Interoperability: Tips to Consider, Mistakes to Avoid

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District tech leaders offered the following practical advice to their K-12 peers who are trying to move toward data interoperability. Doing so has implications not only for a district’s tech systems, but also for the work of its administrators, teachers, and students.

Focus on the why. Interoperability can be a confusing, off-putting term for non-techies. But just about everyone cares about security, data privacy, and getting actionable information into the hands of teachers and principals. In your internal and external messages, cut through the jargon and focus on the practical reasons the district is pursuing this goal.

Notch some quick wins. Moving toward interoperability is a long process. District leaders can build buy-in among skeptical teachers and administrators by showcasing early examples of how data-sharing efforts in the district are helping them do their jobs more effectively.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Many districts are working on interoperability, and standard-setting groups like IMS Global and Ed-Fi are working with K-12 systems and vendors. Other organizations and online communities are sharing resources on this issue.

Understand your local context. Your district’s academic goals, culture, organizational structure, existing vendors, and current reporting requirements will all influence what types of interoperability matter most to you. Adjust your interoperability strategy and priorities accordingly.

Don’t think of interoperability as focused only on technology. District leaders should think about the broader academic, administrative, and other goals they’re trying to accomplish, and ways in which seamless data-sharing can contribute. “Start with the student and work your way back,” one CTO said.

About This Report

This Education Week examination of school districts’ pursuit of interoperability is the first of three special reports focused on the needs of K-12 district technology leaders, including chief technology officers. Each report in the series features exclusive results of a new, nationally representative survey of CTOs, conducted by the Consortium for School Networking, which represents K-12 district technology officials.

Work as a team. If the push for data interoperability is coming just from the technology department, it probably won’t go very far. Academics, accountability, HR, and operations departments are often deeply involved in the most successful efforts.

Accept that there will be tension between urgent needs and long-term goals. Districts tech leaders will want to pursue interoperability deliberately and thoughtfully, to get it right. But there will also be pressure to act quickly to fix long-standing problems with siloed data and outdated approaches. That’s why achieving “quick wins” can help convince district officials you’re on the right path. “You’ve got to keep that momentum going,” said one CTO, “and keep people on the path with you.”

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