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A Breakthrough in Back-End Interoperability

  • April 04, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

Throughout K-12 and higher education, new technologies are providing transformative access and enhanced learning opportunities. In an ideal world, they would be supported by a seamless and invisible infrastructure. The problem is, of course, we don’t live in an ideal world. Infrastructure is rarely smooth—schools are supporting dozens of teachers, who are in turn supporting dozens of students. Use cases and needs vary too much to warrant a one-size-fits-all, perfect solution.

So what type of pain points are educators facing relevant to the back-end of the classroom? For example, imagine you are a teacher. You have 130 different students, who you plan to teach leveraging 10 different online tools/platforms. Some quick math will raise the concern that you are then dealing with over 1,000 different login scenarios—which given five assignments, could easily turn into 6,000 requests for password resets. Yikes. Is keeping track of a long list of passwords for students, and troubleshooting when they are forgotten, the best use of teachers’ time? With most teachers already stretched thin, the answer is no.

Passwords aren’t the only instance where back-end inefficiencies can put actual teaching on hold. Assessment, digital content delivery, wireless access, cloud-based collaboration tools, social media platforms, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and class rosters are just a few examples of classroom and administrative technology integrations requiring highly coordinated access, security, and data-sharing interoperability. While “better infrastructure” seems like the obvious answer, actually implementing, creating, and maintaining a seamless solution is quite complicated. After all, technology is more broadly and deeply embedded within the learning environment than ever before—meaning more dots to connect across student, teacher, school, district, and service provider data.

Primary challenges:

High costs. Considering school budgets are lacking wiggle room, the expensive nature of complex infrastructures is hard to overlook. It is especially pricy when considering the level of customization schools need to leverage to make sure their needs are covered. Also, a lack of pricing transparency can make costs difficult to include in budgets.

Lost time. Not only is money tight—time is, too. Delays in getting new tools and software up and running can result in lost instructional and administrative time, taking away from students and creating stress for educators. Even with delays aside, unavoidable tasks such as manual roster coordination across vendors can also be painfully time consuming.

Poor data security. In any one school system, there are an abundance of people involved; all of the administrators, professors, and students walking around contribute to a huge mine of data. The collection of data goes hand in hand with security issues, which can be made graver by password management and sign-on problems. Plus, common missteps such as duplicated and inconsistently formatted CSV files maintained for service providers can also cause headaches.

These back-end orchestration issues all, in one way or another, act as deterrents to teachers, IT teams, and administrators seeking to realize the full potential of the data- and technology-driven classroom.

Back-end problems are a frustrating hurdle for educators to get past—but IT leaders are trying to help. This area of edtech used to be a “Wild West,” anything goes type scenario, but slowly but surely ideas are coming to life about how all parties can work together efficiently. Clever, a fee-based third-party provider that manages roster data flow between schools and digital content providers, is one example of a catalyst for change—using middlemen.

A promising breakthrough.

In an effort to bring order to the chaos, IMS Global Learning Consortium has created OneRoster, a free “open” technical standard. If implemented, these newly created interoperability standards would streamline the way schools and third-party vendors access and standardize common education commodities such as class roster, password/sign-on, and other data. Rob Abel, the CEO of IMS Global, recently spoke to Education Week regarding motivations behind the initiative, saying:

“When integrations cost time or money that nobody has, that stops progress from being made. The theory is that if we take the friction out of going digital, that helps the market develop for everyone.”

The prospect of collaboration—and progress—is exciting. While it’s still early, the proposal by IMS Global may help to overcome the challenges related to implementing technology-based solutions in the classroom. Encouraging that collaboration, and enticing other service providers to get with the program, will be critical for success. Broad adoption of open standards across the ecosystem could lead to significantly improved data security and better enabled data sharing. Plus, most importantly, it could lead to teachers and administrators spending the majority of their time and resources on what they do best—preparing students for bright futures.

Reference Articles:

1. “New Interoperability Standard Aims to Ease Major Ed-Tech Headache” Education Week. January 26 2016.
2. “K-12 Interoperability Groups Announce Collaboration on Ed. Data Sharing” Education Week. February 12 2016.
3. “Student-Login Chaos Fueling Software Password Upgrades” Education Week. June 3 2014