Digitization has improved student access to information and the whole learning process. But it has also meant that the enormous amounts of data that we garner every day remain in silos.

Most often, it is an educator’s or a school official's task to transfer of data between platforms manually.

What is data interoperability and how it affects K-12 education?

Data interoperability in education refers to the secure and seamless exchange of data between the various platforms that are used in the classroom and overall in K-12 education.

Today, we use a blend of collaborative software, learning management systems, and various mobile apps to learn. Yet, the information is not easily transferred between these platforms. Educators find it cumbersome to transfer data, and this creates friction in learning and information gaps as well.

Technology's role in the classroom will only expand. Therefore, the need for data interoperability will also continue to grow. But these transfer processes are expensive, costing up to thousands of dollars and man-hours for each district.

Nevertheless, new budgets will have to consider this. At this point, teachers have to manually transcribe data from one format to another between the multiple tools they use in the classroom.

What strategies can help districts achieve data interoperability?

Education Dive recently published an article that offered a step-by-step guide for district administrators to pursue data interoperability. One of the first things recommended is to take an inventory of all systems used and the data they generate.

This will help create a baseline for considering all interoperability solutions. The next prospective step is to set up some solid interoperability goals and how to reach them. There also needs to be a consensus about how to use merged data securely.

Data security is a serious concern across the board, especially when it comes to student safety. A centralized storage system created by data interoperability may make us more vulnerable to cyberattacks. But experts argue that if districts opt for a better system, it will lead to enhanced security, much more than the manual transfer of data. Data is transferred via encrypted files, and vendors are quite proactive in ensuring data security.

Districts should keep these parameters in mind when they are speaking to interoperability vendors. As mentioned, cost is a significant factor here, and districts should match their budgets to see what kind of system they need and can afford.

Some districts may find the standard configurations easy to implement and more cost-effective. Others may wish to implement custom solutions for their data systems if they have the budget and need a more robust solution.

Communities like Ed-Fi's Data Standard and Harvard University's Strategic Data Project have made great strides to support data interoperability. The system connects tech vendors with education agencies and districts for secure K-12 data interoperability.

Project Unicorn, a similar initiative by InnovateEDU, does the same by uniting administrators, educators, and developers so that they can share the best practices for K-12 data interoperability.