Posts Tagged Interoperability
This is part three in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post investigates the critical role of Student Information Systems in effectively and equitably responding to COVID and the continuity of learning. This post is cross-posted on the IMS Global Learning Impact Blog.
The Mothership of Our Data
A national snapshot shows that schools and districts with plug-and-play digital ecosystems using standards for interoperability are making the transition from brick and mortar to remote learning more seamlessly than their counterparts. Not surprisingly, these institutions were carefully designing, planning, and making these preparations for their digital learning landscape many years before COVID-19. They were strategically integrating their digital tools, resources, and curricula into a suite of various platforms to facilitate new learning opportunities. Of these platforms is the student information system (SIS). When it comes to student data, the strategic importance of the SIS has never been more essential.
In this blog, we examine five institutions that are continuing to pursue the above efforts, which helps mitigate some of the recent disruptions. Core to their design strategy is the dynamic use of student data that resides in their student information systems. As Greg Odell from Hall County (GA) states, “Infinite Campus, our student information system (SIS), is structured for managing data. In fact, it is the mothership for our data.”
Steve Buettner at Edina Public Schools (MN) echoes this sentiment. When asked about the tools that are key to their digital ecosystem, Steve mentions, “We are not unlike other school districts.”
“We use the same types of tools other school districts use, but we have seen an evolution of which ones take priority and sit at the center of our ecosystem. Currently, our SIS sits at the center of our digital ecosystem. It is so important because it has information about our students, families, the courses, the historical transcript, and all other essential information.”
Much of this information is contained in the IMS OneRoster® standard to solve a district’s need to securely and reliably exchange roster information, course materials, and grades between systems.
Now, more than ever, student information systems play a critical role in shaping state and district response to the current crisis. Major industry players build “best in breed” digital learning ecosystems by leveraging IMS interoperability standards to dominate the highly fractured, highly competitive K-12 educational technology space. Core to their strategies is the dynamic use of student data that resides in a district’s SIS. K-12 schools and districts implement various SIS providers, with some of the notable players being Infinite Campus, Follett Aspen, and PowerSchool. At the same time, some institutions even take on the task of designing their own SIS. School districts should expect to face new and complex schedule challenges to begin the new school year. The potential scenarios of hybrid online and in-person instruction will require a partner that is flexible and innovative to support the new scheduling scenarios.
One K-12 SIS, Infinite Campus, is addressing the challenges brought on by the pandemic by keeping learners connected, whether at school or home. Charlie Kratsch, Founder and CEO, is an advocate for providing connectivity to third-party learning applications. Charlie says, “Students enrolled in our SIS are scheduled into classes as in-person, remote or blended learners, and rosters are immediately updated. Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) single sign-on allows learning applications to be launched with a click directly from our embedded LMS. Assignments and scores are returned via OneRoster to our SIS for review by teachers, students, parents, and administrators.” Additionally, our long-standing commitment to IMS standards benefits K-12 districts as they address challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Uniformity Is Not the Same as Interoperability
There is no one-size-fits-all implementation of an SIS, as some states utilize an enterprise solution to address the needs of the districts throughout the state. In other states, the procurement of an SIS is left up to individual districts. Dan Raylea, Director of the Office of Research and Data Analysis at the South Carolina Department of Education, says, “The drive toward interoperability is enabling their adoption of a statewide rostering solution.” Dan notes some benefits in his statewide deployment of the PowerSchool SIS. By implementing the SIS at scale, South Carolina was able to deploy the platform more economically and rapidly for the individual districts. Then Dan can visualize consistent and comparative achievement data from districts throughout the state. One issue with such a uniform deployment is that the system may not be initially interoperable with the other platforms in use by the individual districts. Dan notes that typically the SIS is used to record and maintain student attendance. Still, he sees that with so many forms of distance and remote learning occurring to minimize exposure to COVID-19, that there may be a need to recognize student participation in digital lessons. IMS Caliper Analytics®; may afford that data, and he hopes the SIS will continue to evolve for better understanding and visualization of student learning activities.
Another district example is Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (TX). The district has made significant strides in building its digital ecosystem. Its vision is to automate the rostering of users into courses and classes from their SIS to all of their platforms, tools, and apps. OneRoster makes this possible and paves the way for students to use their ecosystem right away. The leadership at GCISD is now focused on scaling their ecosystem with tools that provide insights into application utilization to visualize the impact the tools are having on a student’s educational journey. This is evidence of their digital transformation strategy. It is the marriage of their interoperability strategy and pedagogical strategy to get to the next level of their ecosystem.
As a key component of a district’s digital learning ecosystem, the SIS has the potential to contribute to the implementation of innovative instructional strategies. Such is the case in Chicago Public Schools with the district’s goal to achieve instructional equity by improving access to high-quality academic and technology resources. According to Lily McDonagh, Director of Education Initiatives for the district, “Follett Aspen is working to implement interoperability standards from IMS Global to assist CPS in achieving education equity in the district’s Curriculum Equity Initiative.” Having a positive partnership with vendor partners is essential for CPS. Lily notes, “in the future, there may be additional opportunities for Aspen to leverage interoperability for improving instruction in CPS.
An effective partnership that leads to innovation is essential for all stakeholders and the benefit of the SIS platform. To ensure that partnership, specify expectations for collaboration and interoperability in requests for proposals (RFPs) and contracts to address the educational vision, needs, and strategies. The list below includes some requirements when considering the adoption of an SIS.
|Five Essential Requirements for an SIS|
|Secure management of student data while simultaneously meeting the reporting requirements for funding purposes|
|IMS certified interoperability with existing technology tools and platforms|
|Ease of use for multiple stakeholders—teachers, students, and parents|
|Adaptability to collaborate as a partner to achieve the instructional vision and mission of the institution|
|Proven success of other implementations|
Now is not the time to overwhelm teachers, staff, and families. Keeping to essential school services will enable stakeholders to absorb the new complexities with encountering the challenges of returning to school this fall. The best way to maintain stability is to work with products that are IMS certified to ensure seamless integration and interoperability. You can view all current certifications in the IMS Certified Product Directory.
In the next post, we will explore student assessment systems in remote instruction.
This is part two in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post is cross-posted on the IMS Global Learning Impact Blog.
The Value of an Interoperable Learning Management System
Last week we explored how interoperability supports the transition to digital learning. In this week’s post, we investigate the instructional value of an interoperable learning management system (LMS). We recently caught up with four district leaders (virtually, of course) who are using an IMS-certified LMS to help facilitate their pivot to emergency, remote learning. These districts already implement processes to adopt digital tools and align them into interoperable ecosystems with an LMS being a key component.
Think of the LMS as mission control where the teacher can communicate with students, provide assignments, and link to resources. As a home base for online learning, it supports and connects teachers, students, and parents as a “go-to” place to begin digital learning, whether in school or from home. Essentially, the LMS has the potential to be the digital equivalent of the face-to-face, physical classroom by seamlessly integrating and making available—with the help of IMS standards like OneRoster and LTI—all of the district’s various digital tools and resources.
When asked about how the open IMS standards have impacted their transition to remote distance learning, all district leaders confirmed a significant improvement to their working dynamic, especially with the use of an LMS.
Gregory Odell, e-Learning Specialist at Hall County Board of Education in Georgia, notes that his district’s interoperable LMS, Canvas, allows teachers and students to continue school in a way that is “business as usual.” Fortunately, the district began integrating its interoperable edtech platforms before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, so its users had a bit of a head start in getting used to the technology. Michelle Eaton, Director of Virtual and Blended Learning of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, makes it clear that, although the district’s LMS, itslearning, benefits teachers, the current remote working conditions are still less-than-ideal. “I think there are some really great things going on,” Eaton explains, “but emergency and remote teaching are very different from online learning. Online learning is not something that you can just ramp up in 48 hours. For us, we have been committed to interoperability for some time…it certainly helps us as we move to remote teaching.”
Eaton’s words highlight an important point. While the interoperability of digital systems had value in pre-pandemic life, it is even more critical now. Without interoperability, teachers assume an increased tediousness in their workloads, as they must repeatedly enter login credentials, search for resources, and enter data (such as grades) in multiple platforms. This administrative burden severely impacts efficiency and profoundly affects both student and teacher productivity. Those who are new to an LMS are usually pleasantly surprised at its ease of use and variety of features. Educators who are used to having to manage multiple usernames and passwords for even the most basic of tasks involving edtech are relieved to find that the experience is much smoother. Interoperability streamlines these duties and gives teachers better control of their remote classrooms. A district is also better able to support teachers through the consistent use of the LMS from both technical, instructional, and professional learning perspectives, which helps to ensure greater instructional equity and access.
Steve Buettner, Director of Media and Technology for Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, notes that interoperability with his district’s LMS, Schoology, is helping teachers in a big way. They have much better control over course activities, monitoring student progress, and designing assessments. Also, it makes it much easier for students to access information without having to alternate between multiple systems. The simplification has improved access to grade reports and increased the ease with which actions can be determined based on based grade triggers.
Considerations When Introducing a Learning Management System
The district leaders have a few suggestions for transitioning to an interoperable LMS. Odell urges to avoid settling for what you have or cutting corners concerning the integration of the necessary technology. Instead, push the district vendors and other technology providers to ensure your students are receiving the best learning experience you can offer. Daryl Diamond of Broward County Public Schools in Florida, also utilizing Canvas LMS, suggests, “Districts need to procure a learning management system as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for teachers to house all of their curriculum with the capability to align to external tools.” Diamond recommends that an LMS should eliminate “the need for learners to log in separately on external systems.” She asserts that the districts’ responsibility is to correspond with stakeholders whose duty is “to ensure the interoperability of all digital hardware and software and address any issues that arise within the digital ecosystem. This interoperability is vital to teachers’ ability to effectively manage course progression and their students, especially concerning the use of essential data such as rosters and rich outcome analytics.”
Introducing the above technological advances during the pandemic compels a district to consider what schooling will look like in the future. “The work of teachers has been dramatically changed since their first use of the LMS,” according to Diamond, “as it eliminates many basic administrative duties. Teachers will continue acclimating to the new systems to fully experience the benefits of student engagement and enhanced instructional capabilities.” Eaton is not surprised at how thoroughly interoperable features are being integrated into the various LMS platforms throughout school districts in light of emergency remote learning during the pandemic. She is, however, quite excited about future applications of this dynamic technology. “We can build on this momentum since every teacher in our district now knows how to use a digital learning platform. The basic training is done. Now we can focus on what teaching and learning look like in the classroom.”
As a result of the pandemic response, what we are hearing, and what district leaders are seeing, is that an interoperable digital learning ecosystem using an LMS is dramatically improving student and teacher experiences. Hopefully, this will continue long after the pandemic with even more widespread integration and interoperability of technology in K-12 education.
In the next post, we will explore the value of a student information system for pivoting to remote instruction.
How Interoperability Supports Your Transition to Digital Learning
This is part one in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post is cross-posted on the IMS Global Learning Impact Blog.
A quick glance at any recent edtech news shows that the unexpected pivot to digital learning is a challenge for most K-12 schools and districts. In fact, it has been such a challenge that Steve Buettner, Director of Media and Technology at Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, suggests that we shouldn’t call it “digital learning.” Rather, it should be called “remote or emergency learning” to distinguish these reactionary practices from true digital learning. Yet some districts like Edina are making the transition from face-to-face to remote digital learning more easily than others. One key to their successful pivot? The interoperability of their digital tools and resources.
In a nutshell, interoperability is the driving force that allows you to improve opportunities that enhance teaching and learning with your digital ecosystem. Technically speaking, it’s the ability of your learning apps and tools to connect and exchange useful and meaningful data. But for teachers in K-12, interoperability can be a game-changer, dramatically reducing time on tasks and increasing student and class engagement and management. Interoperability provides students, parents, and administrators with a consistently positive experience using technology resources.
The Design of a Digital Learning Ecosystem
Edina Public Schools is one of the many school districts strategically designing ecosystems of digital platforms, content, and tools to support effective classroom instruction and enable a variety of modern learning experiences and models such as virtual learning, blended learning, and distance learning. All of these instructional models usually involve digital learning. Although districts select different educational technology resources, a core feature of an effective digital learning ecosystem is that it’s interoperable. IMS open standards are the preferred way to achieve this interoperability for instructional purposes. We connected with several K-12 leaders engaged in the work of edtech interoperability to see how the changes from the emergency COVID-19 pandemic response are affecting their districts and revealing about the future of their digital ecosystems to better assist their teachers and students, parents and guardians.
Most of the digital ecosystems designed by these districts are comprised of some configuration of the following core platforms to assist teachers in facilitating digital learning:
- Single Sign-On (SSO) Platform or Portal
- Learning Management System (LMS)
- Student Assessment Tool or System
- Student Information System (SIS)
- Learning Object Repository (LOR) of Digital Resources
- Productivity Suite(s)
Typically, the various core systems above, as well as other applications, are often accessed via a portal or platform that supports single sign-on (SSO). The learning management system (LMS) is usually the core of a district’s digital ecosystem with integration points to their student information system (SIS), a learning object repository (LOR) of digital resources, and a student assessment system. Similarly, the data, content, and assessments pass back and forth seamlessly through integration with the LMS as the usual delivery system. Interoperability among all of the above systems eliminates the need for learners to log in separately on external systems to complete learning activities, engage with digital resources, and complete assignments and assessments. This seamless interoperability also keeps teachers from having to enter grades or other information into multiple platforms and provides greater insight into useful data regarding student performance.
To understand in greater detail how districts provide such interoperable teaching and learning experiences, we had in-depth conversations with Hall County Schools in Georgia, the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, and Broward County Schools in Florida. We asked them about specific components and implementation of their digital ecosystems. We also touched base with several other districts, to find out what they’re doing at this time. Over the next few weeks, we will continue sharing their strategies, experiences, and future plans to inform and guide you in the design and implementation of ecosystems to effectively support digital learning. We hope you will find this information useful and actionable as you adapt your technology and instruction to today’s new normal!
In the next post, we will explore the value of a learning management system for pivoting to remote instruction.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on The Components of a Digital Age Learning Ecosystem. Now, it’s becoming commonplace for district leaders to consider the digital resources and tools that they provide their teachers and students as the ecosystem that supports teaching and learning. When thinking about that ecosystem from a digital standpoint, reflect on what holds it together. What supports those platforms and enables them to easily share information and data? This connectedness or glue is provided by interoperability, which is most effectively and seamlessly enabled by open standards from IMS Global that any developer or edtech provider can use to ensure and validate effective integrations.
As a teacher in the classroom, it is essential that the instructional digital toolkit works together like pieces of a puzzle without a lot of wasted time and frustration. One challenge can be making sure that all of the students are able to log in to the various programs easily and securely. An open standard that is used throughout the edtech industry is OneRoster. It keeps student information safe, enables edtech suppliers to provide one-click access to programs, and ensures that students and teachers are provided with the appropriate district-provided digital resources for their classes and courses.
This may sound like a dream scenario to many teachers who are currently struggling with multiple usernames and passwords for their students that vary with each application. Teachers who are provided access to all of their technology tools directly from their district may be unable to select only those programs that implement OneRoster. However, it is possible for teachers to advocate for the use of the OneRoster standard. School and district leaders can require that their edtech providers support and implement the standard and insist that their products are OneRoster certified by IMS Global. Schools and districts can also join IMS Global and collaborate with other educators and edtech partners to improve the open standards as a community of leaders.
Being Digital on Day One of Learning means that as soon as students enter the classroom, they are ready to begin utilizing the digital resources available to begin learning. By facilitating easy and equitable access to technology tools and platforms, districts can ensure that they are making the most of their investment and providing teachers with the support necessary to focus on the instructional needs of their students instead of having to focus on the technology. By using technology resources that are OneRoster certified, districts can more effectively realize how to be digital on day one of learning.
To see an example of OneRoster in action, click here.