Expert Viewpoint

How to Bounce Back After an 11th-Hour Technology Switch

Five steps to finding, implementing and rolling out a technology platform in a pinch

The 2017–2018 school year was a scant seven weeks away when we realized that the learning management system (LMS) that the state consortium had picked for a statewide contract did not align with our district's commitment to data governance, nor did it meet the rigorous user data Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal Program developed by CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking). After all, we are responsible for safeguarding our student's data privacy in a digital terrain, and we take that responsibility very seriously.

Once we learned that the selected LMS vendor didn't meet the TLE standards — and facing a looming deadline to get our new system integrated—we started looking for a solution that would support our district's commitment to this 21st century educational challenge of student data privacy and security.

Here's how we did it:

  1. Read the fine print. In the case of our LMS, we realized that the vendor our state consortium had chosen for us just wasn't going to cut it when it came to student data privacy. And even though that vendor had gone through the bidding process, was integrated with our student information system (SIS), and offered its LMS at a discounted rate to our consortium of schools, it didn't align with our data governance addendum. Where we were really held up was with insurance coverage for data breaches, so we basically couldn't come to terms on liability and coverage in the event of a data breach.
  2. If the technology doesn't live up to your standards, scrap it and start over. So, there we were at a stalemate. It was the middle of the summer and our teachers had gone home for their breaks thinking that the new LMS would be ready to use when they got back. We had all of the gears rolling and everyone was happy. That changed just seven weeks before the start of school, when we had to scrap that plan and select a new LMS.
  3. Put your students first every time. Schools spend a lot of energy and resources on ensuring the physical safety of their students, but we need to protect them both physically and digitally. Many people are just coming to terms with the idea that the digital safety of our kids needs to be just as high of a priority. The difference is, if a child is hurt today physically, I know about it today or tomorrow. I know about it in a relatively short period of time. With a data breach, however, I might not know the impacts until 12 years from now, and those impacts can affect a child for the rest of his or her life.
  4. Don't be afraid to make a big move. We were willing to walk away from a critical instructional system on the 11th hour and instead implemented the itslearning LMS.  itslearning's commitment to strengthen student's rights to privacy are derived from early global adoption of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which are laws governing the protection of personal data. Did the last-minute switch hurt? Absolutely. Were there some protests? Absolutely. But in the end itslearning offered the kind of data usage policies that would keep our users' data safe.  It was a no-brainer as far as we were concerned.
  5. Learn from prior missteps. When we started looking for a replacement LMS, we knew that we wanted one that could integrate with our existing systems; streamline workflows for tasks like assignment creation and assessments; and support rich messaging and mobile apps (to name just a few). We also wanted a solution that met the Trusted Learning Environment standards. We found what we were looking for. We went live Aug. 16, exported the data from SIS and into the LMS quickly, completed our teacher training and had the system in place and ready to use by the time school started. Our key stakeholders (about 10 to 15 teachers) are using it now at the secondary level, and during year 2 it will be available to any teacher who wants to use it. By year 3, we'll be building critical mass across all schools.

We now know that our LMS provides a high-level of concern for the integrity of our data and makes sure that everything works as promised. To other schools that may be facing a similar predicament and looming deadline, my advice is that if the vendor isn't willing to do things the right way, don't settle. Make the right choice for you and for your district as a whole. There's always a path to success.

About the Author

Melissa Tebbenkamp, CETL, is director of Instructional Technology, Raytown Quality Schools, Raytown, MO.