App Overload: Declutter Your Edtech

What is siloing? How can institutions avoid it altogether and declutter their tech stack? Take a look at some key tips for streamlining your use of edtech apps and platforms.

There’s a keyword in edtech that you may have heard of: siloing.

What is siloing? Well, it’s when different departments in an institution for one reason or another don’t collaborate. They each have their own technologies, their own approaches, their own silos. Those departments like to hunker down, close ranks — or so the story goes.

But without collaboration and scale or widespread digital integration, any implementation of edtech apps or platforms is bound to fail.

As EduCause’s report says:

We are in the data era, when data is the most valuable commodity of higher education institutions. But data doesn't deliver value on its own; it needs our assistance and intervention. Institutional leaders can't afford to think of their data systems as independent products or services. They need to think of these systems as one interconnected whole.

We agree. Digital initiatives are nothing without collaboration, especially in the age of big data and even bigger analytics. The benefits of using a smaller number of integrated platforms across the whole institution are massive.

Take BibliU’s Learning Enablement platform, for example.

We offer highly detailed analytics at macro- and micro-level, but all the data in the world is useless if it is packaged into its respective silos. In this case, an instructor might be able to know how students are doing in one course, but the institution can miss gaps in those students’ performance as a whole.

This can be really bad for student success and retention.

The Human Element is Missing

EduCause’s report dives deep. Their advice is by and large technical, but easy enough to implement with the right know-how.

  • Make sure that all parts of an institution share the same technical architecture: that they’re using the same systems, and that those systems are linked and can talk to each other.
  • Optimize privacy protocols so that data breaches and technical failures don’t spread across the whole institution. We don’t want different departments or instructors abandoning edtech out of frustration!
  • Ensure data governance. Implement clear standards around who is responsible for what parts of the architecture so as to secure information from security breaches and ensure a clear chain of command if something goes wrong.

But the report doesn’t solve the following, what it sees as its biggest challenge:

The most challenging aspect of digital integrations is the need for the institution and the ecosystem to advance from an ethos of independence to one of interdependence. Within the institution, optimizing at the individual or the departmental level is no longer ideal. Yet the ensuing loss of autonomy involved in becoming interdependent is often unwelcome. It needs to be reframed as a gain: new insights, functionality, and productivity.

We all see the problem. We can have all the technical fixes in the world, but if we’re not convincing instructors across the whole institution as to why edtech is best, there will remain a fundamental reluctance in key parts of your institution to digital implementation.

In other words, digital integration is missing its human element.

An Old Discussion

There's an interesting article from the Institute of Educational Services entitled "Will New Teachers be Prepared to Teach in a Digital Age?" It’s a question that’s very relevant now. But it was written in 1999.

Despite the "digital" in "digital integration," this isn’t a new discussion. It’s one we’ve been having for more than twenty years. How do we ensure that instructors are using the technologies that noticeably improve education outcomes. More than this: how do we ensure that instructors want to use them?

Because, as one of EduCause’s top issues for the next decade, this clearly isn’t a problem that’s being solved. And we don’t want it to be a problem in ten years’ time.

Solutions from the Bottom-Up

We’re so often used to hearing about leadership in our society. It’s incredibly important, especially when we’re facing global shifts towards an interconnected world and increasingly global problems. But one word that leaders know by heart seems to be missing from #Edtech’s vocabulary: listening.

It’s an old solution for an old problem. Just because something’s digital doesn’t mean we want to abandon what’s necessary. Information technology after all is just a means to communicate ideas.

We need to listen to instructors. It’s not just me saying it, but is the point in an excellent article by Learning Consultant Dr. Beth Holland. As Dr. Holland writes, instructors often see technologies as imposed by above, without much consideration as to the effort or inconvenience these technologies can bring to bear on the instructor and, by extension, their students.

Once we have started listening to instructors and administrators, we can begin to propose a number of solutions. We’ve tried it, and it works. In numerous interviews with leading educators across the United States over the past several months we’ve come up with a number of takeaways that will noticeably increase the success of any digital implementation.

Digital Integration has to come from the ground up. Here’s one big thing that we’ve been hearing: app overload and instructor autonomy. Siloing sets up one big roadblock for digital integration, something I like to call "app overload."

The Age of Easy Integration

It’s true that education technology has come a long way from the old-fashioned Learning Management Systems (LMS) of the early 2000s. Many companies now offer plug-in software that integrates seamlessly into an institution’s current systems. This is something Educause’s report sees as one of the big improvements over the past decade, and one that will keep on giving. We agree.

But easy integration doesn’t solve a fundamental problem. If each department (or in the worst case instructor) is using their own edtech, you still have app overload. Apps clash, different apps are used for the same purpose, and resources are wasted on redundant or outdated technology. All of this confuses students.

What we need is more blended learning edtech. Simply enough, we need to be implementing one system that gives faculty and instructors choice. This is what instructors have been telling us that they want. What's one example in action? One of the big trends in edtech is Open Educational Resources, or OER. Awareness of the potential of OER has reached critical mass in the past two years, and even legislators are keying in to its wide potential to lower costs for students.

But some instructors simply don’t like it. Sometimes OER just doesn’t work for them. Indispensable books for a course can be copyrighted, or instructors want to be compensated for the hard work they do in writing textbooks. We respect these choices.

What’s the point we're making here?  It's simple: for digital integration to succeed, we need to respect instructor autonomy.

And the good news is that we can do it!

How to Succeed With Edtech Apps

With a Learning Enablement platform like BibliU, you can incorporate different resources into one piece of edtech. If one department or instructor prefers OER and the other prefers publisher content, this can all be incorporated into BibliU. Your students and instructors will have access to an easy-to-use platform that respects instructor autonomy.

The benefits to this approach are threefold:

  1. If instructors want, they can fully embrace OER. They can push for further equity within their institution and provide free or low-cost resources to their students without stepping on their colleagues’ toes.
  2. Instructors can still incorporate publisher content into BibliU’s platform. They can still provide access to indispensable or copyrighted texts.
  3. The cost to students is lower in both cases.

On the one hand, they won’t be paying for OER delivered over BibliU’s platform; on the other, publisher content in BibliU’s platform is delivered at a significant discount. This saves both your institution and the student from the hidden costs of education.

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