Defining Interoperability Within Your Digital Ecosystem

As part of CoSN’s on-going efforts to address interoperability issues, a group of IT Leaders came together during the Chicago conference for a roundtable discussion on the myths and realities of interoperability. Our goal was to demystify what can be perceived as an “800 pound gorilla” and identify some basic practices that could be shared with our membership. But what came out of that discussion was the need for a prerequisite — a definition of interoperability with real-world meaning, one that districts can use to pinpoint where they are located in the interoperability landscape. Districts need a definition that goes beyond generic description, one that defines what interoperability means in their ecosystem. 

So it turns out that communication—not technology—is our biggest interoperability challenge. We lack a common language to describe what interoperability means for various digital ecosystems. We don’t even have a common way to describe those different ecosystems. While all districts work towards improved student outcomes, the infrastructure they have, the tools they use, the resources they can access, and the student populations that they serve vary widely. Without a common framework within which to discuss interoperability, it is difficult to give districts the information they need to make informed decisions. The lack of common technical standards further complicates discussions and districts’ ability to identify solutions at the granular level.

Context matters. Where you are, where you need to go, and how you can get there varies by district. The notions of roadmaps and GPSs have emerged in prior interoperability discussions. It has been acknowledged that there is no single path for interoperability. Districts use a variety of methods, often in combination, to achieve desired interoperability outcomes. But without a common framework to discuss the topic, we are unable to move the conversation forward. We need a functioning interoperability model that addresses the simplicities, the complexities, and everything in between. We need a framework that will enable effective communication not only amongst ourselves but with publishers, vendors, administrators, and educators. Without an interoperability framework, our conversations will continue to get stuck in a reoccurring loop of “what do you mean by interoperability?”

CoSN wants to get out of that loop. A key step is learning what districts are currently doing to address the interoperability communication challenge. How do you talk about interoperability within your district? What are the most common misunderstandings between you and your providers? Are there insights can you share that could help us construct a common framework? We invite you tell us at paula.maylahn@mac.com. 

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