Tech Plan Part 2 – School Wide Systems

Technology whether we like it or not reaches into everything we do in schools today. The Student Information Systems that run our schools hold more critical data than any other single program in most schools. As we design our school wide systems in the 21st Century we must think about how all this information is connected, how and who needs access to what information and how do we make it available to them in as few clicks as possible.

The Circle:

As you see not much has changed from the educational portal plan that focuses on student learning to the infrastructure plan for the school. We have replaced Student Learning with Student Information System. Just like everything we do, the programs we use, the way we manage the educational side of our technology revolves around Student Learning. From a school wide systems approach we start with the Student Information System. This core piece of software will determine a lot of what we can and can not do as we create a school wide system.

Student Information System (SIS):

There are a number of Student Information or Student Management Systems available to schools. SASI, Admin+, and PowerSchool being just three in what is a long and complicated list.

This one fundamental piece of software can either make or break how the system as a whole works. I am not going to talk about any specific piece of software but I want to put my thoughts out there on what I believe this software should do for the 21st Century school

Open Access:

First I believe that the system must have an open database that allows a school to incorporate other programs into it to allow for a seamless system. A program built in a database like mySQL would allow easy integration into the educational programs we talked about in Part 1. By having an open database a Student Information System (SIS) allows schools to customize their educational portal using the tools they want. Most programs today have a closed database, or a database created by them that does not work well with other programs. We need to break down these walls, use open systems and give schools the control they need to create a system that is easy, secure, and if possible gives ubiquitous access. These systems must be accessible and customizable.

Ubiquitous Access:

In today’s anywhere, anytime, learning environment we want access to the information where we are not where the information is. In other words, you should be able to access anything and everything you want from an Internet connected computer. Student Information Systems of the future must be web based, they must allow teachers, parents and students access when they need it. Having a closed system that runs on closed applications should be a dieing breed. Parents should be able to access information when they want it, students should be able to check grades from the lunch room, and teachers should be able to complete report cards on a Saturday on their couch with their favorite coffee mug.

Also by making SIS web based schools no longer need to worry about which platform their school is running (PC or Mac) or what are the issues if they decide to upgrade or switch platforms. The web browser is the single best cross platform piece of software. Teachers (for the most part) already know how to use it, and students and parents would need little training as well.

We need to break down the walls of these programs, we need to make them accessible and integrate into larger school systems and we must be able to access them from anywhere.

All-in-one Solutions:

The Student Information System of the 21st century needs to be all encompassing. No longer should schools have to sync information between programs. For example at my school at the moment teachers have a grading program that they have to sync with the SIS system. The SIS system then has to be synced to the web program that displays the information. That is way to much syncing and the syncing of these programs does not happen on their own meaning we are wasting human resources on these functions.

SIS should have all of this housed within one system that is scalable to the needs of the school. A teacher should be able to enter grades into a web based reporting program. Those grades (if the school so choses) should be accessible by parents and/or students without any other steps having to take place. A teacher should be able to take attendance and (if a school so choses) have that information available to all parents via the web in real time. By setting up permissions a school should be able to allow different stakeholders access to different parts of the system.

The SIS needs to be an all-in-one student information portal where all stakeholders can access the student information they need. One login, one access point to everything you could possibly want to know about your child, your student, your student body.

Integrated System:

By having a SIS with an open database and being web based we make it easier for schools to create an integrated system of student information and educational access. Here’s how I envision it.

Student:

Eva has a 15 minute break between classes. Just enough time to check and see if Ms. Galloway has posted the grades from her essay that she handed in on Monday. Eva fires up her laptop and browses to her schools portal. There she sees that tonight’s varsity baseball game has been canceled….go figure after the three days of rain they have had recently. She logs into the system and navigates to your courses where she finds that Ms. Galloway has posted her essay grade. A B not bad for a last night cram session. She moves her cursor over the grade and a bubble pops up with a comment from Ms. Galloway: “Good work! I think you should add this essay to your portfolio.”
Eva decides that she’ll add the piece to her portfolio collection now know that she can later go back and either not include it as a final portfolio piece or write a reflection about it and turn it into one of her 3 pieces needed for English class. Eva quickly navigates to her portfolio, opens up her web folder and drags the essay from her desktop directly into her web folder through her browser. After the files uploads a box pops us asking Eva to tag the essay with key words so that it can be found later.
With 5 minutes left Eva checks her school e-mail real quick…nothing worth reading. She logs out and heads to class.

Parent:

Mr. Johnson is counting down the hours till 4 when he will be leaving work early to go watch his son pitch in the baseball game after school today. His son’s first as a starting pitcher. He’s been nervous most of the day…excited for his son and wanting him to do well. He’s concerned the game will be canceled do to the heavy rain this week so he heads to the school’s website where he sees a message posted by the AD that the game has been canceled. The nerves die down and sorrow fills his heart…he knows what this feels like and knows what his son must be feeling now. Oh well, at least it saved him a trip to the ballpark. While on the school’s site Mr. Johnson decides to login and check his children’s grades. After logging in he clicks on Paul’s name and is instantly taken to a page that shows that Paul was present in all his classes today. He clicks on Algebra to see how Paul is doing. He knows Paul has been struggling with some of the concepts and wants to see how is grades are progresses. He quickly scans the grades and finds that Paul is pulling a B-. Not too bad! In the upper right hand corner he clicks on a link that says “Student Blog” and is taken to another part of the website where he sees a list of reflections and other writings from Paul. He clicks on the category Algebra and starts
reading. Getting a feel for how Paul is feeling about Algebra and where he’s struggling. He’s a typical teenage boy who doesn’t talk a lot about school at home. Mr. Johnson finds it refreshing that he gets a glimpse into his son’s thoughts through his school blog.

While logged in Mr. Johnson checks on his 9th grade daughter Eva. He notices she got a B on an essay that was turned in earlier this week, which he finds strange because he doesn’t remember her telling him she had an essay assignment due. He makes a note to talk to her when he gets home.

Before signing off he can’t help but head over to the sports section and once again watch the highlights from last week’s game where Paul hits a double in the gap. All baseball games are streamed lived through the school’s web site and archived. A video class at school also takes each game and creates a highlight reel. At the end of the year the media class sells a DVD of all the highlights from all the sporting events throughout the school year. Mr. Johnson buys one every year and finds it a great way to document his children’s athletic life through high school.

Teacher:

Ms. Power considers herself an average techie when it comes to computers. Although she had this annoying technology coordinator at her school that is constantly making her think and stretching her to try new things or think differently about assignments.

It’s early in the morning as Ms. Power gets to her classroom. She takes her laptop out of her bag and presses the power button. As she walks over to hang up her jacket she flips the LCD projector on for the day. She remembers last year when the school installed it that she was nervous. She knew this meant that soon the school would be taking away her overhead projector and she wasn’t very comfortable with that at the time. But today she smiles as this year she didn’t even ask for an overhead projector in her room, in fact she hadn’t used one the second part of last year and asked that they take it out of her room over the summer.
As she sits down at her computer she starts her browser and navigates to the schools portal. There she is greeted with a message from the principal about happenings this week. She clicks on the calendar on the left and a new window pops up with a weekly view of after school activities and assemblies happening this week. She also notices a new podcast created by the 5th graders has been posted. She clicks on the link that reads “episode #10” and is taken to another part of the web site where she clicks play and listens to two students talking about what’s happening in 5th grade this week. As the podcast plays in the background she signs into the portal for the day. As she logs in the sidebars on the portal change to reflect information for teachers. Under the heading “Reminders” there is a note from the principal that reminds her that there will be a Fire Drill at 1:30 today. On the left under the heading “Resources Needed” she notices that someone has posted in the resource forum looking for cardboard tubes for a project. In the middle of the page is a posting called “A Week Ahead” that the principal posts every Monday that gives a run down of everything that is happening this week.
Ms. Power clicks on her link that says blog and begins to write today’s outline in a blog post. When she finishes she chooses who she wants to see the blog post. Students, Parents, Teachers, Public there is also a button that says ‘Promote to Front Page’. Every day a different teacher writes something for the front page of the school’s portal explaining what is happening in their class. By taking turns the teachers only have to post something about once a month.
But for today’s schedule she just clicks Parents and Students. The blog post is instantly saved and she checks the LCD to make sure it’s displaying properly on the whiteboard. She next clicks on the SIS link which takes her to the Student Information System. She loves this new system where she only logs in once and can access all she needs for the day. Once there she clicks on attendance and finishes preparing for her students to arrive.

Conclusion:

These are just a couple examples of how a 21st century educational portal should work for all stakeholders. Information that is important to them, information they can access where they want when they want just a click away. We need to create educational portals like Amazon.com creates online stores: One log in to a vast amount of knowledge and resources. Everything you need in one integral system.

It would be great if there was one single system that did it all, but I haven’t seen one yet. Other ideas to consider:

Media Area:

If schools are going to block sites like YouTube and OurMedia then they need to give students and staff another way to post videos and podcasts. Schools should have their own media area for the community to uses. Imagine the power of your school having its own YouTube type site?

Built in RSS Reader:

If it was just there….just sitting in front of teachers and students would they use it? Would teachers use it with students if it didn’t mean another username and password for both students and teachers?

Site-Wide Tags:

The system should use site-wide tags that allow you to find information on any tagged artifact from any part of the site you have access to. Think if a parent clicks on the tag ‘Football’ they could see articles written by both staff and students, they might find videos and podcasts from players, and maybe even a story from a 4th grader about playing football.

In the end it is about access to information. The easier we can make the information available to those that need and want it the better our 21st Century system will be received.

In Part 3 I’ll talk about how I believe you create a support system to fully support both the IT and the educational side of a 21st Century Educational Portal.

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5 Comments

  1. Jeff, I love your scenarios. I am using this blog post in two ways:
    1. To generate discussion at our E-Learning for Life tech admin meeting tomorrow.
    2. For my Flat Classroom student in the WorkFlow Software group as an example of educational SW that supports work flow etc and supports users
    link to flatclassroomproject.wikispaces.com Flow Software

    I look forward to #3!

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Good timing. We are reviewing our current SIS this year and are meeting for the first time on Wed. A link to this will be going out to the task force.

    To what extent do you think SIF will help with the compatibility issues? It’s something we are looking at very seriously. Beyond the teaching/learning portals you have outline here, we need compatibility with finance, transportation, data mining, personnel, call systems, security, curriculum management, library circ systems, etc. More than any one “Swiss Army Knife” system will accommodate, I think. Plus some of these systems are regional for us.

    Again, thanks for stretching MY thinking.

    Doug

  3. Thanks for doing your two recent posts on technology planning Jeff. It is really helpful having concrete examples of how all the technology should all be knitted together to create seamless and frictionless learning. It has certainly given me some really good ideas, but it will help me continue my advocacy campaign within my own learning community.

    I know you have put infrastructure and support in the outer ring of your model. I cannot emphasise the importance of bandwidth. If you do not have enough Internet connectivity to access these services due to internal or external constraints then the whole model will struggle to get off the ground. For example, you could have a lesson where the objective is to get the students to annotate and bookmark web based information using Delicious. Suddenly, half the class gets time out errors and the lesson fails to turn the students on to the power of social bookmarking. Infrastructure, especially bandwidth is really important and can often be a big hurdle.

  4. Jeff,

    Another good post. We sure agree with your main points.

    Our new version of the DART student information system (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) is nearly ready for release, but the working beta has just finished it’s first full school quarter of implementation…and worked great.

    We are running it as the replacement for Pearson’s PowerSchool with 15 schools, a voc ed facility and district offices…about 2,300 users in the system.

    The first version was standards-based tracking, but this one has all the basics of a full SIS, including attendance, discipline logging, automated exports for state and federal reports, transcripts and progress monitoring, comments and needs analysis available to students and parents on demand.

    The system is tied directly to our wiki-based curriculum content system…about 7,500+ pages so far of user created content and resources.

    We have moved the project from EduForge to Launchpad…

    http://www.bssd.org
    link to launchpad.net

    Anyway, keep up the thoughtful posts.

    Regards,

    John

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