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Four students take an assessment on their computers that will inform their teacher's approach thanks to data interoperability

Data interoperability in education: The why and how

Guest Author: Mike Baur

Am I the only one who loves when a 60-second “explainer” video is created to help explain a complex business model, technical architecture, or even just help a father understand how to safely drop-off his daughters at school on the battlefield of the dreaded carpool line?

One of the problems that the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is attempting to address is the improvement of data interoperability across education data systems. To help clarify the concept, Digital Promise put together an “explainer” video. The video does a great job of simplifying and defining the term “data interoperability.” Understanding what the term means is important, particularly because of the essential role it plays in today’s accelerating world of technology innovation.

It took about 80 years for Americans to adopt the dishwasher, yet the internet became commonplace among consumers in less than a decade, not to mention the rapid adoption of technologies from the iPhone to Alexa. Arguably, one of the reasons we’ve seen many modern technologies grow so quickly is that they are “effortlessly interoperable” with many of our other devices — meaning the software and/or hardware works together seamlessly … and cross-platform. Put it this way, you are more likely to buy a Bluetooth speaker because you can use your existing smartphone to easily cue up your favorite song via the Wi-Fi in your home. That’s effortless interoperability.

Making schools interoperable

One area where we’re not seeing this level of effortless interoperability is in our schools — with many educators regularly having to log in and use dozens of applications and systems to gather various data points about each of their students.

One of the major hurdles to launching effective data interoperability in schools is not only helping educators recognize the issues they have with the current systems, it’s also making them aware that there is a solution.

I visit schools … a lot. I talk to many teachers, superintendents, and principals each year who know they have a data problem but can’t even fathom how to fix it. Many aren’t even aware that it’s a fixable issue.

  • Teachers often say: “I currently use 17+ systems to get a 360-degree view on each of my students, in each of my classes. I’m used to the overhead of pulling all the data together. Wait … seriously? There is a way to simplify this?”
  • District administrators often say: “I currently have staff entering and cleansing student data across a hodgepodge of data systems, primarily so its accessible for teachers and administrators. Wait seriously? There is a way to simplify this process and allow my staff to dedicate their time elsewhere?”
  • Superintendents often say: “Listen, Mike. I need a better, faster way to become aware of potential needs and issues with students in our district’s schools. Please tell me there is a way to become aware of these risks sooner. Is there?”

The biggest barrier? The word itself

When I introduce the idea of data interoperability, it puts a name to many of the issues and daily frustrations educators are facing in their efforts to teach our children and improve our schools and districts.

We get it. Interoperability can be hard to grasp. When it works, it’s truly invisible.

Putting a name to this challenge is the first step towards a solution, but how you can speak a common language with your colleagues when it comes to a complicated concept (and tongue twister) like “data interoperability”? Check out this Digital Promise explainer video below to learn about the power of interoperability as it relates to today’s schools.