Last week the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), a division of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), saw the successful completion of the first SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework) “Connect-a-thon,” in which member companies successfully networked their SIF-enabled software applications together over the Internet.
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The goal of the Connect-a-thon was to provide a “real world” environment for SIF member companies to test their SIF-enabled applications. The companies connected their software applications together as a “virtual” school and exchanged data utilizing the functionality defined by the SIF technology specification.
The SIF specification is a technical blueprint that lets schools share data more efficiently by providing universal data standards that enable multiple programs to share information within a school or district, across different software and hardware platforms, according to Tim Magner, SIF Director. The Connect-a-thon is a follow up to last November’s SIF Developer’s Camp.
It was at the 2000 NECC (National Education Computer Conference) that Advantage Learning Systems and Apple had the fist-ever demo of SIF — dubbed “SIF in Action.” It was the first time anyone was able to actually see SIF technology in action. See our
July 5, 2000 report
The Connect-a-thon demonstrated the success of this framework for software interoperability that is platform independent and vendor neutral, Magner said.In addition, the distributed nature of these connections demonstrates that the SIF model supports a variety of implementation scenarios that include local installation as well as remote hosting of applications and services, he added.By implementing SIF, schools are able to share and control the necessary information needed to operate administrative applications successfully and efficiently, Magner said.
The (SIF) is an initiative driven by K-12 education technology providers and users to “revolutionize the management and accessibility of data within schools and school districts. SIF will enable diverse applications to interact and share data efficiently, reliably and securely regardless of the platform hosting the applications.” SIF has united over 120 education technology providers, including Apple, participating.
The SIF spec could be a major breakthrough for educators as it could have a major impact on the way information is stored, accessed, updated and transferred. As a blueprint for school interoperability and data access, it makes sure that software packages from different vendors (or at least participating vendors) can share data seamlessly. This could mean more cooperation between applications and lowered costs at the school, district and state levels.
Applications won’t have to be rewritten from scratch to become SIF compliant. However, an “SIF interface agent” will have to be added to their code base for this to happen. SIF members feel that this implementation can be done in minimal updates of existing software.
This means that the upfront costs to schools for a “SIF environment” will be for any necessary software upgrades, support staff, and a Zone Integration Server (ZIS). A ZIS serves as a central clearinghouse for all SIF communication. A SIF agent is the link between the application and the ZIS. Working with a software application, a SIF agent sends and receives data between the ZIS and other SIF-compliant applications. All this occurs without any direct involvement from the user.
To send messages to the ZIS, all cooperating software companies have to build the aforementioned SIF interface agent into their software. Of course, companies may choose to release both SIF and non-SIF versions of software.
Despite the upfront costs, if the SIF specs catch on, they can reduce maintenance costs for educational institutes and offer more comprehensive reporting methods. And SIF will aide parents, teachers, students, building administrators, school boards, central administration and community members by allowing the sharing of data among applications and enabling them to do what they do best.
a June 27, 2000 interview
Apple said that the SIF benefits to administrators and school boards include:
Immediate access to all school data, including information that’s housed in different systems, such as student information, food services, and transportation systems
Improved data analysis through access to multiple data sources
Reduced data redundancies, thereby reducing potential errors
For IT (Information Technology) departments, SIF can, according to Apple:
Minimize the time and money it takes to manage multiple data sources
Reduce support costs by running open, off-the-shelf technologies
Develop tools that allow users to access needed data instead of spending time maintaining obsolete code
Leverage a school district’s investment in networking technologies that make data accessible to users throughout the system.
Finally, Apple said SIF lets site level administrators and teachers:
Gain real-time access to bus schedules and student lunch records, as well as attendance, grading and discipline reports
Increase efficiency and improve learning by integrating instructional and administrative systems such as curriculum management, human resources, professional development and library systems
Gain choice in technologies by selecting instructional applications that meet programmatic needs.