It’s 9:30 am on a Monday morning and an anxious sixth-grade teacher calls her school’s IT department. Two students can’t remember their passwords for the math application she wants to use in her lesson. Another can’t remember his username. Chatter from the class grows louder. The teacher’s voice is sharp as she asks the IT department to reset the students’ login information; she’s losing valuable teaching time, not to mention her students’ attention.
In his 16 years of working in IT, Tam Nguyen has grown uncomfortably familiar with these types of calls and the resulting reluctance of teachers to adopt new technologies. So two years ago, the Orange Unified School District Director of Information Technology undertook what he dubs the most important project his IT group has completed to date—implementing single sign-on (SSO). This technology allows students and staff to access multiple applications and resources with a single username and password.
Supported by research, multiple trials, marketing, and branding efforts, Nguyen rolled out the Southern California school district’s SSO initiative. The technology belonged to ClassLink, a Clifton, NJ-based provider of web- and cloud-based educational products and services as well as the company’s namesake SSO platform. A mere six weeks after launch, they had a whopping 10,000 users—comprised of K-12 staff, students and teachers. After two years, that number had soared to 29,000 users out of a possible 32,000.
Nguyen talked with EdSurge about how to support schools with bring your own device (BYOD) programs, why SSO boosts security, and how it saves his teachers 2500 hours of instruction time each month.
What specific challenges led your district to adopt SSO technology?
Usernames and passwords were gigantic frustrations among teachers and staff members. I would parse through our help desk tickets and support calls and see that a third were about login issues. Students didn't have the ability to reset their password before, because it was just too hard. So we got some very passionate phone calls and lost a lot of time in the classroom. IT staff at our schools reported that teachers were stressed out about logging in to the point where some would just give up on using technology and go back to their regular pen and paper process.
We wanted to alleviate those roadblocks so teachers could adopt instructional technology in the future. Plus, we’re a BYOD environment. Our district uses a wide variety of technology—MAC, PC, iPads, Android tablets, Chromebooks, cell phones—which can be a challenge for IT departments and teachers.
ClassLink’s single sign-on solution allows us to have one Orange Unified School District (OUSD) branded interface or application dashboard that's familiar to students and consistent for teachers regardless of what platform they're on. The device becomes agnostic. Students and teachers go from 20 usernames and passwords to one.
What impact has SSO had on your district?
I would argue that alleviating the pressures and anxieties of getting everyone logged in—and recapturing that instructional time through SSO—is the most tremendous impact we can have on the district as an IT department. There's nothing else I've done so far that has been so well-received, so well-adopted, so bought into—and that has provided so much value.
We estimate single sign-on saves about 2,500 hours of instructional time every month. And that is a very conservative number, based only on time saved using the top six critical core web applications from Pearson, McGraw-Hill, PowerSchool, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Google Classroom. We actually have well over 30 applications at this point. We're not even accounting for the time it used to take to find the resources, go to the webpage, then click here and click there.
We’ve alleviated barriers to using technology in the classroom—along with the anxiety.
With SSO, people sign in once and then they’re just a click away from all their other applications. We’ve alleviated barriers to using technology in the classroom—along with the anxiety.
What are teachers doing with these extra instructional hours?
So many things. Our edtech coordinator tells me there is more collaborative time for students. This is important because when students can engage with information—through conversation, projects or hands-on activities—followed up by reflection, they construct learning.
There’s also more time for teachers to answer students’ questions and provide critical clarification, which leads to student success. And then there is additional time for engaging classroom activities: discussion starters, group, and self-evaluation of work and Project Based Learning (PBL).
Providing single sign-on also gives students time to move through online simulations of chemistry and physics labs without having to search the internet or have a teacher aggregate the relevant information. Instead, the online digital curriculum is located in one place. Students also have more time to explore different viewpoints when they are doing research.
More Information from ClassLink
- Video: One click single sign-on with ClassLink
- Guidebook: District guide to single sign-on
- Case Study: Pickens School District enjoys instant access
- Usage Analytics: Track how often district resources are used
There is also more time for students to reflect on learning and for teachers to reflect on lessons. Reflection is essential for students to take ownership of their learning, and for teachers to build a personalized learning experience in our schools.
Has SSO helped with security issues?
Increased security has been a huge benefit of SSO; it secures all of our critical data in one fell swoop.
Case in point: We had some significant spam attacks this spring, where accounts were compromised. But we were able to require and push out a password reset to all of our employees. We quickly secured our network and stopped that spam campaign in its tracks. In the past there was very little we could do about that. To require everyone to reset their passwords, even just on the 10 critical applications they use every day, was too time intensive. Now one password reset applies to all 20 applications that a user might use. That’s huge for us as a bring your own device environment.
How has SSO impacted your IT department?
It’s definitely reduced the workload around here. Now our staff can work on projects that move us forward as a district. We're looking at artificial machine learning analytics around security and digging deeper into ClassLink’s reporting features.
Want to see the math on how OUSD saved 2500 hours of instructional time per month?
- Start with an average of 600,000 individual student logins per month
- Each student login takes 30 seconds
- 30 seconds x 600,000 logins = 300,000 minutes
- 300,000 minutes = 5,000 hours
- To be conservative, divide 5,000 by 2 = 2,500 hours of saved instructional time
Right now, we use ClassLink reports and analytics to measure how many people are logging in and how many people at a school are using an application. But because ClassLink uses the OneRoster standard file format, we’ll be able to see a lot more granularity when it comes to application use.
OneRoster is an open technology standard used by many publishers that lets us share specific class rosters with digital learning resources. So we’ll be able to report on how much one teacher is utilizing an application versus another, or compare by sections or even courses. Then instructional specialists in technology can target those teachers who need support, and hopefully bolster the adoption of technology in the classroom.
The data around application use that can come out of this experience will be invaluable.
Tam Shares His SSO Implementation Tips
- Brand your single sign-on credentials and application dashboard with your school or district name. This creates a consistent experience for both teachers and students.
- Choose a true SSO technology as opposed to a password synchronization strategy. Exchanging and using information will be easier and you’ll gain more functionality.
- Create and populate user groups before you roll out SSO so you can easily deliver applications to specific students and educators. For example, you might want to provide Google Classroom to all students, while an English Learner application might only apply to a small group of students.
- Make sure teachers understand the benefits of SSO, including the ease of locating resources, the reduced number of passwords, and increased security of their and their students' information.
- Save your IT department time and resources by using a service like OneRoster to clean and format data before it’s exported into an application.