among families of designs and elements as instructional design patterns.  While CAPE—as a general-purpose design tool—is pedagogically neutral, these design abstractions can be used to scaffold particular learning strategies that can then be shared with other authors through an integrated web-based design repository.

CAPE provides a set of extension components that assist the author in creating, previewing, and packaging designs.  An event-based agent continuously monitors the author's actions looking for opportunities to provide time-saving assistance.  An online learning component makes CAPE-authored tutorials directly available within the design environment to support just-in-time learning.  The environment can be extended with wizards that automate complex or repetitive actions.  A design previewing component is complemented with a web-based debugger.  Content and computational elements can be interchanged with traditional development tools.  Completed designs can be directly uploaded to the delivery platform for subsequent assignment to learners.

These and other capabilities of the CAPE design environment are summarized in the concept map below.  If the map's text is too small, you can view it in a separate window.

CAPE is built on open source technologies from ISIS—particularly, the Generic Modeling Environment (GME) and Meta-GME—and uses the open source Python dynamic programming language for realizing its extension components and for computational aspects of CAPE designs.

eLMS is an adaptive learning platform that supports interoperation using web services, both in conjunction with enacting courseware designs and in managing domain-specific objects, such as classes, users, and courseware.  The heart of the eLMS platform is a model-based delivery engine that enacts learning designs authored with the CAPE design environment.

The platform automatically captures detailed instrumentation of these design enactments, and additional instrumentation—to support grading using custom rubrics, for example—can be incorporated into courseware designs with CAPE.  The resulting delivery records can be queried by instructors and authors using an integrated data mining facility.  These capabilities enable an intimate understanding of what learners actually do with on-line learning experiences, which is essential to making incremental improvements over time.

Courseware Delivery with eLMS

Profiles can be used to collect information about learners, classes, and courseware resulting from design enactments.  Courseware profiles can be used to collect statistics about the use of a particular learning design, whether this use occurs between semesters at a single institution or across multiple institutions.  Learner profiles can collect information elicited from a learner during an earlier courseware for use as part of an adaptation scheme in a subsequent courseware.  Class profiles can create digests of information from assignments performed outside class for use in scaffolding classroom-based learning experiences.

Shared state is a sufficient condition for enabling many kinds of interactions between learners, and between learners and an instructor or teaching assistants.  The Courseware and Class profiles provide such shared state, and CAPE-authored designs can leverage these capabilities to create many kinds of collaborative services embedded within eLMS courseware.  An example is support for asynchronous dialoging between an instructor and the students in a class. We provide a demonstration of using the Class profile to support such interactions.

Another example of using the shared state provided by profiles is the implementation of experimental research designs to evaluate courseware design alternatives, for example. One possible research design involves randomly dividing the students in a class into groups and providing each group a different "treatment", one of which typically serves as a control. We provide a demonstration of using the Class profile to support such research designs.

eLMS allows learners to review materials and activities across multiple sessions, to take private notes that can be exported from the learning environment, and to access context-sensitive help resources provided by learning designs.  eLMS instructors and teaching assistants can manage the rosters of classes and make courseware assignments to a class or to individuals in the class.  The status of learners completing assignments can be monitored, learners can be selectively released from synchronization points defined by learning designs, and instructors can replay assignments with learners during face-to-face meetings.  Courseware revisions uploaded by authors are differentially versioned to avoid disruption of in-progress enactments with learners.

While eLMS can be employed directly to manage the use of CAPE-authored designs by classes of learners, it can also be transparently embedded into other learning platforms.  We have developed a building block integration of eLMS with the Blackboard Learning System, as an example of a custom integration.  With this plug-in, instructors can assign eLMS courseware to their learners just as any other kind of Blackboard assignment.  Documentation for this embedding solution is available online.

As a somewhat weaker—but more broadly applicable—form of embedding, we support packaging eLMS courseware using the SCORM standard, thereby enabling delivery from a standards-compliant learning platform.  This approach to integration is similar to the SCORM platform delivering material from an external content repository.  With this solution, eLMS courseware can be transparently delivered from a variety of commercial learning platforms, such as WebCT, as well as non-commercial platforms, such as Moodle and Sakai.

When there is no local learning platform, we provide one additional option for delivering eLMS courseware called Quota Links.  These are essentially limited-use URLs that include a weak form of authentication with courseware launching.  Users accessing such links are asked to identify themselves and choose a passcode that can be used to re-access the courseware at a later time, allowing courseware delivery over multiple browser sessions.  Delivery records from such accesses can be retrieved by the eLMS user who creates the Quota Link.  The effect is to enable a class to be dynamically formed as learners access a Quota Link for courseware delivery.  As the name suggests, Quota Links allow only a limited number of deliveries of the associated courseware to be created.

These and other capabilities of the eLMS learning platform are summarized in the concept map below.  If you wish, you can view it in a separate window.

eLMS is built on open source technologies, including the Zope web application server and Apache.  All eLMS servers are currently deployed on the secure OpenBSD operating system and are securely accessed by web-services and browser clients using SSL connections.

The VaNTH Portal is a web-accessible repository serving as a dissemination vehicle for the VaNTH ERC.  It makes classroom-based, outside class, and blended learning materials and experiences designed by VaNTH educators available to the larger bioengieering educational community.

The portal is profile-based.  Profiles scaffold learning materials with sets of resources that contribute to their reusability, such as instructor guides and research papers that report on instructional designs and assessments of efficacy.  Each profile is classified with a set of metadata that describes such things as educational level, development status, and delivery mode.  Profiles provide courseware at varying granularities, from individual modules to entire courses.

Courseware Profile
Profiles can be created and modified by authors through the web.  Workflows support an editorial process that can be tailored to support institutional or domain-based reviewers.  Profiles approved by the editorial process are then made available to visitors.  Requests to access the learning materials provided by profiles involve making an agreement with the ERC, a process automated by the portal.  These requests can be individually tracked by the originating educator through the portal or by e-mail notifications.

The portal complements simple keyword-based searching of courseware profiles with an advanced metadata-based search interface based on the retrieval by reformulation paradigm.  This interface helps visitors during the search process by providing feedback on the current state of their search in terms of matching metadata from available profiles. This feedback ensures that metadata-based queries will always match at least one profile on the portal.

The portal is integrated with other VaNTH learning technologies.  Resources for adaptive online learning, delivered by an eLMS server, can be directly launched from the portal to support evaluation by visitors of the site.  Repository-based CAPE courseware designs can be bundled with online learning resources in profiles, and these designs can be inspected and adapted by educators that install the CAPE authoring environment.  CAPE supports publishing profiles to the portal for online learning designs created or adapted by authors.  These forms of integration provide much greater capabilites for adaptive reuse than web-based tools that support simple bundling and sequencing.

These and other capabilities of the VaNTH Portal are summarized in the concept map below.  If the map's text is too small, you can view it in a separate window.

The VaNTH Portal is built on the open source Plone content management system.

November 19, 2008
CAPE 2.7 Released
A new version of our authoring technology for adaptive learning is now available. CAPE 2.7 focuses on support for larger-scale design families and courseware product lines.

CAPE has long supported instructional design patterns as a means of capturing commonalities among sets of courseware designs. These patterns are represented in CAPE as abstract designs, or models, that can be instanced in various ways. At the same time, CAPE's data modeling facility, Condition Sets, and adaptive content features have been used to create designs that are data-driven, providing an alternative abstraction facility. The power of using these capabilities in concert has been demonstrated by a web-based authoring system for a class of engineering homework problems that provide students with adaptive remediation.

CAPE 2.7 extends these capabilities with new features that support more agressive design reuse strategies. An example of such a strategy is the ACT Online courseware product line. This training system, sponsored by the U.S Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides 9 courses on cyber-terrorism incorporating a total of 45-50 modules that share a common instructional design macro-structure called STAR Legacy.

March 22, 2008
TRUST TAO Portal Enhances User Experience
The TRUST Academy Online (TAO) Portal supports online community outreach for the NSF TRUST Science and Technology Center. TAO reuses the dissemination portal framework that we originally developed for the NSF VaNTH Engineering Research Center for Bioengineering Educational Technologies.

Like the VaNTH Portal, TAO provides "courseware profiles" that bundle sets of learning materials with descriptions, metadata, and scaffolding resources. For TAO, we have added a new type of content object, called "project profiles," that tell the stories of TRUST research projects and provide access to resources produced by the projects such as papers, presentations, and posters.

Project designers Laszlo Juracz and Gabor Pap have recently refined this Plone-based framework to provide a fresh "look and feel" featuring visual browsers for content objects along with other usability, content, and interoperability enhancements.

This further evolution of our dissemination technology reflects a continuing commitment to provide educators and other users access to materials and resources produced by our research partners through the World Wide Web.
February 4, 2008
CAPE 2.7 Adds Search Support
Following the introduction of powerful search engines, searching joined hyperlink-based browsing to form the two dominant use metaphors of the World Wide Web. Online learning designs, even when constructed as browsable hypermedia, seldom employ searching as an important element of the learning experience. With CAPE 2.7, we have provided infrastructure that allows authors to incorporate this capability into their learning designs.

Our first use of this infrastructure is in the ACT Online program, which provides course modules based on the STAR Legacy instructional design pattern. This inquiry cycle provides sets of learning resources and self-assessment questions anchored on an overarching challenge. The ACT Online search facility indexes these resources and questions so that they can be searched on demand by learners. The user interface of this facility, shown above, supports a "live search", where keywords and phrases are matched and returned as suggestions to assist the search. The interface returns search results on separated "Resources" and "Questions" tabs sorted by relevance with direct navigation to the content objects.

The new infrastructure provides services for indexing and searching that are accessed through the existing eLMS Platform Services at delivery time. Indexing services build up search indices and search services then support assisted retrieval by keywords and phrases.

The search infrastructure reflects our ongoing efforts to make online learning more indigenous to the web.
September 20, 2007
ACT Online pushes CAPE 2.7 feature-set
The Adaptive Cybersecurity Training (ACT) Online program, sponsored by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security, is using CAPE to create a courseware product-line: 70-80 modules comprising 9 courses in 3 tracks with progressing levels of difficulty. Some innovations arising from this program are directly influencing features of CAPE.

The ACT Online approach to product line development with CAPE involves extensive use of instructional design patterns. These patterns (basically, modeling abstractions) are instanced using sets of specifications for parts such as learning resources, formative and summative assessments, and scaffolding elements. The patterns govern the integration of these parts when forming modules and complete courses, as well as artifacts that support specialized role-players in the development process (the production line.)

One ACT Online-inspired feature coming in CAPE 2.7 involves a new method of incorporating these part specifications into designs. The specifications ultimately reside in CAPE's data modeling facility known as condition sets. The new feature permits the specifications to permanently reside on the file system in the development environment where they can be managed using tools like CVS or Subversion. Condition sets will contain a new modeling element, called ImportFile, that incorporates such files into condition sets at courseware packaging time.

Another area where ACT Online is innovating aggressively concerns custom interfaces and templating. We will hightlight some influences of these innovations on CAPE and eLMS technology in future news.
August 1, 2007
CAPE Documentation Searchable
CAPE's online documentation has been indexed by the Google search engine and can now be searched from the documentation page. A new search element has been added to the documentation page, accessed using the link on the sidebar at left, that performs a search restricted to the documentation area on the CAPE server.

Searchability is a documentation feature that has been requested by several users. Rather than address this issue by building our own indices and server-based search tool, we have elected (like many others) to use features provided by web search engine providers.

April 20, 2007
CAPE Divorces IE7
An available update to the CAPE authoring environment ends its long, intimate relationship with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Perhaps that's a tad strong—the relationship is no longer exclusive.

Since the beginning, CAPE has used IE for all of its previewing services: for locally viewing adaptive content and design elements, as well as for previewing in-progress courseware designs. This exclusivity has extended to browser-based HTML editing with the recently incorporated TinyMCE editor. But more and more authors are telling us that they no longer use IE as their default browser, and we have responded by honoring their choice.

With around 80% marketshare, IE is certainly not a browser to be neglected. But it presents security issues (its support for ActiveX controls through scripting, for example) that other browsers simply don't face, particularly when accessing local files. After many exploits, IE7 addresses these issues with a hardened security policy that is not easily (nor safely) softened for a particular trusted application. These restrictions present certain inconveniences to authors using CAPE's previewing services.

The update adds a new setting to the CAPE Settings component that allows authors to select whether they wish to use their default browser or Internet Explorer for previewing within CAPE. A further advantage of this setting is that—when IE is not the author's default browser—content rendering between browsers can be easily checked by switching this setting without the need to change default browser.
March 29, 2007
CAPE 2.6 Released
Version 2.6 of the CAPE authoring environment is now available for download and installation. The installer can be accessed by selecting the Release Notes item on the menubar at left. Detailed information about what is new in this release, beyond that provided in the article below, is included on that page.

CAPE is not available directly to the public, but rather by agreement with the VaNTH ERC or through affiliated institutions, centers, or projects. Inquiries about using CAPE (and eLMS) in other contexts can be made using contact information available on this site.

For new users, especially those participating in the VaNTH Workshop series, there is an available Installation Guide that provides detailed instructions, demonstrational resources, and access to a tutorial CAPE project.

March 22, 2007
Coming in CAPE 2.6
A forthcoming major version of the CAPE authoring environment provides extensions to the design language, particularly in the area of assessments, improves scaffolds for the author, and includes a new courseware package export facility. CAPE's online documentation has been given a fresh "look", and bundled with this release is a new version of the Generic Modeling Environment (GME) infrastructure.

Multiple Choice assessment items can now include an "Other" (or, arbitrary) choice. An Image Multiple Choice item is introduced specifically for these kinds of questions. A new File item is added that allows learners to upload a file as the response. Other design language additions include Comment attributes for adaptive elements such as Action, Condition, and Select. Several more attributes can now be accessed via author-defined external editors.

The design environment adds features that further contribute to usability. For example, when an Assessment element is created in a courseware model, a corresponding Outcomes element is automatically created and associated. Changes to the Assessment definition are now dynamically reflected in the Outcomes. Similar conveniences are added when defining Condition Sets, for example, coordinating the naming and definition of Functions. The new GME version adds a model window navigation toolbar with capabilities similar to the history features of web browsers.

We anticipate the release of CAPE 2.6 within a week.
March 6, 2007
Active learning online with STAR Legacy
The Software Technology for Action and Reflection (STAR) Legacy Cycle was originally developed by the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt as a "software shell" for anchored instruction. This active learning style grounds the learning process on authentic problem situations (challenges) and further promotes the development of learning skills by allowing learners to explore a multiplicity of learning resources and providing activities that facilitate the learner's self-assessment in guiding this exploration.

CAPE can be used to author online learning experiences in this style and has long supported a design pattern for the so-called "six-phase" Legacy Cycle. For the NSF TRUST STC, we have developed additional scaffolding for this pattern that supports familiarizing learners with the cycle and provides content templates for the individual cycle phases.

The new DHS ACT Online Program (described below) will use another manifestation of Legacy called the five-phase cycle (shown at right above), employed successfully for adult online continuing education by the IRIS Center at Vanderbilt. In pursuing this pedagogical approach, we will be extending CAPE and eLMS to combine design templates and delivery interfaces. This represents a departure from our fundamental strategy of adaptive design with CAPE and a consistent presentation of design enactments with eLMS. The extensions will open many new opportunities for supporting particular learning styles.
December 28, 2006
New DHS Training Grant
CAPE and eLMS will be used as authoring and delivery technologies for a new cybersecurity training grant funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Adaptive Cybersecurity Training (ACT) Online program will provide multi-level, multi-track training for first responders in the critical area of information assurance. The three-year, $4M program will be lead by Prof. Dipankar Dasgupta of the University of Memphis.

The online aspects of the program will be developed in collaboration with Vanderbilt University's Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS). Adaptive features of CAPE and eLMS will be used to customize the training to reflect the prior knowledge and skills of individual learners and to facilitate their progress through various modules culminating in the granting of certifications.

December 19, 2006
CAPE 2.5.4 released
A new version of the CAPE authoring environment is available today as an automatic update. The principal new feature in this release is an integration of the TinyMCE web-based HTML editor (described in an article below). TinyMCE can be configured as an external HTML editor using the CAPE Settings component. We were so pleased with the integration of this editor into our web-based authoring interfaces, we thought we would also offer it as an option to CAPE authors.
December 5, 2006
Virtualization solution eases CAPE on Macs
A new beta release of the Parallels Desktop for Mac virtualization solution makes significant strides towards easing the use of Windows applications, like the CAPE authoring environment, on Mac OS X. A new mode, called Coherence, allows Windows applications to appear directly on the Mac desktop, enabling easy switching between applications on the two operating systems.

This feature, along with drag and drop support for file sharing and better integration with Apple's dual-boot solution, called Boot Camp, make using CAPE on Macs easier than ever before. Larry Howard, the principal designer of CAPE (and Mac fan), uses Parallels Desktop on his MacBook Pro extensively for CAPE courseware design. “This environment is excellent for checking web content among a number of different browsers”, he said.

We expect these new features to be just the beginning of powerful capabilities for seamlessly running applications from multiple operating systems enabled by virtualization technology. We further anticipate that competition among solution providers in this sector will bring these capabilities quickly to market.
November 30, 2006
Rich editing added to web authoring
To improve the ease of use of new eLMS authoring and adaptation tools, we have added support for a full-featured open source Javascript HTML editor called TinyMCE. This enhancement allows assessment and content elements to be edited in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) manner to assist users with limited knowledge of HTML.

TinyMCE is an extensible, cross-platform HTML editor and among the extensions we have provided are support for data-driven resources and dynamic content. Resources uploaded through the authoring interface can be inserted into HTML content and manipuated by TinyMCE, including support for resource browsing that ensures resources are properly referenced. Dynamic content elements in TinyMCE appear in their substituted form and an editing interface supports defining, altering, and evaluating the corresponding content expressions in the facility known as <py> tags. This interface further supports referencing data items through an integrated data space browser.

With these extensions, TinyMCE-based HTML editing for web authoring in the delivery environment mirrors usability features supported by CAPE itself.
November 16, 2006
eLMS adds support for web authoring
CAPE is a state-of-the-art visual language authoring environment for adaptive online learning, and its ability to be used to design new web authoring tools for eLMS provides a glimpse of its power and versatility. The first such tool (shown at right cycling through its views) supports many of the capabilities of CAPE itself—dynamic content, integrated formative assessments, adaptive (potentially progressive) feedback, instructor interventions, and data definitions (including derived data and functions). That these varied design specifications, along with file-based resources, can now all be dynamically created within the delivery environment is an achivement that enables multiple forms of assignment-time adaptation and just-in-time authoring.

The demonstration we have chosen for these capabilities is a kind of Socratic tutor, where exercises proceed by asking learners questions, adaptively providing feedback based on their responses, and then adaptively selecting follow-on questions. The web-based authoring tool is based on a generalized version of a design pattern by Prof. Robert Roselli of Vanderbilt University referenced in an earlier article below. The authoring tool was created in collaboration with Prof. Roselli and two bioengineering graduate students: Kathryn Dwyer and Andrew Slatton.

The authoring tool is directly contained within a courseware implementing the Socratic tutoring design pattern and, like CAPE itself, provides an integrated debugger. Communication between the authoring tool and the delivery component is via the new assignment profile. Instructors interested in this new courseware can contact Prof. Roselli and inquiries about the new features can be directed to us.
October 13, 2006
Resources added to late authoring support
To complete our scaffolding for new late authoring capabilities within the delivery environment, CAPE adds support for representing file-based resources using its dynamic data representation (Condition Sets) and eLMS adds support for uploading and using such resources at delivery time. In addition to late authoring, these capabilities can also support learners uploading file-based resources created as workproducts within an online activity.

CAPE authors identify file-based resources as part of the specification of a learning design. When a CAPE design is uploaded to an eLMS server for delivery, these file-based resources are automatically gathered and incorporated into a package sent to the server. As the courseware design is enacted with learners, these resources are made available to satisfy requests coming from the learner's browser. This approach to resource management is intrinsic to the designs of CAPE and eLMS, and it creates a limitation that all file-based resources must be identified at design time.

Data-driven resources remove this limitation by enabling an alternative approach: representing resources as data. CAPE supports this alternative through a kind of condition called Base64 that can contain encoded file resources. eLMS now supports uploading and encoding such resources using a new service of the delivery engine, called uploadConditions, and supports referencing such conditions through Dynamic resources defined at design time, called gateways. A mini-project called Data-Driven Resources in the CAPE author area of the Repository documents and demonstrates these capabilities.
September 25, 2006
CAPE gets data-driven Condition Sets
Introduced back in CAPE 2.3, data-driven assessments began to blur the line between designs at authoring- and delivery-time. The innovation was that an assessment's design could be contained in CAPE's dynamic data representation, called Condition Sets, thereby enabling it to be modified during courseware delivery to add, remove, or alter the kind of questions presented by the assessment. Prof. Robert Roselli of Vanderbilt used this capability to create a highly generative design pattern in CAPE that supports authoring using only data structures contained in condition sets (detailed in this paper). The design pattern, involving adaptive sequencing and adaptive content in addition to data-driven assessments, acts (essentially) as a special-purpose delivery engine that enacts the "instructions" defined in the data structures, including what questions to ask learners and how to react to their responses. Similar techniques were used by Prof. Eric Perreault of Northwestern to create a lab preparation exercise where questions are randomly drawn from mutliple question banks with progressively increasing levels of difficulty.

Data-driven Condition Sets represents our next step along this path, enabling data contained in condition sets to define other condition sets that can be initialized during courseware delivery. Whereas Actions and eLMS web services enable altering a courseware's dynamic state, data-driven condition sets focus on defining (or re-defining) this state. The definitional capabilities extend to CAPE's computational features (Derived conditions and Functions) that heretofore could only be defined at authoring-time. A supporting mini-project, called "Data-Driven Condition Sets", is provided in the CAPE author area of the Repository.

We are introducing data-driven condition sets as scaffolding for forthcoming capabilities that will address assignment-time adaptation and authoring. These capabilities will allow CAPE-authored courseware designs to be adapted by educators through the web using authoring interfaces designed with CAPE that are adaptively integrated directly into the courseware. The effect will be to enable a spectrum of authoring times, from early design within the authoring environment to late design within the delivery environment, and authoring tasks, from design creation to design adaptation.
September 20, 2006
CAPE Wizard supports custom templates
The CAPE Wizard (shown at right) is an authoring environment extension that supports creating new design elements based on templates. The initial version of this extension—introduced in CAPE 2.5—supported a set of "built-in" templates. After it was introduced, authors inquired about using the Wizard to support their own templates. A CAPE update released today provides this capability.

The Repository Browser CAPE component now supports designating a model in the Repository as a template. Only those models that are self-contained (that is, have no external dependencies by reference or derivation) can be templates. Use the Mark as template choice from the context menu (right click) to designate a template. Authors can (and should) provide a short description of the template that will be displayed by the CAPE Wizard. Use the Edit template description choice from the context menu to modify the description at a later time. Authors are further encouraged to use model annotations to assist other designers in reusing templates.

Each time the CAPE Wizard is started, the Repository is queried for available templates. When selecting a kind of element in the Wizard, if templates are available, then an associated radio button on the interface enables switching between built-in and repository templates. When the latter is selected, templates are presented in a listing view for selection and creation.
September 11, 2006
VaNTH Workshops to include CAPE
A series of four workshops will be delivered by the VaNTH ERC over the coming academic year that are based on methods and technologies researched by the center. The workshops will include training on instructional design using the How People Learn (HPL) framework, as well as the use of the CAPE authoring environment for designing online and blended learning environments.

The two-day workshops will be conducted by Dr. Alene Harris, the director of VaNTH's Education Program, and Dr. Stacy Klein, an education and bioengineering faculty participant in VaNTH—both highly experienced workshop facilitators. The location will be Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. The workshops will include contributions by other VaNTH participants from the ERC's Bioengineering Domains and Learning Technology Thrusts, including Larry Howard, the principal designer of CAPE. The workshops will include a half-day focusing exclusively on introducing CAPE and a half-day synthesis of pedagogy and technology-focused aspects.

Those interested in participating in one the workshops can help determine the dates by pre-registering online by October 2, 2006. Additional information is available at the workshop site, including details of scholarships and stipends that have been established to help extend participation.

Updated: October 11, 2006

The following four 2007 dates have been selected for the VaNTH workshops: January 8-9, February 5-6, April 16-17, and May 7-8. You can register for one of these workshop dates and apply for the available scholarships online.
September 7, 2006
Collaborate with eLMS
eLMS provides a capability, called Profiles, that can be used to support various kinds of online collaborative work. Class profiles are shared by the students in a class and Courseware profiles are shared between all deliveries of a particular courseware. Such "global" state enables information sharing among students or between students and the instructor (or teaching assistants) of an eLMS class.

To facilitate the use of these capabilities by CAPE authors, we have produced a set of demonstration designs made available in the Repository. The designs are annotated in CAPE and web pages further document them and support trying them out. Dialoging demonstrates using the Class profile to support dialogs between individual students and the instructor of a class. Such dialogs enable instructors to iteratively give feedback to a learner during the course of an activity performed online and allow the learner to respond to this feedback. Research Designs demonstrates support for experimental designs where learners can be randomly assigned to groups to adaptively receive different "treatments". Discussions demonstrates forums where participation can be class-wide or in the context of randomly formed mini-groups.

The importance of these capabilities for eLMS courseware is that collaborative features can be situated within courseware authored with CAPE. Adaptive design capabilities supported by CAPE can be used to scaffold the use of these kinds of elements or to integrate them into designs that also provide features for individualized instruction.
August 3, 2006
July 14, 2006
CAPE 2.5.1 Released
A new version of the CAPE authoring environment has been released and can be downloaded through the release notes page.
July 10, 2006
New in CAPE 2.5.1
CAPE 2.5.1 is an incremental release of the authoring environment that provides bug fixes and a couple of significant enhancements.  The first of these is a new project launcher (shown at right) that reflects our continuing efforts to customize and brand the Generic Modeling Environment (GME) infrastructure upon which CAPE is built.  This dialog is specialized for the CAPE project file type (.cape)—introduced in CAPE 2.5—and can be used to open existing CAPE projects, create new projects, or select from the recently opened project list maintained by GME.

The more significant enhancement in this release is the introduction of an automatic update feature.  This feature can be configured using the CAPE Settings component to check for updates each time CAPE is launched or on a fixed schedule.  With this new component, we will be able to distribute changes to the authoring environment through the web in the future without the need to provide incremental releases like this one: easier for you, easier for us.

June 12, 2006
CAPE on Intel Macs
Virtualization solutions are appearing that allow Windows applications, including the CAPE authoring environment, to run on Intel-based Macs.  One currently available solution is Parallels Desktop. Virtualization performs much better than emulation solutions that have been available in the past, such as VirtualPC, and are easier to use than dual-boot solutions like Apple's BootCamp.  We have confirmed that CAPE runs quite well in Parallels Desktop.  To use this solution, users must purchase a low-cost Parallels license and supply a Microsoft Windows operating system.

Updated: August 12, 2006

Microsoft has announced that they will not carry forward VirtualPC for Intel-based Macs, so it seems that virtualization solutions and dual-booting will be the only practical approaches to running CAPE on Macs.  VMware has also announced a new virtualization solution, and we will be tracking the development of this product.
May 8, 2006
CAPE 2.5 Released
A new version of the CAPE authoring environment has been released and can be downloaded through the release notes page.
March 14, 2006
New in CAPE 2.5
CAPE 2.5 provides improvements to its support for interoperability, changes to its metadata representation, and performance and functionality enhancements to the CAPE Repository.

Interoperability improvements address three areas: multiple external content editors, SCORM/IMS content packaging, publishing to a dissemination portal.

GME's support for defining an exernal editor has been extended to define different editors for attributes of CAPE objects containing text, HTML, and Python. The CAPE Settings component adds support for these settings. SCORM packaging, introduced by eLMS in 2.4, can be performed directly from CAPE 2.5. Support for IMS content packaging is added for certain legacy CMS that do not support SCORM. A new VaNTH dissemination portal, based on the Plone content management system, has been developed and support is added for directly publishing information about courseware to the portal from CAPE 2.5. This metadata-based capability will also be used by TRUST authors to publish to the forthcoming TRUST Academy Online (TAO) portal.

CAPE's metadata support has undergone its first revision since the original definition of the VaNTH paradigm. The changes reflect a restructuring to support more systems of description. Metadata specifications now consist of three kinds: Tags, MultiTags, and CompoundTags. Tags support defining a single value, provide a description for the user, and can define a validation predicate. MultiTags support similar definitions, but serve as containers for multiple values. CompoundTags provide a (potentially recursive) container for Tags and MultiTags to support a set of specifications employed as a unit. Metadata folders, which can contain each of the above kinds of objects, are now recursive to support hierarchically organized collections.

The CAPE Repository incorporates improvements that address scalability and evolution. Launch time is dramatically decreased using a lazy browsing strategy and interchange performance is improved using a new binary format. Support has been added for search and retrieval, with server-based indexing. Repository assets created with earlier versions of CAPE can now be loaded into newer CAPE projects with automatic version migration.
February 14, 2006
eLMS supports rich text editing for its Notes Editor
The Notes Editor of the eLMS courseware delivery interface now supports HTML-based rich text editing, including support for hyperlinks. This upgrade to the previous plain text facility is based on the obedit Flash component created by Richard Podsada at
January 25, 2006
Python component framework for GME released
As a service to the GME community, we are providing a component generation framework called PyGME for GME components written in Python.
December 5, 2005
CAPE 2.4 released
A new version of the CAPE authoring environment has been released and can be downloaded through the release notes page.
October 27, 2005
New features in CAPE Version 2.4
The next version of the CAPE authoring environment will provide the first installment of "instructor-in-the-loop" capabilities called interventions.  Since CAPE/eLMS courseware are predominantly used in blended learning environments, these capabilities target coordination between in-class and outside-class elements of some overarching learning design.  The first capabilities will concern modeling synchronization points at which a courseware design will suspend awaiting action by an Instructor or teaching assistant.  Release of learners from these synchronization points can be selective or collective within the context of an eLMS class.

Other new features of CAPE 2.4 include exception sequencing edges in courseware models and dynamic Resources models.  The former pertains to the Action, Condition, and Select modeling elements.  The design language now supports defining delivery pathways that are followed in the event that the execution of statements or evaluation of expressions raises an exception.   Resources models can now be associated with a folder on the local file system, which can be filtered for particular content types.   Files in such folders are automatically incorporated into content packages when previewing or uploading courseware.
October 27, 2005
Version 2.4 of eLMS to offer SCORM compatibility
The next version of eLMS will support packaging and delivery of courseware authored with CAPE by a SCORM-compliant LMS.  An eLMS server will still be required to enact the courseware design and serve learning content.  This interoperability solution wraps the eLMS courseware as a single SCORM Shareable Content Object (SCO) that can be assigned, launched, and resumed from a SCORM LMS, with outcomes returned to the LMS. Complete delivery records can be accessed from eLMS by the user that generated the SCORM package using a data mining interface similar to that provided to eLMS Instructors.  These capabilities replace our announced objective to develop a PowerLink integration with WebCT.
October 27, 2005
New version of the eLMS Blackboard Building Block available
This update to our integration with the Blackboard Learning System supports writing learner outcomes from eLMS courseware back to a Blackboard gradebook.  The gradebook recording feature can be enabled or disabled by system administrators at building block installation time.
October 3, 2005
Mailing lists established for CAPE and eLMS
These mailing lists support CAPE courseware authors and eLMS users, including those that access eLMS through the Blackboard Learning System.  Subscribe to the CAPE list here and the eLMS list here.

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