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The Study Hall

Lessons in Integration

K-12 public school districts are easily one of the most complicated organizations in the country. Districts have all the back-office systems that you would find in a large business – human resource systems, ERP systems, a CMS, etc. But districts also have systems to manage student information, libraries, transportation services, food services, and alert systems, just to name a few. And that is on top of all the classroom-based systems. The point is that achieving interoperability is no trivial thing for a district.

15 years of working with school districts and developing integration solutions for education has taught us a lot. We distilled those lessons down to eight truths:

1. The solution cannot be point-to-point.

The average district must keep 30 or more applications synchronized with staff and student data. Point-to-point integrations creates a bit of a mess that is challenging to keep updated and working properly. The streamlined solution is to have a broker in the middle – one place where you can manage everything.

2. The integration must accommodate multiple ways of moving data.

There is no one method that will work for all systems in education, but applications like Canvas need to be able to receive students and staff regardless of how the SIS likes to share data. This includes application specific APIs; industry standards, such as LIS, OneRoster, and SIF; and legacy approaches, such as CSV and file sharing. The integration methodology should support all of these.

3. It must be able to merge disparate data feeds.

Many districts have more than one authoritative source of data. For example, staff members like Observers or Teachers may not be contained in the SIS, but are included in the HRIS system. Canvas needs both this staff data and the student data from the SIS to give administrators a complete picture.

4. It should accommodate bi-directional movement of data.

Perhaps better known as grade passback, this functionality is imperative for districts who have adopted an enterprise LMS like Canvas. Without it, teachers spend far too much time entering grades, and there is little chance that educators will be able to utilize data from disparate systems to modify their instructional approach and content.

Kimono Canvas

5. The solution must have a flexible data model.

Much like lesson number two, there’s no one data model that works for everything and everyone. And the more rigid the data model is, the less likely it will accommodate the real needs in the district. For example, grades are not a typical data element that is supported by most roster data models.

6. It must accommodate a lack of intelligence in the end points.

The future of integration is moving towards end points like REST APIs, which do not have any inherent logic about how to move data. And we still see many legacy systems depending on CSVs, which also do not have logic built in. Therefore, the broker must contain this intelligence.

7. The integration must be cloud-based, but it also needs to accommodate on premise applications.

The cloud is an ideal setting for interoperability as it allows better visibility and diagnostic capability, and data can be managed from anywhere. However, pure cloud-to-cloud integration is not good enough. There are and will continue to be on premise applications within a district that need to be integrated.

8. It must have multi-tenant and supervisory capability.

Most applicable to intermediate units and state education agencies, this is about the ability to support multiple districts or organizations within one dashboard. In fact, it’s this capability that allows Instructure to support the Kimono integration for Canvas districts.

These lessons went into the Kimono platform, which is why Instructure chose Kimono as their preferred integration partner. “Data and application integration is a complex problem, so we wanted a partner with deep education data expertise and a cloud-based platform that supports multiple standards and integration methods. This ensures that our customers will have a powerful solution that can grow with them,” said Mitch Benson, vice president of Canvas product and strategy. 

The Kimono Canvas integration includes advanced features, such as grade passback, per building configuration, automated cross-listing, term management, and pre-term drops. And this integration is available for Canvas customers at no additional cost. Canvas customers can also opt to extend the free integration, including new apps and services as their ecosystems evolve.

Keep learning,

Jessica Bleak
Marketing Director, Kimono