Vendors also recognize that data interoperability gives them a firmer foothold in the evolving educational technology landscape as districts look for tools that can help create a holistic view of student progress.
“The old way of walled gardens of data is over,” Mote says. “Vendors are recognizing that bringing data together and getting it in the hands of teachers in ways they can use helps them as well as the teachers and students.”
Manage Vendor Partnerships to Optimize Data Exchanges
For Josh Allen, director of technology architecture and strategy for Denver Public Schools (DPS), data interoperability is largely about managing vendor relationships.
“It’s not really a technical issue for us most of the time — it’s a matter of clarity with all our vendors,” says Allen, whose district serves more than 93,000 students in 207 schools. “They need to know what requirements they have to adhere to and that exchange of data is a must.”
Those requirements include support of a data-sharing and single sign-on platform based on the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s OneRoster data transfer standard. Colorado’s Student Data Transparency and Security Act also mandates the security of all student information, whether it’s stored or in transit.
Data from financial, administrative and student information systems are fed into the DPS ODS. The district’s development team works with vendors to verify and sometimes help write the APIs that move information in and out of the data store.
“Once we’ve done the prework with a vendor, we test the application to prove that it has interoperability with our environment,” Allen says. “We ensure our data is safe and that we can use all of it. Vendors are cooperative because standards benefit them too.”
Data interoperability has allowed DPS to build portals that give teachers easy access to the data they need for a comprehensive view of a student’s progress and challenges, says Allen. Parents use the portals to track grades, class assignments and attendance, and can even add to the student’s lunch money account or see school bus locations in real time.
Interoperability Lets Schools Share Data for Personalized Learning
With 41 schools, the Providence (R.I.) Public School District currently uses applications from more than 50 vendors, and that number is growing. The district is also committed to bringing data from all those sources to bear on the education of each of its 24,000 students, making interoperability a priority, says PPSD Superintendent Christopher Maher.
“Personalized learning is the core of what we’re doing in instruction, and for that we need to give students real-time data,” he says. “For that, all the pieces of our ed tech environment have to talk to each other.”
As it is at DPS, interoperability with systems already in place is a basic requirement for any ed tech tool the district purchases, says Cameron Berube, PPSD’s executive director for teaching and learning.
“We include a data-sharing agreement when we sign a contract,” she says. “Vendors have to take care of APIs. If you want to work with us, you have to have interoperability with our systems.”
Berube curates an annual vendor fair so that PPSD teachers and administrators can evaluate technologies that meet quality and interoperability criteria and that fit the district’s educational strategy, which is to give students the tools for self-directed learning.
“We’re creating individual learning profiles through which students will be able to see how they’re doing and performing against standards,” says Berube. “They and their teachers will have data that shows their strengths and their struggles and gives them more control of their own education.”