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Consider how strong it would be if all of the numerous systems and applications K-12 school systems could easily “speak” to one another and share data, with data flowing fluidly from one application to the next.

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Central office employees could enter student information once in a centralized portal. Then relevant pieces of that information could be exchanged securely and automatically with various departments and applications as needed, resulting in tremendous operational efficiencies for schools. There would be no need for duplicate data entry, saving administrative workers numerous hours.

More significantly, from enrollment to graduation, teachers and administrators would better understand each student’s needs. If divergent systems could easily connect, it would be simple to collect data from various apps and use it to ensure student success.

To realize this objective, school districts must ensure that the numerous software products are interoperable. However, there are multiple roadblocks in the way.

This post outlines why interoperability is crucial and what K-12 school districts need to achieve, including a stable, high-speed network infrastructure for sending and securing data.

Why is interoperability important?

Currently, most digital tools and resources used in K-12 schools aren’t interoperable, which means they can’t easily share data. So, suppose a teacher or administrator wants a full perspective of a student’s performance. In that case, they’ll have to manually export data from several systems and digital resources — each with their log-in — to a spreadsheet.

According to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), students should have seamless access to different resources covering the same topic tailored to their educational requirements to achieve technology’s potential to improve education fully. Students and teachers should be able to access data dashboards in real-time to see what they’ve completed and what they still need to learn.

Learning would be adaptable, teaching would be data-driven, and everyone would be able to monitor how kids are progressing across all disciplines and content areas in a single glance. By the day’s end, “interoperability is basic to the promise of instructional technology.” 

To achieve interoperability in K-12 education, four fundamental goals must be met.

Improving efficiency: Teachers and administrative personnel at many schools spend a significant amount of time filling out forms and entering the same data into several software systems. Much of the same student information, for example, is input independently into an ERP system, a student information system (SIS), a Custom learning management system (LMS), a transportation or health system, and so on.

If these systems were interoperable, schools might automatically utilize data integration engines to populate them with appropriate data.

This would eliminate data entry errors across several systems and save staff substantial time. It might also save money, improve departmental teamwork, and help kids and families in the long run.

Increasing flexibility: Adopting open data standards will prevent schools from becoming bound into using a certain technological platform only to avoid losing their existing content or data. It would ensure that information and data would be accessible even if technology platforms changed over time.

Growing student success: Today, data from various apps live in separate, unconnected silos in most school systems. As a result, getting a complete picture of a student, including demographic data and performance across numerous classes and software programs, is a multi-step procedure. To begin, the administrator would need to export data from all of these different systems. The data must then be altered or cleansed to ensure that it is in the proper format. Finally, the information can be loaded into a dashboard or another analytics program.

Many K-12 leaders are discouraged from attempting this procedure since it is demanding and time-consuming. As a result, instructors and administrators lack the knowledge necessary to comprehend a student’s demands and provide the essential support for that student’s success.

Driving continuous improvement: It’s difficult for K-12 leaders to compare data across various schools or departments to gain a bird’s-eye view of their operations when data is stored in separate silos. Interoperability can provide a greater awareness of school or district patterns and developments, just as it can help leaders obtain full insight into a specific student’s condition. This information can help drive continual improvement.

Understanding different interoperability standards

The quantity of different standards that exist is one of the reasons that interoperability can appear to be so complicated to achieve. There are various standards for specifying how digital content interacts with learning management systems, linking information systems, enrolling groups of students in software programs, and maintaining their IDs and passwords, for example.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most important data interoperability standards in K-12 education today, albeit far from exhaustive.

Standards for digital content: The IMS Global Learning Consortium’s standards allow any learning application to work with any LMS platform. School districts can ensure that these systems function effortlessly by selecting instructional software and an LMS that meet these standards. The following criteria enable this: 

  • Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) 
  • Common Cartridge

Data integration standards: Data integration standards entail bringing together analytical data from various sources and providing consumers with a consistent view of this data. Data must integrate automatically if real-time dashboards are to become a reality. Information should be placed into a standard organization for easy integration for this to happen:

  • Common Education Data Standards
  • Ed-Fi Alliance
  • Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) 

The above mentioned are some of the standards and projects that make this feasible.

Standards for Rostering: Rostering assigns students and teachers to designated classes. They’re used to control group rights, such as which tools and content should be accessible to specific members. Traditionally, learning applications have used proprietary rostering formats, requiring schools to build separate rosters for each program. Rostering standards enable the generation and exchange of registrations across numerous applications to be automated. Solutions that allow you to change a registration once and then distribute it to others include

  • One Roster (from the IMS Global Learning Consortium)
  • SIF xPress Roster

There are four keys to achieving interoperability success.

To achieve interoperability in K-12 education, a district-wide effort is required. To make it happen, school districts must follow four actions.

  1. Develop a shared understanding of data interoperability.

School districts must implement uniform purchasing processes and adhere to common standards for data to be shared effortlessly across all departments and systems. Collaboration between the IT and curriculum departments will require executive support from the superintendent or another cabinet-level office. School districts should form an interoperability committee and have a shared vision for the goals they want to achieve. This vision should include information on how data will be saved and shared and the purposes for which it will be used.

  1. Add interoperability clauses in software purchase agreements.

Because each system has its nomenclature for naming data fields, formats for saving information, and so on, moving content and data between applications is challenging. This difficulty can be solved by using software that adheres to industry standards. Leaders must be familiar with the many interoperability standards already in use, determine which ones make the most sense for their district, and then specify those standards in RFPs and software contracts. This should be carried out consistently across all schools and departments.

  1. Create data governance policies and mechanisms that are sound.

It is a key priority to protect student and staff information privacy and security. If school districts fail to comply with HIPAA, FERPA, COPPA, and other privacy rules, they face severe penalties. Leaders must develop clear policies and procedures to protect data privacy and ensure that only authorized workers have access to pertinent data. These regulations should cover important issues such as how data will be stored and secured, who will have “ownership” of the data, which should have access to what categories of data, and what kind of data transfers are allowed.

  1. Establish a secure and dependable network infrastructure for data transmission.

Reliable network connectivity is required for seamless data sharing and exchange across many platforms and departments. A secure and stable high-speed network is needed to regularly handle the ever-increasing volume of data transmitted within schools. This includes certain fiber or high-speed data (HSD) coaxial cable connections between buildings and comprehensive Wi-Fi coverage in all locations, complete with the most up-to-date encryption for data security and role-based user authentication for determining who has access to what types of data.

Work with a network solutions vendor who can help you reach your goals.

Supporting data interoperability requires a high-performance network.

You get all of this and more with Folio3.

When it comes to connectivity, you want a firm that is more than simply a technology vendor; you want a company that is a full partner in your IT journey. Many K-12 school districts around the country have enlisted the aid of Folio3’s ed-tech professionals to design and implement their IT goals.

As data consumption grows, networks will require more capacity to transport all of this data. Folio3 network solutions are flexible enough to adapt to changing requirements.

The smooth flow of data across numerous software programs can contribute to more insight and efficiency and cost savings, and better decision-making for K-12 leaders. This is only possible because of interoperability — and attaining it necessitates the deployment of a secure and dependable network infrastructure.

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