Learning Continuity Guidebook: Build Your Technology Ecosystem Plan

May 28, 2020
AUTHOR
AUTHOR

Gene Silverman

Former Executive Director

,

Nassau BOCES Department of Regional Schools, NY

AUTHOR
AUTHOR

Shelley Rossitto

Former Executive Director

,

IT/PD at Monticello Central School District, NY

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Welcome to the Learning Continuity Guidebook, this post is the fourth in a nine-part series. Click here to learn more about the guidebook and its contributors.

The technology districts need to support learning continuity goes well beyond devices, content, and internet access. Anytime, anywhere learning requires a solid foundation of technology infrastructure that supports learning both directly and indirectly.

From two-factor authentication and payroll systems to student assessment and parent communication, core technology components keep your district operating, informed, and safe.

However, having the technology isn’t enough. Disparate technology tools create application overlap, additional financial burden, inefficiencies, and frustrations.

Build a technology ecosystem

A more supportive approach is to consider how your tools fit into a technology ecosystem – an interconnected network of complex systems aligned to integrate data and deliver products and services for a school system. 

When carefully considered as a part of a larger plan, technology can help you build efficiencies, save money, and support learning.

Interoperability is key

A crucial step some districts miss in planning an ecosystem is interoperability – where systems and applications seamlessly share data, content, and services. Without it, problems arise such as curriculum tools that can’t easily access data from your Learning Management System (LMS), or a lengthy rostering process that delays access to online tools for days or weeks. 

District examples:

  • Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools uses strategies and tools to aggregate data from many systems to populate internal or third-party systems. Changes made to data in that system then apply to all the connected systems, saving time, increasing security, and making it easier to use education technology.
  • Houston Independent School District, asks vendors to provide all digital instructional materials in an Open Standards format so the content, assessments, and data can all be accessed through their digital teaching and learning platform known as “The Hub.”

We’re not saying everything needs to work together, but thoughtful planning and purchasing can help you structure a technology ecosystem where systems talk with one another to create efficiencies, ensure data security, and reduce frustrations. 

Critical areas to consider

In our experience, we’ve learned there are four essential areas to consider as you ponder and build your technology ecosystem over the coming months.  

1. Tools to support infrastructure and operations

The daily work of administration, teachers, and students needs to happen no matter what the circumstances. Students should be able to log into applications and resources from home, checks need to be issued, and student data needs to remain secure. Considering these tools in the context of a plan can guide you toward the best possible purchasing decisions.

For example, choosing a Single-Sign-On system that also supports open rostering standards, provides remote access to files, and connects with your LMS can create enormous efficiencies for your IT team, teachers, and students.

Your network is another significant concern here. During times of remote learning and remote work, you may need to manage your network while you are off-premises. CoSN’s SEND (Smart Education Networks by Design) initiative is a reliable resource to help you build a network that you can scale and adapt quickly. 

Other tools to consider include:

  • Automatic rostering tools so you can quickly onboard new applications 
  • Active Directory creation and maintenance
  • Two-factor authentication
  • SSO technology so all students and staff can easily access all applications with one login
  • Tools that provide connectivity to all district resources and communication for all stakeholders
  • Administration management tools (HR, budget, operations, printing and mail, reporting, approvals.)

2. Tools to measure engagement and inform practice

Analytics and data are critical to so many aspects of district life. Login and usage analytics from applications help you see who’s using specific tools and for how long. They also act as warning bells for students who are struggling, have access issues, or just need a different approach to learning. 

Educators and administrators alike can use this information to make informed purchasing decisions and adjust instruction to meet individual student needs.

Even districts that struggle financially, like Spring Branch ISD, say finding a standard way for systems to communicate helps them use data to personalize learning, save time, and make better decisions around instruction and spending. The Ed-Fi Alliance, which recently announced its technology is now open-source, can support districts as they work to build integrated systems. 

3. Instructional technology tools

We’ve all learned in recent months how important it is for every student to have access to digital learning opportunities and resources. Students at every grade level, with varying needs, will need learning tools to support synchronous and asynchronous learning. This includes students with special needs, such as Special Education, English Language Learners, or those with 504 plans.

If you’re looking for special education tools, the United Federation of Teachers created a special education guidance hub that includes tools, strategies, tips, and best practices for supporting students with disabilities online.

Teachers also fall under this category. Along with tools for instruction, they need technology that supports professional development, professional learning communities, and collaboration with colleagues. 

4. Tools for family and community engagement

Engaging your community and parents is another crucial element for supporting learning continuity. Parents need information and even parent learning opportunities if we expect them to support student learning at home. In emergency situations, families need to know not only where to get school work, but often where to access necessities like food or social and emotional health support. 

With tools in place to facilitate this engagement – including your website, email system, and training resources – stress levels and confusion can remain low. During the recent school closures, North Shore School District in WA, for example, did a stellar job of using their website to provide families and the community with resources and guidance about healthcare, childcare, meals, and instruction.

Considering your technology as part of an ecosystem is a new concept to many districts, but the work is worth it when you start reaping the efficiencies, time savings, and learning opportunities. In the end, it all adds up to significant returns on your technology investments. 

Coming Up

Join us next week as education leaders discuss how districts can ‘Strengthen Data Privacy & Security'. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date with new entries in this series, or subscribe using the form below.

Resources

As we continue through the series, we’ll share resources and best practices from trailblazers and districts leading the way. Here are some that stand out for their vision, expertise, and usefulness. 

Districts to follow

Leaders to learn from

Practical tools and news you can use

Categories:

Education Leaders
Remote Learning
ABOUT THE
AUTHOR
S

Gene Silverman

Former Executive Director

,

Nassau BOCES Department of Regional Schools, NY

Shelley Rossitto

Former Executive Director

,

IT/PD at Monticello Central School District, NY