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On data and content and learning November 21, 2013

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture, Leadership.
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My company was recently acquired by Houghton MIfflin Harcourt.   We really looked before we lept into the chasm of joining a large company like this.  The thing that tipped me over the edge was really two things: my experience of the executive team as being people committed to thought leadership and transforming their 180 year old company, and the company’s goal of creating passionate learners.

Now I am their lead data scientist and their VIce-President of Technology Strategy.  I am slowly coming to grips with the areas where I can lead and have a deep understanding – enterprise education data, platform architecture and design in the education space, system and data integration, mapping, assessment results data, and standards- and with the areas where I need to truly understand and learn from my new colleagues: content, assessment design, pedagogy, and content design and delivery.

I am going to post my thoughts here, and look forward to generating dialogues on these topics.


Identity: Starting with the Basics August 16, 2012

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture, Standards.
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As I have danced with the issue of identity management in education over the years  it has amazed me the degree to which it is an amazingly complicated and subtle issue.  It seems obvious at first glance but quickly becomes obscured in a cloud of issues.  So, to begin this series, I will talk about the use case of identification.   What is it, what kind of identifiers can we use, and what are we identifying exactly.  Let me start by stating the problem space “identity management” needs to handle.

In the non-virtual world we have various ways of identifying.  I will classify them into two types: people, places and things we know, and people, places and things we do not yet know.  For ease of writing I will focus on people but this conversation will go almost identically in talking about places and things.

We identify people we know by markers we pull from memory.  We know what their facial features look like, how they move, their voice, their way of speaking, how they dress and present themselves, and sometimes we are prepped with those memories by the context and location we are interacting in.  If we meet someone “out of context” we will sometimes take longer to recognize them.   I once knew a young lady very well who always wore red-ALWAYS.  It had become a prime association for me with her.  One day I met her walking down the street and she was in a yellow blouse and a brown skirt and I literally did not recognize her until she smiled and addressed me.  These combinations of factors often become so ingrained we are not conscious that we are processing individual attributes and factors but rather we just “recognize” people, places, and things.

We identify people we don’t know very differently.   We also use outward attributes such as appearance, clothing, location, and context to “guess” and make assumptions about people we don’t know.  This primarily has an impact on trust.  To what degree do you trust a stranger.  If you are not revealing anything personal, or financial or anything that could be “used against you”, and they do not appear to be hostile, then trust does not matter.  In those cases you spend very little time processing the “identity”.  However that changes the moment you need to ask them to do something or they ask or demand that you do something.  Suddenly you begin actively processing their identity.  There are many strategies.

You  may trust them more because they look, sound, and dress like you do.  If they clearly come from your culture or social class.  If they are the same gender or race or NOT the same gender or race.  I am not saying any of these as political statements but rather as pointers to the human condition.   The context is very decisive in these kinds of instant assessments: if you bump into someone in a bad section of run down urban area you will go through a different assessment process than you meeting someone who looks just like you at a best friend’s party.

You may ask them for their name. You may ask them what they do, what is their role.  You may ask them what they need from you.  If it becomes formal you may ask to see their paperwork- their passport, or driver’s license, or work ID, or their warrant.  You may call someone you know who they claim to know, or you may call their boss or their organization.  You may call the police or some other third party authority to ensure they are who they say they are and you can trust them enough to interact with them.

All these escalations are a function of how intrusive or private the request is and how comfortable you feel receiving or giving information or services to this person.  There are no fixed rules.  Every person has their own thresholds around privacy, generosity, trust, and safety.

If we take this then into the virtual world we have the same issues but we do not (at least in many cases) have the same visual, auditory, and contextual triggers and data to use as in the real world.  So we must find replacements or stand-ins for those.

In the virtual world we use four primary ways of “recognizing” people:

  1.  Usernames inside a particular context.  Examples of this are handles in a multi-player on-line game, Skype, Google Talk, a LinkedIn forum, a bulletin board.
  2. Email addresses
  3. Credit cards  These are  primarily person to application identification to allow access or approve execution of a service- like send this person this book, or allow this person to access this site , or add this person to pay this bill. This model can be and often is linked to number four below.
  4. Authentication through log in utilizing some kinds of credentials.

These are the “faces” and “voices” of the virtual world.  As we begin to move more and more into rich media collaboration and communication it may more and more include faces, voices and bio-metrics as those but as of yet those are rare indeed.

So this post is designed to introduce the problem. In my next post I will discuss the actual structures used to identify things in this virtual work: GUIDs (Global  Unique Identifiers), Dot Notation taxonomy-based identifiers, URIs in all their incarnations, locally-assigned identifiers attached to records,  content-based derived identifiers, and paradata -based identifiers.  These make up the “formal paper work”, the passports, the drivers’ licenses, of the virtual world.

I will probably start in the next post to also talk about third-party authorities (ICANN, DNS servers, credit card companies, social network sites, and certificate issuers) but that may be post number three.

Please comment, ask questions, clarify, disagree, elucidate as you will.  I will post again in a few weeks.

Vertical vs. Longitudinal Reporting February 25, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture.
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Someone asked me a basic question which, at first, I thought was obvious and then upon asking around discovered was not so obvious.     In the State enterprise system conversation what is the difference between “vertical reporting” and “longitudinal reporting”?

The answer is simple and complex:  time and space.

First, space: “vertical reporting” refers to the movement of data between organizations at different levels of hierarchy in their area.  For instance, many schools belong to a district, many districts belong to a regional service center, and many regional service centers belong to a state (some states skip the regionals).  Vertical reporting is the movement of data up that chain of organizations:  school data go UP to district which transmits them UP to the state.  Sometimes people will talk about “vertical interoperability” which means data can go both ways.

Second, time: “Longitudinal reporting” refers to the reporting, acquisition, and dispaly of data that have a time element to them.  It is often represented by graphs.  For instsance the change in enrollment over the last ten years would be an example of longitudinal reporting. Longitudinal reporting is the reporting of data with a time element attached and used as a dimension.

When people refer to longitudinal data systems (as in LDS Grants) they are referring to systems that almost always have a vertical and a longitudinal component to them.

SIF doesn’t work… or does it? February 25, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture, Leadership, Management, SIF, The Three Laws of Performance.
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I have been observing an interesting phenomonon at play around the Schools Interoperability Specification.   It has to do with the First Law of Performance from a book I am reading right now (http://www.threelawsofperformance.com/).  The First Law states that people’s actions are correlated to the way the world occurs to them.

At one level that is a no brainer.  Of course that would be true.  But we don’t act that way.  We act as if the way it occurs for us is the truth.  An example of this came up at the National Education Data Conference in Seattle last week.    Someone mentioned to me that a panel of people had spoken to all the states who had recieved longitudinal data grants from the government and had shared how SIF didn’t work.  They spoke about it like an “of course”.  Other states though were walking around talking about how SIF was revolutionizing their data quality and data collections.  How could they both be true.   I have heard these extreme positions multiple times.

What became clear to me is that people were speaking, and complaining, based on the way the world occurred to them.  It isn’t that they were “wrong”, though I was apt to leap to that conclusion,  they were just speaking their “TRUTH”.  What is so is that SIF is working in hundreds and hundreds of districts in a horizontal (which is to say local to a school or district) or “classic” deployment, and is working statewide in a few states in a vertical manner, and half a dozen other states are working on it.  So why the bad press?

I say it is because the problem that SIF is brought in to solve is complicated.    Building enterprise architectures out into deployments that scale multiple levels of organizations (school, district, regional, state),  broad breadth (all the districts, all the schools) , and heterogenous applications (Student Information Systems of multiple types, Transcript brokers, state data warehouses, data collection tools, etc.) is complicated stuff.  The data flow inside any one of these components is complicated enough.  Managing the data flow through and around them all is hideously complicated.  Thus the issue.

Most states are not approaching the problem with an appropriate respect for that complexity.  They buy a product (like an off-the-shelf “data warehouse” or similar product)  and expect that to solve the problem without really mapping out their issues, use cases, data architecture and process flows and then putting together a system that works.    Then when the system falls inward on itself or doesn’t hit its milestones it becomes “SIF doesn’t work”.  The truth is  enterprise system design is hard, and almost impossible to succeed at in a political, consensus-driven environment.    There are so many points of failure and SIF- in automating the processes- reveals those breakdowns and issues, and, as with most messengers, often loses its head.

When you want an assessment of something make sure you are asking someone who understands those types of problems and has a track record with them.   The person who has never succeeeded may just not know what it takes, and then they will cry to the world “Don’t do X”.  If we can understand the root cause of the failure suddenly the world will appear a different way and then our actions will be correlated to that new view.

Now, telling who the real experts are and who the savvy sales people who memorize the jargon du jour… that is another problem entirely!

The path forward- taking strides not small steps! January 22, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Education, Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture, Schools Interoperability Framework, SIF.
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I have been thinking about what we will use the economic stimulus package for.  Particularly the parts impacting education.

I am going to not address tools that would be purchased singly by a teacher or school, but, rather, enterprise solutions- with economies of scale- that would be implemented at the district or state level.

Here is my initial list.   I hope you are listening Arne Duncan!!! 🙂

1. Flexible, SIF-enabled, unit-record-level(student, staff, course/section, building, district),  data quality-enforcing data collection systems.

2.  Semantically-tagged, multi-purpose, longitudinal, flexibly periodic, data storage

3. Enterprise Directory-enabled Portal solutions that provide authorization down to the parent, student, teacher level and provide security for both access to applications and resources but also constrict viewing parameters on reports.   Centralized management and indentity services but decentralized control

4. Inside these portal solutions Communities of Practice (data providers, teachers, families, program providors),  with collaboration and file sharing capabilities as well as access to reports designed specifically for them, and workflow tailored for them.

5. Learning Standards Repository and National Data Model and NCES Handbooks all available in referencible form and allowing free access to the date through a variety of APIs.

6.  Working with SIF and PESC and others to construct Transcript standards  and templates for the whole country

7. Mature the SCED specification to include elementary school and more metadata.

8. Mature the SIF specification to provide more value and out of the box interoperability to systems all through pk12.

9.  Provide Best Practices for maturing systems that are not driven by a single solution-providor but by healthy, standards-linked functionality.

The SIFA Annual Meeting January 20, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Schools Interoperability Framework, SIF.

So- I just spent four wonderful days in pre-Inaugural Washington DC.   As usual we had the SIF Association‘s annual meeting, held elections, had board meetings, and generally planned, specc’d, and kibitzed.

We did quite a bit of good work resolving some technical issues with the XML Schema of version 2.3 of the SIF Specification release that is now finally coming close to release.  We also dealt with some of the details of re-designing processes and growth as the organization continues to grow and add new staff (7 now) and new members.   We are close to compiling all the charters that will define the scope of the Columbus release.

It was exciting to welcome Kevin Harrison from Virginia, David Holt from Wyoming, and Matt Howard of eTech Ohio as new members to the Tech Board, and Mark Reichert from CPSI, Ann Savino from eSchoolData, and Jason Wrage (albeit  temporarily) as new members of the Board of Directors.

Looks like Andy Elmhorst of EduStructures and myself are still the co-chairs of the Technical Board.