We created a team to work on this challenge before we started anything else. Although data interoperability could have been an additional agenda item for existing teams, we knew it was important to isolate this challenge to give it a stronger focus. The cross-functional team is five strong and includes an administrator, instructional coach, assessment and accountability leader, SIS (student information system) administrator, and a classroom teacher.
The team meets about once a month, and often in response to goals set with the Digital Promise Data Interoperability Challenge Collaborative. Having this broader network keeps us focused by having common goals and check-ins.
1. Create a team focused on this challenge and provide dedicate work time to solving it.
2. Build a team of stakeholders that represent multiple roles in instruction, technology, administration, and teaching.
3. Align your district team to a broader network to stay accountable on goals.
Meeting with the five districts in the Digital Promise Assessment Data Interoperability Challenge Collaborative, clarified our goals with this project. We would have assumed that our expectations were aligned but each district had an individual focus. These conversations became a critical part of defining and strengthening the goals our district team set out to do. From there, we began working with teachers to deepen our understanding and definition of the problem.
When spending time in teachers’ classrooms, our district team asked questions about what kinds of apps were used, how many were used, what purpose the data was used for, and how data fields mapped to broader instructional needs. In addition to using assessment data for instructional modifications, teachers raised other concerns like sharing data with parents or having only one source to visit to locate all the data.
After gathering this information, it became clear to our district team that they needed to stay focused on the real problem teachers shared. Going into this process, our district team thought they needed a tool to visualize data better; after speaking with teachers, it became clear that they really needed a single source of information.
1. Spend time in classrooms and ask teachers how data is being used daily (see list of questions below).
2. Don’t assume you know the problem you’re trying to solve. Stay focused on the question and have the end user (teachers) help you figure it out.
3. Include a teacher on your district-level team focused on solving this challenge.
To bring data from multiple systems into one location, we created a plan to build an Operational Data Store (ODS). This data store houses information from multiple sources, and is connected to some of those sources through APIs. This allows the information to flow in automatically and update records.
Some of the challenges in building an ODS are creating the structure for it (deciding what data matters), figuring out which sources are ready to integrate (the data from different sources may not be structured in a way to flow in), and deciding on a place to deploy and host it (the easiest solution may not be the most cost effective).
To build this, we leaned heavily on our technical staff, who luckily had that level of expertise to scope this work. We also reached out to Ed-Fi, who were extremely helpful in this process.
1. Reach out to Ed-Fi for support and resources.
2. Consider the cost of deployment and hosting. The quick way may not be the most cost-effective way in the long term.
3. Lean on your technical team if you are able, or bring engaged community members into this process.
One thing we underestimated was the amount of time it would take to align vendor efforts to our own. There was a balance game we were playing: narrow one-off solutions versus agreement to shared data standards. Both options can be difficult; custom integrations are expensive for districts, and alignment to data standards is a sizeable commitment for vendors. It takes a lot of time to call, share information, educate, and negotiate with vendors.
Over time, we learned that vendors have their own hurdles to get through on the journey towards data interoperability. One thing we learned is that the size of the district doesn’t matter; vendors are more likely to put a feature on their product roadmap if many districts, even small ones, ask for it.
1. Be prepared for a lot of work in getting vendors compliant with your system, and consider that cost when scoping the overall project.
2. Understand that vendors have their own hurdles, and be prepared to share resources and educate them on the challenges you’re facing.
3. Build demand for change by encouraging other districts to push vendors for these changes as well.
After building a location to house data from multiple sources, it became clear that there was an abundance of data available. Additionally, teachers shared that some of the application-specific visualization tools didn’t need to be replicated, even if they were accessed separately. So, rather than create visualization tools for all of this data, we worked with teachers to select only a few points of data were selected for display.
This step will continue to be in development as teachers test the initial prototype. We are starting small and focused, with just 3rd and 4th grade teachers. As we receive feedback, we will be able to stay agile and update the product to reflect the genuine needs of our educators.
1. Don’t select all of the data to visualize—find out from teachers what is the most important for their work.
2. Select a targeted group, such as one grade of students, to focus on as you test your initial prototype.
3. Don’t choose a visualization tool before choosing a place to host your ODS, as the hosting location may influence tool options.