I've spent a lot of time over the years administering student information systems. Scheduling, grade reports, state reporting, data analysis and integration, you name it. These systems are utterly mission critical, especially in K12, and have grown extremely robust in the last couple of years as rich internet applications have finally made their way into the education space.
More recently, I've been spending my time immersed in learning management systems, many of which have open architectures and can have a variety of third-party applications integrated to make them nearly "one-stop shops" for teachers and students looking to
- Share information via messaging, wikis, blogs, discussion boards, and increasingly social applications
- Create, submit, grade, and manage assignments
- Collaborate with colleagues and peers
- Build learning communities
- Introduce hybrid and e-learning approaches to their classes
- Run virtual classes or make content libraries available to students
Whether they are using open source learning management systems like Moodle or Sakai or large enterprise systems like Blackboard, schools, teachers, and students are often faced with the problem of having to log into multiple systems and deal with duplicated information and just enough overlap in SIS and LMS platforms to be a genuine pain. Grades entered in Moodle for student feedback still need to be entered into an SIS to generate report cards and progress reports and provide aggregated data for administrators. Parents generally log into the SIS to see grades and assignments. The SIS (or yet another system) is usually required for special education compliance and reporting. Those same administrators and special education staff also don't have access then to the arguably more important contextual information that lives in the LMS.
Some schools and districts have integrated their systems (SIS, LMS, library systems, lunch systems, special education, etc.) programmatically via APIs, third-party solutions, or SIF. Most lack the time, resources, or wherewithal and simply use multiple solutions (or don't use an LMS at all because of the challenges and additional management overhead.
The solution, of course, is unified LMS/SIS system. Many student information systems have been adding LMS-like features (student digital lockers, assignment submissions, parent/student access to gradebooks, etc.), but to my knowledge, no one has yet rolled out the teaching and learning holy grail of a system that carries the best features of an LMS into the regulatory and reporting requirements of an SIS.
A single system would mean one gradebook, one student portal, one parent portal, easy access to a broad picture of student performance and engagement, and one single point of management for system administrators. It would also mean better adoption among teachers. It's hard enough getting technically reluctant teachers to use an SIS, let alone engage their students in an LMS with overlapping features. But engage them we must if we'd like to meet them where they live and provide resources in the ways that students in nearly-2012 expect.
I'm not even talking about Facebook or other social media here. No need to step into those muddy waters just yet. I'm talking about providing a compelling platform that fosters interaction and collaboration but is also simple for schools and teachers to implement and manage. Enterprise platforms are increasingly looking to unite disparate tools to make it easier for employees to get everything they need in a single, cloud-based tool. It's time that the same happened in education.