The rise of access management in education
Thursday, September 17, 2015
The often-undiscussed importance that administrative technology has on school districts might be tantamount to suggesting that the only use for technology in a school district is in its classroom. There are far-reaching solutions that provide overwhelming benefits to the classroom, even if these technologies are not used to deliver homework to mobile devices or tally the marks of a classroom's population.
The day-to-day management of software solutions and management protocols have a dramatic impact on educational entities. And there's more to the management of learning technologies than simply passing out tablets to students.
The IT technologies required to power a school district are often not covered, yet there's a whole world of information technology and systems working in every district in the country that are doing more for the students served by the well-publicized technology of the classroom.
California's Chino Valley Unified School District has user accounts that let students access class discussions and syllabuses by email, let staff access grading systems, and even allow parents to communicate with teachers and view student grades. The challenges of managing these 34,000 user accounts was growing increasingly difficult and time-consuming for the school district.
The management of all user accounts was an entirely manual process, creating enormous inefficiencies for district IT leaders. They lacked any clear standards and consistency, and third-party scripts did nothing to simplify the situation or help with the management of accounts in other applications, such as Renaissance Learning, Riverdeep, Orchard and Easy Grade Pro.
Constant growth and limited staffing to manage the problem created a breaking point, meaning a change was needed. The district needed to streamline and find a solution allowing it the ability to automate its entire user-account life cycle.
Moving to an access management solution to automatically manage user account creation and deletion across the district and securely delegate day-to-day administrative tasks to employees proved to be the secret ingredient in the sauce. Automating operations to run in the background along with the ability to integrate the student information database and other applications saved countless hours for the IT staff each day.
The user-account provisioning process, including account creation with all group memberships, was also fully automated. As a result, students use the same user name across all applications and can use one login credential to access all accounts required by the district. Additionally, from the start of a school term or student's entrance into a school, all access points are set up correctly the first time and all subsequent updates are automatic.
Giving staff the ability to manage user access and system rights had an immediate impact for the entire district. Teachers can now solve problems with student accounts — such as a forgotten password or locked-out user account — without any technical training or administrative privileges. What used to take hours to solve involving the IT department, now takes seconds with the click of a single button.
Likewise, Culver City Unified School District, in Culver City, California, had trouble with managing an overwhelming amount of account creation and management manually. The district encompasses four elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools and several other schools, such as a language program and adult education. Among the 10 schools, they manage 800 staff members and more than 7,000 students.
The process was slow. It was extremely inefficient. In the summer of 2014, the district leadership decided it wanted to implement Google Apps for its staff and students to enhance the learning experience.
"We had originally planned to do manual exports and imports through our SIS and Google manually," Robert Quinn, technology director at the school district said. But district leadership quickly realized this would be a tremendous undertaking.
Quinn was proactive. He decided the district should look into a solution that would assist with the account creation and management process. Contacting a professional peer at a nearby school district, Quinn was told to explore access and automated password management solutions.
With the technology, Culver City USD has been able to automate its entire account management process so that no manual action is required. When a new student begins at the district, that student's information is simply entered into the student information system, and all necessary accounts and access rights are automatically created in the school's role management system. Students automatically receive a Google Apps account, and they are placed in the appropriate groups, class systems and any other actions or groups required of the district.
"When a new student joins the district, within 24 hours they have their accounts created and everything set up for them," Quinn said. "(The access management system) has been a huge life-saver for me. It probably has saved hours of my work schedule every week."
The newly automated processes ensure students quickly have their necessary accounts created and updated throughout the school year so they are able to engage in their classroom activities and after-school work. They can also engage in the education process by simply uploading documents and assignments required of the coursework.
"The teachers love how easily student accounts are created," Quinn said."They probably don't realize how difficult it would be without the access management solution."
This is no small problem, and it likely is bigger than many of the in-classroom technology solutions or issues often and overzealously covered. Access management is larger than the sample offered by Chino Valley and Culver City, and the thousands of other entities that suffer from overwhelming management and burden of these "tiny" issues.
Hutto Independent School District serves 5,411 children in the greater Hutto area of Texas. The area near Austin is one of the fastest-growing in the state.
Hutto ISD sought a secure a solution that would allow the IT staff to proactively manage its users rather than work in a reactive cycle. Hutto administrative staff had been manually creating and managing user accounts to systems and applications.
Data was often out of sync and insecure, and master info cleanups were disorganized and inconsistent. Likewise, managing more than 6,300 user accounts — students, faculty and staff — became time-consuming and forced the district to consider adding a software solution that would provide automated support and could connect with the district's Skyward student information system.
Travis Brown, network administrator for Hutto ISD, said the access management system's connection to Skyward has "saved our district considerable man hours and resources by connecting to the Skyward Student Information System to be able to automatically manage our user accounts, and we began saving immediately."
Faced with increasing budget constraints, it was important to Hutto district leaders that they chose a solution that was efficient, but cost-efficient, and could show ROI within weeks, not months or years. They also needed to implement a solution that was scalable as they increase in size and bring on new technologies for their users. They also decided they needed a solution that could have a user-managed Web portal that would take some tasks off the IT plate and put it in the hands of the faculty and staff.
Hutto ISD implemented an access management solution to manage bulk user creation, modifications and deletions. What was once a manual process has now become an automated project that runs daily for the school district.
The access management solution also has allowed the IT staff to push password reset questions and user modifications to the staff via Web portal. The Web portal lets faculty and staff reset student passwords without having to wait for an IT staff member to fulfill the request. This, on average, is saving two to three hours per request. And, because passwords can be reset by the faculty and staff, there is little to no down time for students.
Hutto ISD also added the provisioning of user accounts to Google Apps. By implementing a Google Apps user provisioning project to connect AD and Google Apps they will continue to advance technology to the school district in a smart, proactive way without exhausting man hours or additional resources. The connection to Google Apps projects will run daily with the previous synchronization projects.
The point of these technology implementations is there are many more complex issues with IT and technology challenges within school districts than are often discussed or covered. While the in-classroom technology is the current sexy topic, it's only one small portion of the challenges faced by districts throughout the country.
Additionally, without such "internal" solutions to handle many of these management and access issues, students wouldn't be able to use their devices and other technologies in the classroom anyway.
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