From Point Solutions to Platforms: Breaking Down Technology Siloes to Benefit Faculty and Students

Bradley S. Fordham, Ph.D., CTO, Echo360, Inc
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Bradley S. Fordham, Ph.D., CTO, Echo360, Inc

Today, faculties are faced with an astonishing array of point solutions for the classroom designed to help them engage students or understand their unique challenges. From “clickers” to chat tools to online whiteboards to adaptive assessment and analytics software, faculties are often expected use dozens of applications at one time. As a result, initiative fatigue abounds. They are tire of being asked to try new tools. Data siloes emerge as the promise of newfound insights–or efficiencies–fall by the wayside.

For better or worse, the “silo phase” along higher education’s tech adoption curve is not unique. Over time, platforms emerge to integrate historically disparate, and frequently contradictory, point solutions. The emergence of the mega law firm in the 90s led to the development of case management platforms that unified time tracking, scheduling, legal document management, and other applications to make life easier for lawyers and enable firms to manage complex workflows across the enterprise.

More recently, corporate supply chains have been transformed as point solutions for procurement, factory operations, distribution, and fleet management give way to just-in-time manufacturing and inventory solutions that enable line managers receive the parts they need—and executives to better manage inventory.

‚Äč  The more that point software is integrated into complex and repeated workflows, the more beneficial integration becomes 

Consumer technology evolves in much the same way. Facebook began as a networking and dating app but morphed into a communication, media, and advertising platform.  Even Excel, Powerpoint, Word were once point solutions. Of course, the benefits of interoperability led to the creation of Office as in integrated platform. And Microsoft’s recent LinkedIn acquisition now signals unprecedented integration between social media and historic desktop functions.

But the product integrations that lead to platforms aren’t always obvious or intuitive. Whether a particular point solution remains focused is driven by the use case and needs of the users. The more that point software is integrated into complex and repeated workflows, the more beneficial integration becomes. In higher education, the teaching and learning workflows that exist between teachers and students are among the most complex of any sector. And because the teacher-student workflows bridge different departments and technology stacks (including curriculum, assessment, collaboration, student intervention, research) the pain associated with siloed technology is growing.

The evolution of lecture capture exemplifies this phenomenon. Historically optimized for one-way training, universities like University of Cincinnati and Indian River State College are beginning to integrate live streaming for students, with in-class data collection, and content distribution to transform the teaching and learning experience.

So, how and why do point solutions transform into platforms? And how might today’s array of point solutions for faculty evolve into a practical platform for higher education?

Users Converge: Solutions often evolve into platforms when the needs of end-users converge. Lecture capture, for example, had two primary users–teachers, and students. Over time, administrative functions such as attendance tracking, learning object analysis, and student outcome measurements were layered on. Technical capabilities, like lecture capture and playback, are being turned into analytic apps that create an enhanced student experience, and generate insights on teaching and learning in real-time. Today, savvy administrators and IR shops are looking to lecture capture as a powerful source of student behavioral data–creating an entirely, new, analytics driven set of users.

Common Standards and Interoperability: Organizations like IMS Global are building the standards that make it easy to integrate data from different places; for example, a teaching and learning program to a learning management system. As historically disconnected systems begin to talk to one another, the inherent value of their data can be unlocked. In higher education, data from student-facing applications now power institutional research and analytics initiatives. Over time obvious integrations and seeds of new platforms are planted.

The sum is greater than the whole: Lecture capture solutions can help students re-experience instruction at their convenience for deeper comprehension. Chat and instant messaging tools can help peer to peer student interactions. Clickers may help an instructor see if a student cohort is following a key point in a lecture.  Note taking tools can help students keep track of their thoughts. Together, the data from point solutions provide insights into student behavior–and early warning indicators for faculty to intervene and make an impact. The pedagogical payoff stems from an enhanced understanding how and why students learned.  

Expectations Change: The ease of consumer technology has created the expectation, quite rightly, that technology should be simple, that a new solution should be up and working at the flip of a switch. Faculty-consumers want to see all of their data in one place. Without integration powerful insights disappear into the various data stores of isolated tools. That calls for a streamlined, elegant solution.

Teaching and learning is more complex than the work done in many other industries. It requires presenting material in ways that suit both the student and the instructor. It must offer satisfying peer interactions, teacher feedback, and sophisticated assessment. And today, it must answer the urgent call to offer better results to a more diverse student population.

So colleges can’t afford to sit back and watch as their students and faculty wade through a bureaucratic sea of edtech offerings. Their communities deserve simplified platforms that will allow them to get down to the business of teaching the next generation of leaders.

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