Schools are information-rich places; teaching and learning necessitates individuals and groups have access to, manipulate, and create information, but running the organization also necessitates administrative and human resource information needs be met. While many of these functions fall outside the focus of this book on teaching and learning, there are several web services that are ancillary to teaching and learning, but that have important implications for teachers.
Student Information Systems
There are a wide range of records kept about students in schools. The list includes demographics (to confirm residency and accurate knowledge of legal guardianship), health records, disciplinary and attendance records, and academic records. These records must be accurate as they are reported to governmental agencies and other schools and organizations, and they may be used as evidence in legal actions. While some student records are still maintained as paper records, most new student records are maintained on student information systems (SIS) that are provided as web service.
Compared to traditional paper-only student information systems, one of the greatest advantages of web-based SIS is the ability of IT managers to query the data contained in the SIS to answer questions and generate reports regarding students’ performance or other aspects of students’ experiences at school. This has resulted in the emergence of the data analyst as a specialized role within the collection of IT professionals employed in schools. These individuals manage the data in the SIS and write programs to create necessary reports, so the information about schools is more available to leaders and governing bodies than it was when student records were paper.
A web-based SIS can also make information more available to parents and guardians than paper records. When fully configured and deployed, a web-based SIS will allow authorized individuals to create accounts that are given access to view students’ information, including grades in individual courses. The online gradebook can be a technology that leads to controversy in communities. While it can be a source of information about performance, many teachers see this as an inappropriate intrusion into the learning community they create within their classrooms.
In schools where both an SIS and an LMS are used, teachers and IT managers typically face a decision about which gradebook to use—either the one in the LMS or the one that is part of the SIS. While parent or observer accounts can be created in LMS’s to allow others to see a user’s grade, this capacity usually requires additional configuration of the LMS beyond the base installation. Student information systems marketed to K-12 schools have parent or observer accounts as part of the core installation. In some cases, the LMS and the SIS can be connected so that grades entered in the LMS can populate the SIS. A particular concern when configuring the SIS is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which protects students’ privacy. When configuring a SIS that is a web service, school IT managers must take steps to ensure that systems are protected from internal and external threat that would expose that data to unauthorized audiences.
Document and Business Management
Schools are social organizations, thus places in which policies and procedures requires information be shared so that tasks can be assigned and resources managed in an equitable and efficient manner. Teachers and others are involved in recommending budget and other decisions, they request purchase be made, and events be scheduled. All of these depend on web-based services that are reliably available and that provide the necessary information in an effective and easy-to-use manner. While these tools fall outside of the collection of tools that directly affect teaching and learning, educators who can manage these aspects of their professional work have more time for their most important work.
Two information management tools for internal audiences that are not specific to teaching and learning, but that have important implications for the technology-using experiences of teachers and their students are the system for scheduling shared resources as well as the system for requesting technology support. Both of those are detailed in “Chapter 6: Technology Support Services.”