The Journey Beyond Interoperability

by EdCircuit Staff

By Chris Rose

It’s almost 2022, and in your tech stack discussions, interoperability is table stakes and should serve as the very basic starting point for a much larger goal.

The goal of EdTech is simple, but as we know, it is not simply reached. It should be to SERVE the learning community. This includes not only teachers and students, it includes supporting all school employees including teachers, administrators, administrative assistants, aids, coaches, bus drivers, and everyone connected with learning. Think of a blend of staff and faculty – Staffulty – and you’ll be there – as well as students’ family members (parents, grandparents, siblings, and any home support), and community partners (those working with the school to help students before, in, or after school).

For software to truly serve its users, it must not be “one more thing,” and certainly should not be something that takes time away from the user. The software must give time back and allow the user to accomplish his or her goals and objectives in a much more seamless way.

Interoperability can be thought of as building blocks. Having the same block size/shape that fits together with other blocks is a REALLY important thing. Lego blocks are “interoperable” with each other. It allows the block builders to focus not on fitting blocks together, but rather allows them to spend their time on creation.

We work with educational interoperability standards such as IMS Global OneRoster to provide interoperability, however, we see that as just the beginning. If vendors do not provide ways to get data in and out of a system that works with other systems, you should think of that as an immediate deal-breaker. But it doesn’t stop there.

Once interoperability is achieved, it’s critical to focus on the user experience (UI/UX). This is the most important part! Educators didn’t go into teaching to use technology. As a rule, educators don’t even care about interoperability; they care about the outcome of using interoperability, the ease of use. They started educating to help students. Technology should simply be a tool that helps them maximize their time helping students, something that is sorely needed.

Once interoperability is paired with technology that focuses on the user experience of ALL – “staffulty,” students, families, and community partners – magical things can happen. Users are free to take advantage of technology tools that they can use without having to even think about the product. Like building with Legos… I don’t spend time learning blocks or learning how to put blocks together. I just start building with the blocks to make what I want.

This type of experience can only happen with some type of an All-On-One platform. Without a platform that not only has interoperability but a user experience that focuses on the end-user, the user is forced to use a bunch of different products to piece together a unified experience. It’s also important to note that you can’t achieve this by stitching together different products. You wind up with a Frankenstein product that is often many times worse than keeping the original products separate. Imagine if the iPhone (which was originally marketed as an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator) was in fact multiple devices that were interoperable. This would be chaos. People carrying around multiple devices that only focused on a single purpose. Users don’t want to think about the technology, trying to reap the benefits. 

Clarke’s Third Law states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Users don’t need to understand why or how it works. Once again, they didn’t get into education to have to understand that. With an All-On-One platform like an iPhone, magic can happen.

Take a look at your school or district technology. Is it designed around ease of use for all school employees including teachers, administrators, administrative assistants, aids, coaches, bus drivers, and everyone connected with learning? Does this include family members and community partners? Your tech provider should provide a platform that starts with the user in mind, giving them a single place to start their day to access their data and features that help them serve the whole child and the learning community.

About the Author

Chris Rose is the Co-founder and VP of Product at Abre. He is responsible for developing and driving Abre’s overall product strategy. Chris was most recently the Associate Technology Director at Hamilton City Schools. Prior to that, he was a high school math teacher. An accomplished developer and software/web designer since high school, Chris wrote the vast majority of code for the Abre project while at Hamilton City Schools based on the needs and challenges he experienced as a teacher.

Today he helps manage a growing team of developers but has shifted his focus to leading the product strategy. He spends time in the sales process, meeting with partners and existing customers to gather input and contributes to both marketing and thought leadership.

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