Praise for procurement pilots

Over the past several weeks, there have been a couple of really exciting articles highlighting new efforts to streamline and decrease the level of effort required to procure educational technology. (These are in addition to other recent coverage about the complexities involved with such.)

UNC has taken the approach of standing up a curated “app store” for all of their campuses. Their site appears to put a heavy emphasis on streamlining contract language across multiple vendors and finding best-in-class learning tools that can be used together rather than continuing to utilize “the monolithic collection of functionality that is the learning management system.” Negotiating legalese among multiple edtech vendors is a painful experience. Starting up-front with a standard contract kind of flips the usual model and should make signing on with these vendors much easier should they agree.

A separate pilot effort involving a wide variety of participants from several states (and K-12 districts) took a different approach. This effort wasn’t targeted specifically at learning tools and also included content repositories, library resources, shared wireless network access, student advising software, and even web-based e-mail/productivity software. Instead of focusing on negotiating contracts, they instead focused on negotiating trusted access to shared online resources through participation in a trusted federation.

Trusted federations such as those provided through InCommon offer an interesting complement to many of the integration mechanisms found within LMSs. Taking this approach turns “launches” into links, meaning that learning tools and resources are easier to share and bookmark outside of the LMS rather than having to rely on the LMS to intermediate configuration and access control.

At this time, there are almost 250 commercial vendors who offer products that support federated authentication through InCommon. If your organization is a member, the vendor you want to use is a member, and your organization’s technical staff configures the requisite identity management software, authentication and user provisioning just happen using an open standard called SAML and no end-user (i.e.: teacher, student, or instructional designer/content developer) configuration required.

We should seek to learn more from these pilots and applaud those involved for their efforts to improve the system by trying approaches that are novel and different. Great work.

-George Kroner (personal thoughts do not represent my employer’s)