Guest Blogger: Mobashir Mohammed, CEO, Working Education

As Assistant Director of Innovation Services at Santa Ana Unified School District, I faced a challenge in every project aimed at integrating student information between two or more systems. It’s the same challenge that so many school districts continue to face: providing educators with an effective blended learning environment. From my view, the line between traditional and personalized learning had gotten blurred – creating some unintended consequences as teachers chose a variety of specialized software to meet their specific teaching or student learning style. I saw the environment evolve from a single Student Information System (SIS) centered on operational and accountability activities like scheduling, attendance, and report cards, to a disaggregated environment created by well-intended decisions – leaving behind a patchwork of applications in need of a digital fabric to support teaching and learning in the form of actionable intelligence.

This shift showed me that data integration is paramount for a successful, modern, multi-system educational technology architecture. But local control over that data is important, too. Teachers, counselors, administrators and others who have adopted this technology need to have local access to comprehensive student data so they don’t miss out on important opportunities to address those students’ needs.

And that’s the problem. Each system has its own format for collecting and interpreting its student data, which makes data integration between systems a complex, time-consuming drain on the school district’s IT departments. It’s a case of more definitely not being better, as every new data system calls for a brand-new data integration solution to process the exact same pool of information in a slightly different way. Supporting this approach is costly and redundant, but it’s all IT departments can do to support personalized learning and leaves them in the position of fighting fires instead of improving processes.

What can school districts do about it? Here are two measures they can take to reduce the cost of integration while supporting personalized learning in their districts:

  1. Create a community. Most school districts within the same county use the same systems, so why not network their ETL processes into an information community? This would enable districts to collaborate, co-developing new ETL processes. Ed-Fi’s Data Standard and suite of technology components can provide the perfect environment for this kind of collaborative effort, with 24 licensed states and more than 10,000 districts involved.
  2. Adopt a data standard. Agreeing on a single universal data standard such as the Ed-Fi Data Standard allows IT departments to push or pull data from one locally controlled Operational Data Store (ODS) to various systems with ease. Setting up a unified data model using an ODS requires an initial investment, but the return on that investment can be surprisingly quick. Nearly any system can plug into this central repository to retrieve and submit data. Application Programming Interfaces such as the Ed-Fi ODS API use web service calls to make process astoundingly easy.

Your own school district is probably dealing with this same need for data standardization within a multi-system environment. They’re looking for manageable, shareable, scalable technology components to integrate these systems affordably while maintaining local control. The strategies listed here – as facilitated by the Ed-Fi Alliance – could very well be their answer.

Mobashir Mohammad, PMP., has over nine years of experience as Education Technology Leader at a large urban school district in California. His focus was to implement, automate, and streamline key operational processes using enterprise systems and business intelligence tools.  He has led teams in education technology initiatives including College and Career Readiness, Student Early Warning System, and SIS implementation.