No edtech provider can “do everything.”
A vendor’s choice between expanding a product’s feature set or making that same product more compatible with existing options is no longer as cut-and-dry as it may once have been. District decision makers have spoken—interoperability is the new differentiator.
But what does interoperability even mean these days? How does it differ based on its purpose? What are all these data standards we keep hearing about and what role do they play in this discussion?
Let’s take a closer look at three different types of interoperability from a nontechnical perspective in an effort to clear up the sometimes-vague differences between similar-sounding terms and acronym.
1) Data Integration
As the edtech community continues to seek out more effective ways to access, analyze, and share data, the elusive “dashboard” has risen to the top of wish lists everywhere. The concept of bringing all relevant data together in one place, regardless of its origin system, is made possible only through the adoption of data standards across platforms.
Here’s what you need to know about the three most commonly referenced enterprise-level eddata standards:
Common Education Data Standards (CEDS)
CEDS is unique in this list, because it is the rock upon which many different standards, data repositories, and frameworks are built. CEDS is not in and of itself an integration or interfacing tool—its value lies in the “common vocabulary” it defines for developers, data stewards, and other members of the P-20W (early learning – workforce) community. The standards that follow are both closely aligned with and actively involved in continued improvements to the CEDS.
Ed-Fi Data Standard
The Ed-Fi Alliance, a “group of educators, technologists, and thought leaders shaping the future of education technology” has approached the issue of data integration from two fronts: getting edtech systems to connect with each other, and turning the resulting connected data into actionable insights. The CEDS-aligned Ed-Fi Data Standard, coupled with the supporting Ed-Fi Technology, including an Operational Data Store and teacher-focused Dashboard, creates a seamless flow of data when fully implemented.
Several states have adopted or are in the process of adopting a real-time transactional interface with districts for data reporting. For those familiar with the typical state reporting model of periodic data file uploads, the amount of time and effort this saves will be obvious.
Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF)
SIF is sponsored, developed, and maintained by the Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community, a “unique, non-profit collaboration composed of schools, districts, local authorities, states, US and International Ministries of Education, software vendors, and consultants who actively address all aspects of learning information management and access to support learning.”
SIF was one of the first educational data models to rise to prominence, and it has continued to evolve to meet the ever-changing demands of its community. SIF adoption currently includes schools representing over 55 million students in the United States. The SIF 3.x specification, released in 2013, featured significant changes to both the Data Model and Infrastructure, making SIF more accessible for developers and easier to implement for districts.
Can there be only one?
One of the biggest problems with the current state educational data standards is the paradox of having multiple, competing standards in the marketplace. Not only does that mean twice as much development work for vendors, it also opens the door to the possibility of a state education agency deciding to adopt a new standard or switch from one to the other, rendering existing district integration processes obsolete. Will we ever see a universally adopted model? The question remains open…
2) Content Integration
Accessible data is a boon for everyone, but how does interoperability affect the day-to-day learning experience? As instruction becomes increasingly blended, teachers are finding lesson inspirations from many different sources. The challenge lies in bringing those lessons from the far corners of the Internet and various software platforms into one centralized learning management system.