INTEGRATION

MORE THAN JUST TECHNOLOGY

10/21/2016
TECHNOLOGY
Kathy Walter

I have 10 email addresses and counting.  I can view them on any of my many devices, regardless of my connection.  Modern convenience is great, except when it breaks. 

Or when a password changes

Or a Wi-Fi router resets

Or I shift my work location

Now think about a classroom.  During the day, either the students change or the subjects change, which means in one classroom you might have 6 to 8 different subjects for 28 to 35 students or 6 to 8 different periods for 28 to 35 students.

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Do the math. 

That’s upwards of...290 passwords (including the teacher).  Then,

  • Enter new student accounts each semester or year.
  • Procure new curriculum modules every 3-5 years
  • Multiply these efforts by the amount of classrooms in a school building, across a district and throughout the state.
  • Then multiply that number by the number of other technology tools like smart boards, apps, devices, etc.
  • Have it all managed by technology teams that are often small and often getting smaller.
  • And do not give people a choice – students, teachers and administrators typically do not weigh in on technology decisions, but they are required to use it.

But What Can We Do? Enter Integration

It IS actually simple.  Make two things work together – technology and people – use one concept – INTEGRATION.

I do not log in to all 10 email accounts everyday on each device – I log into my device (always password protected) and I click on an app.  That application aggregates my accounts and presents my messages to me.

What Could That Look Like For Education?

  • Students log in and get into all their learning tools, apps, discussions and calendars.
  • Teachers log in and see their lesson plans, student progress reports, evaluations, teacher evaluations and PD progress along with their calendars.
  • Administrators log in see their Student Information System (SIS) reports, budget, progress plans, calendars, teacher concerns and on and on.

And don’t worry I’m not selling another dashboard product.  It’s not one product to fix all problems. 

It’s a shift to thinking integration for ALL projects, products, and people.

Jump in!

Integration is not a technology problem or a program team problem – it’s an education solution. And it should be a part of every project, program, and change you do in a school.

For schools, you can start by reviewing your contracts with your technology providers.  If you do not have a clause saying the technology has to be integration-capable, put your vendors on notice and write an addendum.  For technology teams, check out sites like SIF, Clever, IMS Global for many integration options and developers to help kick start your integration development efforts.  For curriculum experts, check out the same organizations and look at the vendors working diligently to make integration part of their products.

One example for RFPs: https://www.imsglobal.org/sites/default/files/OneRosterChecklistandRFPLanguage.pdf

One example for Integration ROI:

https://www.sifassociation.org/Resources/Decision-Maker-Resources/Pages/Decision-Makers-Why-Choose-SIF.aspx

Go back and review every contract for technology?  Are you insane?  [Yes, but that is not the point.]

The point is you do not have to boil the ocean to warm up to the idea of integration.  Pick your top five technology vendors by student usage or by price and start there. 

Begin with the End in Mind

Start with the projects you are implementing right now:

  • Look at existing technology to see where you can integrate accounts and usage together – and enlist vendor support to begin single sign on. 
  • Make sure as you plan future items – grants, procurement, contracts, projects – start to include demands and requirements for integration.

Integration does not mean one platform to do absolutely everything (that’s not practical, no matter what a company might tell you).  ANY amount of integration saves time for students, teachers and administrators!  Start with the basics – the big guys.  Most of those companies are part of the integration game already.

It takes a few phone calls to get started.  You can make it happen – today.

Don’t Forget: It’s Not Just Technology

Let’s say you get it and you’ve decided to start some integration projects.  You schedule a kick-off meeting for your technology, curriculum and administration teams.  The people are all from the same organization and everyone speaks the same language, so this should be easy, right?  Then you realize each team seems to talk their own talk.  They use different acronyms, different strategies and sometimes seem like they actually speak a different language.

So how do you get all folks to work together and trust each other to get the job done?  People can end up being more complicated than technology sometimes!  But they don’t have to be.

Suggestions

  1. Start with you. Do you know why you are on the project?  What are you responsible for?  Sometimes this is not exactly clear.  And when everyone’s role is not clear on a project, it can lead to finger pointing and dropped tasks when things go wrong.  If everyone on the team asked the question – “what am I doing here?” AND had a good answer, then the project would at least have a clear sense of what people were supposed to do individually. In order for people to know what they are doing, they have to know what they are working for.
  2. Set project goals.  And make sure those goals are known to all project members – post them up wherever possible, email them to all team members, print them off and post it in your cubicle. 
  3. Talk openly about the motivation – Why the heck are we doing this?
  4. If it’s a project for students, tell the story of how it will help with learning.  If it’s to make the administration more efficient and able to serve more students or help more instructors find more tools, talk about that.  The story of what you are working toward also helps people think about the problem you are solving from their perspective and enables more people to find gaps and solve them.
  5. Learn more about other team members.  People may originate from another team, but you are now all on the same team, at least for this project.  Make the most of it. Often insights from one project team give me ideas to consider on another project.  New information is never wasted.
  6. Find common ground or find people who speak all the different team “languages”.  Product and Program managers do this in businesses and they can work well in education.  Having someone who can understand the needs of educators, administrators and students while at the same time knowing the technology benefits and challenges can help when timelines get tight.  Even the best teams need tiebreakers.

The last thing to consider when working with new colleagues on a large project (and my first rule of technology projects): Technology does not work unless people make it work.  If your team finds common ground and takes all aspects into account, the technology has a much better chance of working the way it should.  A team that does not work together well ends up, more often than not, with technology that also does not do what’s needed.

Kathy started her career as a computer programmer and then developed into a product manager with a teaching degree.  She has a unique view of the education world and works to help schools, companies and technology work better together.  Her company, Nsoma, produces products and helps companies modify their products to work better for schools and universities.  Find out more about them at www.nsoma.com or follow her on twitter @KathyWalterEDU.  You can also check out her book on integration in education – Education and Technology System Projects: A New Vision for Success: developed into a product manager with a teaching degree.  She has a unique view of the education world and works to help schools, companies and technology work better together.  Her company, Nsoma, produces products and helps companies modify their products to work better for schools and universities.  Find out more about them at www.nsoma.com or follow her on twitter @KathyWalterEDU.  You can also check out her book on integration in education – Education and Technology System Projects: A New Vision for Success: https://www.amazon.com/Education-Technology-System-Projects-Success-ebook/dp/B00UZFZT60
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