Easy, Simple Interoperability

by Jean Tower

District Administration magazine has a new section of their magazine devoted to issues in technology leadership, and they’re calling it District CIO. It makes sense to me that more publications are recognizing the distinct role that the technology leader has in the school district. I look forward to seeing what they address in this section.

In the October 2011 issue is a brief column, New Interoperability Standards Report. The column features CoSN’s Interoperability Standards for K-12 Education primer, which has been recently updated. The primer highlights the importance of the ability to easily transfer data between applications and platforms. The primer is available online – read it to learn more details about standards like common cartridge and SCORM.

Even without understanding deeply the technology behind interoperability, the vocabulary provides an insight at an intuitive level – portal, common cartridge, portlet, container, modular objects. Reviewing this list, it becomes easy to imagine a scenario where you can pull together multiple tools and assemble them into a portal that you put together like a jigsaw puzzle.

It is good news for schools that there is traction on this issue. For me, it just can’t get easy enough, fast enough. I have a vision of assembling a portal for my school district using the best-of-breed from several different vendors, and being able to seamlessly and fluidly make them work together. I don’t think were there quite yet.

In non-technical terms, I can describe the vision as a trip to the shopping mall. If you think of a typical shopping mall, you’ll see in your mind’s eye, a large “anchor” store at each end, with many specialty stores and boutiques in between. In shopping for an outfit, the typical shopper doesn’t go into Sears and buy their entire outfit there simply because it’s one stop shopping. Jane Doe may purchase a wrench at Sears, but to assemble her outfit she ventures out into the mall and stops at the boutique type stores. She buys her shoes at DSW, a camisole at Abercrombie, a sweater at Talbot’s, a skirt at Ann Taylor’s, and a jacket at Cold Water Creek. Basically, she puts together her outfit purchasing each piece from a retailer who offers a variation of that item that Jane Doe likes and appreciates. They’re the best individual pieces for her and may not be for other people.

It’s the same software –  what fits one school or district perfectly may not be the right tool for another school. It depends on many factors, including things like the platform at school runs, student population, the size of the school or district, and host of other factors. I want to assemble my district portal, the same way, Jane Doe assembled her outfit – by purchasing each piece from the vendor that provides a choice that “fits”and does the job, and I want to put the pieces together as easily as Jane Doe puts on her outfit. When that degree of interoperability is available, then I’ll be happy. And as I’ve written before, let’s not forget, that it has to be Google Fast and Apple Simple.

Are we there yet?

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