Teachers Need Synchronized Edtech in 2021 More Than Ever

Project Unicorn

Check out the newly released Educator Toolkit from Project Unicorn.

In 2010, when I left my prior career as a multimedia writer-producer to become an English teacher, I didn’t expect to have a visceral reaction to the state of education technology. I was accustomed to the sophistication and intricacies of creative software to churn out videos, graphics, publications, websites and other designed pieces. Then I logged into a student information system for the first time and thought I’d climbed in a time machine. It looked like an old FileMaker database. No. I wish it was that mature as a platform. I had to set up my gradebooks for each prep I was teaching and figure out why “attendance” wasn’t “attendance”, and that I should intuitively figure out to click on the “absence report” feature buried in a menu.

Later, I discovered that it was way easy for us teachers to accidentally delete grades, far too difficult to enter observations on a student’s formative progress, or even have to click layers deep to get to a parent’s phone number. As I struggled and started to wonder what else was out there, I saw what the competition offered as only moderately better.

Looking towards learning management systems, I was encouraged but my SIS provider wasn’t providing integrations. As a result, my rosters, assignments, grades and feedback weren’t translating. Inquiries both within my school’s technology department and with the vendors themselves were showing a glaring disconnect at the cost of the teacher’s fleeting time. I had no language for what the problem was yet but I couldn’t ignore such a productivity gap. My peers also shared in my frustration of double data entry, taking shots in the dark, and having myriad documents and spreadsheets to cover the gaps our vendors wouldn’t voluntarily close.

I started to learn about specifications and scripted “batchsync” operations for nightly updates between data silos to have more intelligent and focused conversations about it but was routinely met with “…that would be nice,” comments and a nearly audible “shrug” emoji from a peer or vendor contact.

Later, I spent five years in the field for Alma, representing the best user experience in SIS, and helping engineer solutions with integrations that gave data interoperability to schools and districts wanting the sort of performance I yearned for when I was a teacher and administrator. The technical standards powerhouse A4L, (formerly known as SIF) is another organization that understands this and has invested heavily into making this process more achievable with resources such as their Ecosystem Empowerment Guide to aid in the technological planning for districts with such prowess. So there is promise. The pieces are there.

If only I knew then what I know now: I needed Project Unicorn to advocate for such needs. The Innovate EDU initiative hadn’t launched at that point in my education career, but I have since found my “herd” and know their investment in raising awareness for the cause of high quality data interoperability for educators is more valuable than ever before.

As teachers gather themselves during the holiday break and prepare for 2021’s spring semester, edtech vendors can offer extraordinary value in this technical work by listening to what teachers need to serve their students optimally during this stressful time in our field. And teachers need the language and basic technical foundation to envision how the apps they’re using to impart knowledge and skills to their learners can and should “talk to each other”.

This is why we partnered with Project Unicorn to develop the Educator Toolkit. But we’re not stopping there. We will be hosting a webinar in a town hall format with three options for teachers, principals, instructional coaches, tech directors and other educators interested in closing this gap by learning how to assess local needs and approach decision makers with their requests for optimal data interoperability. Here is what will be covered from the Educator Toolkit:

  • How to use the Project Unicorn resources for assessing need in your classroom, school and/or district
  • How to frame up user stories from your practice to build a case around data interoperability
  • Where to share your story locally, regionally and nationally for the benefit of fellow educators with similar needs

We will be offering webinars hosted by Project Unicorn to go through this toolkit in mid-February, so stay tuned to register for those.

So, if you’re feeling like a unicorn yourself, please share the word amongst your peers both locally and in your PLNs, and come ready to tell your stories of how better data interoperability will help teaching and learning for the spring semester and into the ‘21-’22 school year! Also, sign up for the Project Unicorn Newsletter at the bottom of the page at the link to receive updates for these upcoming events and other resources.

Download the Educator Toolkit.

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Eric Nentrup

Eric is an avid writer and education evangelist. With experience in media, edtech, sales and the classroom, he shares a unique cross-section of interests and understanding.

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