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Summary:

New York-based Schoology is challenging Student Information Systems to create APIs to streamline the open exchange of data in education.

Innovation in a thought bubble written on a chalkboard

Last year, we saw momentum build for open data in education with the launch of data startups LearnSprout and Clever, the creation of the non-profit Shared Learning Collaborative and the release of more government education datasets. But New York-based Schoology wants to step on the gas and is putting up $250,000 to do it.

On Tuesday, the company, which provides a cloud-based learning management system and social network for schools, said that it was challenging Student Information Systems (SISes) to create APIs (application programming interfaces) to promote the open exchange of data. To date, few SISes, which store all kinds of information about students — from grades and attendance records, to addresses and more — have released APIs. That means that when ed tech companies want to bring new tools to the classroom, they have to integrate with each district individually in a potentially tedious, weeks-long process. Clever and LearnSprout both address this issue by building APIs that connect SISes with developers, but while they can get data out of the SISes, they can’t yet support a two-way data exchange.

As part of its challenge, Schoology said it will issue a bounty of $25,000 for up to ten SIS vendors from now until May. If an SIS provides access to a Web API and Schoology can integrate its platform with it in 1o days or less, the vendor gets the money.

Schoology CEO Jeremy Friedman said SIS vendors have been hesitant to release their information because of time and cost issues. “We want to help offset the cost with the benefit being that… everyone wins,” he said. “The only way to get innovation in the first place is to create an environment that can encourage it.”

In addition to students and schools benefitting from more data-driven innovation, Schoology obviously wins from the new APIs as it makes it easier for more schools to embrace the product — and it makes its platform  more interesting for developers who can build on the API it released this summer. But ed tech companies across the ecosystem — including competitors like Edmodo and Moodle — could also benefit.

Schoology, which reaches about two million educators, students and administrators, said Pearson’s (PSO) PowerSchool was the first SIS to integrate with its platform — over the next few months, it will be interesting to see how much company it gets.

  1. Liliana Pertenava Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    Thank you for the article! What is also interesting – the personal data issue. How does the service deal with the personal data protection/law etc.?

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  2. Reblogged this on Class Acts and commented:
    This is a very positive development for the ed-reform movement, but it strikes me as about as likely to succeed as a bank robber paying SunTrust to allow him to tunnel into the their safe. Sure they get $25K now, but they may find that down the road, people use the bank less often. SIS vendors have built nearly impenetrable walls around their systems, leveraging the fear and paranoia associated with issues such as student privacy and data security, because that allows them to continue extracting rents from their captive users, without having to innovate. Nimble start-ups like Clever, Learnsprout and others are creating ways to circumvent the stranglehold the SIS vendors have had on school districts, and it’s refreshing to learn that a Goliath like Pearson is willing to give a slingshot to a David, like Schoology. Fire away!

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    1. I was surprised to learn of the write-back capability. If I’m reading this right, schools could potentially now use whatever gradebook and parent portal they prefer.

      However, we should keep in mind that Pearson is not giving access away. Vendors must typically pay to play by joining Pearson’s ISV program: http://powerschool.com/partners/current/

      One advantage to LearnSprout is that it’s not limited to what is provided by the SIS developer (typically the provided API, FTP Autosend or what can be scraped off a web page). LearnSprout establishes a direct database connection and is able to access ALL data within the SIS.

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