Interoperability critical to reaping full benefits educational technology


The promise of K-12 education technology depends on a learning environment where students have common and seamless access to content. But without interoperable data, software and content, school districts face significant impediments to harnessing the full benefits of edtech-enabled content, according to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

To help school districts overcome interoperability hurdles, CoSN has released a 23-page primer for “non-technical leaders” called “Working Together to Strategically Connect the K-12 Enterprise: Interoperability Standards for Education.”

“Without a common framework within which to discuss interoperability, it is difficult to give districts the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Paula Maylahn, a CoSN consultant.

The primer attempts to provide that kind of framework, said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger, who described it as an “an important resource so district leaders can better understand why interoperability matters and see what they can do to put the right measures in place and achieve their goals.”

“Working Together” explores the importance of interoperability—where data from one system or software is compatible with another—and shares best practices for districts to maximize educational technology programs.

In one case study, for example, the Katy Independent School District in southeast Texas has adopted an online learning platform that is compliant with IMS Global open standards, a key factor in supporting the seamless data and security integration strategy that the Katy district is pursuing. One long-term measure taken by the district was to make it a requirement of the acquisition process that all new content providers be in compliance with the IMS Global Learning Tools Interoperability standards, or to commit to compliance within a specified period of time.

The primer surveys key areas of interoperability standards, provides links to additional resources in each area, and highlights areas where interoperability standards are critical. Those areas are:

  • Digital content, where students and teachers have seamless access to content and software, generally through a student learning platform or a learning management system
  • Data connectivity, which is the ability to transfer data into and out of databases in an efficient, cost-effective way
  • Data integration, involving combining data residing in different sources and giving users with a unified view of this information
  • Authentication, authorization and identity management, where a system identifies a person each time he or she logs on (authentication) and furnishes access to the person to track and manage information (authorization)

The primer also addresses several new areas considered crucial to interoperability, including:

  • Rostering, which involves the enrollment of large groups of students into software solutions and creating their IDs and passwords
  • Portals and portlets, common on school Web sites, which provide small windows for emails, discussion forums and other pertinent news and information
  • File sharing, which allows the transmission of data and information via networks, emails or flash drives
  • Network infrastructure, the foundation for schools to enable access to wired and wireless networks for Voice over IP communications, security cameras, badge readers, tablets and phones
  • Digital accessibility, which ensures that technology is accessible to all students with diverse abilities

While cautioning that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to realizing the benefits of standardization, the primer stresses that with the rise “in the importance of cloud computing, online learning, portals, modularity, data warehousing and performance management, interoperability standards have become more crucial than ever before” to advancing K-12 educational technology.