So one of my last projects for my old school district (I'm still consulting for them this summer as they wrap up some big projects and bring an awesome new tech director on board) was to shepherd the high school through the implementation of a new schedule. After 14 years of a simple 4x4 block, the teachers and administrators agreed that it was time for a change and moved to a 6x7 rotating long block with multiple bell schedules and varying rotations by period and day. There was actually some sound pedagogy behind the switch and the scheme they ultimately chose, but suffice to say, scheduling was not as straightforward as it had been in years past.
With school starting next week, I noticed a couple days ago that there were only 6 days in the final schedule that we'd rolled out of the sandboxes we'd created and into production. I didn't panic at first. The schedule, after all, was 6 days when you viewed it flat and unrotated, so maybe I was just missing something, right?
Wrong. During the rollover to production, I missed the step where you apply the rotation. Had I not missed that step, I also would have discovered a subtle but fatal problem with the way we had created our rotating long block. Woops. Within about 15 seconds I had fired off an email to our account manager at our SIS provider, X2 Development Corporation, with lots of capital letters and exclamation points.
Very shortly, a detailed email appeared in my inbox, assessing the impact of the problem and presenting two courses of action. A phone call later and we'd not only chosen a course of action, but X2's resident rock star programmer was sorting out the details personally (they have a few rock stars, actually, but Baiyun is just incredible). I was sitting down to dinner last night when I received a call from the programmer who had uncovered the more serious structural problem and wanted my OK to fix it, first determining precisely what our requirements were for that long block which was quickly becoming the bane of my existence.
I woke up Thursday morning to a rotated schedule, complete with new visual cues for the guidance counselors to easily continue making scheduling changes for students before classes began next Wednesday. A few back and forth emails and phone calls left the guidance secretary (who, as we all know, basically runs the show) breathing relatively easily. There was still work to do, but we were going to make it without any extraordinary measures.
It was only a couple years ago that X2 was struggling to balance growth with customer service needs. How do you scale staff and support systems fast enough to stay ahead of a growing customer base and still ensure that your new support staff are experts in the system? Fortunately X2 not only figured it out, but also managed to make substantial improvements to their SIS (called Aspen) along the way.
This summer, the company launched Aspen 3.0, a major upgrade to the SIS that includes, among many other features, a very solid foundation for learning/course management systems. It isn't quite Moodle, but Version 3.0 includes enough LMS goodness (with full integration of the existing gradebook module) that many schools and teachers may forgo a standalone LMS (and may even set aside the blogs and websites through which so many share assignments and materials with students).
X2's motto is "Exceptional Software. Extraordinary Service." Between all of the new features they've introduced this summer and their stellar responsiveness to my problems in the last few days (and, frankly, for the last year), X2 is absolutely living that motto. There are lots of choices in student information systems from relatively mature open source solutions to major international vendors. X2 continues to stand out for me, though, particularly among completely web-based, SaaS student information system vendors.