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Learning Impact Blog

IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | July 2020

 

"I Hear My Train A Comin'" —Jimi Hendrix

 

Changing the status quo is hard. Changing the status quo in a sustainable way is even harder.

I'd like to think—and I believe there is good evidence to show—that the work of the IMS members over the last 20+ years has changed some very foundational things in sustainable ways. This type of impact has occurred, I believe, because IMS members have been able to look ahead in terms of how advances in technology and educational models will intersect. In recent years we have been refining the word "ecosystem" in edtech to mean something very specific in terms of products being able to work well and together reliably for the benefit of end-users. In future years we will be continuing this thread. Still, as I mentioned in my last post and the introduction to the recent IMS annual report, we have begun driving toward more specificity in the terms "personalized learning" and "student success." Our starting point is the more specific goals of equity, agency, and mastery.

In this post, I would like to begin digging into some of the pragmatic progress we are seeing in laying the foundation for equity, agency, and mastery. It's a long road and discussion ahead, but I think we can all begin to see the future taking shape.

First, a caution. Yes, some specific strategies and fixes have helped "getting through" COVID-19. In general, the school districts and universities that have done the best in terms of ramping up thoughtful digital teaching and learning have already been working on their digital ecosystems for several years. Putting in place an extensive and sustainable ecosystem does not cost any more money. In fact, doing it the right way reduces many costs. But it does require a well-thought-out strategy with respect to the instructional goals, the approach to evolution, etc. And those strategies require leadership that cuts across IT, curriculum, and instruction. There is no short-cutting that redesign takes strategy, leadership, and time to implement. I would say that this is the most important learning from IMS work over many years of experience.

So, with that caveat, what are we seeing during the period of COVID and beyond in terms of the tangible steps towards designing your ecosystem to enable equity, agency, and mastery?

Let's begin with equity. The generally accepted meaning of equity in education is that the educational experience meets each student where they are to help them achieve their aspirations rather than all educational experiences for all students being the same or equal. IMS cannot solve all the issues around equity in education. But IMS can ask,

"What does it mean for the digital education ecosystem to enable and support equity?"

We see in IMS that the first foundation for equity appears to be an extensive and diverse digital curriculum and supporting resources (such as library resources) available to all students and faculty. The recent Learning Impact on-demand series has featured the ongoing work on setting up a foundation for digital equity at Chicago Public Schools. The key feature is guaranteed district-wide access to quality curriculum aligned to standards that can be customized at the local school level to meet the needs of the school and ideally each student. Thus, local teachers are not burdened with creating curriculum from scratch, but rather can apply local understanding to fit local needs. The program is based totally on IMS standards enabling the support for a diverse curriculum and supporting products across many suppliers. The work in Chicago is just beginning to roll out, and the evolution of the interplay between central and local control will be critical to its success.

We are also seeing a somewhat similar trend in higher education via innovative offerings from publishers that ensure digital resource access. Cengage is a leader in this trend. Cengage supports not only course-level inclusive access for achieving digital on day one for all students in a course, but also provides "Cengage Unlimited" so all students can access a vast library of digital resources. The COVID experience of UC Davis in rapidly scaling access to digital textbooks from VitalSource (making extensive use of IMS standards for integration and data) has not been unusual. It provides another model for scaling access to a highly distributed student population. 

Importantly, the idea of equity is that it can work in a way that allows the right fit educational experience to reach a student—regardless of the source or distance involved. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to grapple with distance education as the primary mode. In my recent leadership interview with Cengage CTO George Moore, he details some challenges when the modality switches to entirely online. We often think of bandwidth as the only challenge to achieving digital equity. Still, there are others that George points out, such as the ability to support identity, privacy, and security. These and other issues that George elucidates are solvable as we continue to work together on the edtech ecosystem based on open standards. But it will take much longer and perhaps never reach scale if we don't work together.

As I mentioned in my last post, equity, agency, and mastery work in concert—they reinforce and enable each other. Equitable opportunities enable agency that, in turn, enables a focus on mastery, and better definitions of mastery enable equity. I will continue discussing the trends developing ecosystem foundations for agency and mastery in next month's installment.

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Inside the Digital Transformation - Part 3

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.

By Monica Watts and Dr. Tim Clark

 

Sketch: remote attendance in K-12 (July 2020)

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.

Market Expectations

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.

Spurring Innovation

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.

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