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All things relating to the North American A4L Community.... don't forget to check out the blogs on the global/locale Communities too! | Global: http://www.a4l.org/blogpost/1546358/Chapter-Locale-Global | Australia: http://www.a4l.org/blogpost/1545371/Chapter-Locale-Australia | New Zealand: https://www.a4l.org/blogpost/1854120/New-Zealand | United Kingdom: http://www.a4l.org/blogpost/1545553/Chapter-Locale-United-Kingdom

 

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Unitys Ecosystems

Posted By Penny Murray, Monday, June 1, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 1, 2020

Unity’s Ecosystems

Introduction

Before you consider if you are going to build, buy, or partner to get your application into one or more Unity Ecosystems, you are going to want to figure out what role your software will play.  In order to gain an appreciation for these options and expectations, this article lays out an overview of how integrations using the global SIF 3 Infrastructure may look.  Based on experiences from our international members, you're going to want to make it all the way to the end before you make any decisions.

 

Conventions

The diagrams in this article use symbols the reader should know about.  Along with these symbols, various roles are also explained.  Overarching assumptions that form a lens for viewing the diagrams are also enumerated.

 

Components


application

Application

Whether a Consumer script pulling down data or the most sophisticated Data Provider on the planet, this symbol represents an integrated Application and its adaptor’s REST API capabilities.

 


connections

Connection(s)

While your Consumer may need multiple connections, you should expect it to be directed to a bidirectional REST API to a single network endpoint, regardless of the typology being discussed.

 


broker

Broker

The software that (when present) connects agents together for a specific data scope by providing SIF Global Infrastructure Services through REST APIs.

 


ODS

Operational Data Store

This represents an ODS that readily provides and accepts the SIF Global Infrastructure and Unity data through REST APIs.

 


 

Roles

 Infrastructure Provider:  

The Provider of the SIF Global Infrastructure’s services to the integration.

 Data Provider:  

One or more Applications that service Unity data requests.

 Consumers:  

Applications that make Unity data requests without servicing them in return.

[1]

 [1]The SIF Global Infrastructure requires that all Applications participating in an integration be registered as Consumers, however for the purposes of this document we use a narrower definition in order to make a greater distinction between roles.

 

Assumptions

  >  Requests for data from and to impact data in Provider systems may be made by Consumers.

  >  All Consumers may participate in any one of these typologies without change, given that other systems are providing the SIF Global Infrastructure and Unity data services needed.

  >  Integrated Components may be combined or extended over time to support multiple needs at once.

  >  Existing Components may take on different complementary or even reduced roles to better fit with the growing capabilities of other Applications and their impacts on the Ecosystem.

  >  Diagrams represent certain ideal typologies and are used to create common points of reference.

  >  Components in each diagram have been arranged so that data predominately flows from left to right.


 

 

Direct Solutions

Both common in the world of the technology as the client-server model and largely inaccessible to the North American market of SIF solutions previously, direct solutions grant Consumers access to the Provider without the need for a middleman.  This makes Unity appropriate for the smallest of integrations, empowering handling synchronous data requests in both directions.  Direct Data Access means activities such as a teacher taking attendance on a tablet computer could be recorded on the Student Information System (SIS) with immediate feedback and recall.

 

Direct-SolutionsPros

  >  The simplest ecosystem possible

  >  No additional components necessary

  >  Enables simple interactions with apps

  >  Clear growth paths to take

 

Cons

  >  Only one Provider per ecosystem

  >  Only as strong as the Provider:

          +  May burden the Provider

          +  May limit the Consumers

  >  Growth requires additional components

 

Roles

Infrastructure Provider:  

Application on Left 

 Data Provider:  

Application on Left

 Consumers:  

Applications on Right

 

In this diagram the Application on the left is the server playing the roles of both Infrastructure and Data Provider, while the client Applications on the right play the role of Consumers empowered to read and write certain data directly to the Provider.  Sticking with our attendance example, imagine using your tablet with a Consumer application to load up the roster for your section and adding attendance information with both sets of data living on the Student Information System (SIS) Provider.  A very simple example, however you can take this a long way as long as you only need one provider.

 

 

Brokered Solutions

At the other extreme of the data integration world is the middleware model, which is the traditional typology for SIF integrations and is still the most capable.  This makes Unity appropriate for large scale integrations as the Broker manages the other components including connections and security.  Brokers allow States to flow data up for reporting and back down in order to positively impact administration and education.  Schools and districts use them to enable the near real time sharing of data across their systems, ensuring things such as each student being picked up and dropped off at the right place each and every day.

 

Brokered-SolutionsPros

  >  The dedicated Broker provides management of the entire integration

  >  All Applications may consume and/or provide data

  >  Mix, match, and configure Applications to create the strongest ecosystem

 

Cons

  >  Ensuring well matched quality Providers for each data domain, takes additional deliberate effort

  >  In order to maintain robustness, data may need to be exchanged asynchronously

 

Roles

   Infrastructure Provider:  

Broker in Middle 

   Data Provider:  

Some Application(s) 

   Consumers:  

Some Application(s)

     

This typology brings home the advantages of utilizing a Broker.  One of these advantages being that from any one application’s point of view the simplicity of a small integration is maintained.  Instead of seven sets of certificates, credentials, services, access control lists, connections, and more, it has one set for the Broker.  This encourages more Applications to participate in the integration.  So, when the Transportation Department verifies and shares the best addresses for a student and their contacts, it doesn’t just help bus drivers keep kids safe, it positively impacts other systems as well.  Systems like Food Services, which now have a good address to send a lunch balance report to, which in turn leads to a student getting a good meal on a day they had state testing.  Strong systems make everyone stronger and when it comes to large data integrations, the strongest have this typology.

 


 

Data Hub Solutions

For a mid-sized integration, we have found that the Global SIF Infrastructure lends itself well to a data pool style.  We often refer to an integration of this typology as a Data Hub because it creates a place to put data so that it can be queried using the Data Hub as the source of truth.  The ability to control the source data set for reporting is often a desired feature for helping ensure data quality.  This makes Unity able to evolve to meet a growing integration’s needs, as the ODS carries the load of being both the Infrastructure and Data Provider.


Data-Hub-solutionsPros

  >  No Application need be a Provider

  >  One source of truth for all queries

  >  Queries that span multiple Applications’ data can be answered

 

Cons

  >  Query results are only as up to date as the data sent to the ODS by its Consumers

 

Roles

  Infrastructure Provider:  

ODS in Middle 

   Data Provider:  

ODS in Middle 

   Consumers:  

All Applications

 

The picture shown conveys the Consumers on the left supply data through requests to the ODS in the middle which can then handle queries from the Consumers on the right.  While these are artificial limits, it helps convey how an ODS can help create a Unity Ecosystem by taking on the burdens of being the only provider.  When it comes to growth, notice that the right half of this example is exactly the same as our direct solution.  At the same time, you can see that if the two Consumers on the left-hand side became providers and the ODS was swapped out with a Broker, we would have a Brokered Solution, albeit not as large as the previous.

 


 

Hybrid Solutions

Having a common REST API and supporting services opens the door to many possibilities.  When putting together solutions, one shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match approaches in order to construct the best solutions possible.  Here is what it might look like to combine all the functionality discussed above.

Hybrid-Solutions

 

Here we have an ODS that can store whatever data isn’t provided elsewhere, linked by a Broker managing the integration, and a Direct Provider hosting additional Consumers.  While an integration like this one is best rolled out in phases, growing to this level of sophistication is a very real possibility.  In fact, many projects, both here and abroad, have used brokers as Infrastructure Providers in front of one or more Data Providers to create a more modular Data Hub.

 

 

Conclusions

When looking to enter a Unity Ecosystem there is one clear place to start and that is creating a solid Consumer.  Not only is this the least amount of work, the Ecosystems you encounter may very well already have other systems providing data so you shouldn’t assume this will be one of the roles your software will fulfill.  In such a Unity Ecosystem, your Consumer may contribute to the data by making create, update, and delete requests.  If it becomes necessary to beef up your Adaptor in order to fulfill the role of a Provider, you will be in a much better position to understand what that will take and what features are important for you to support.

 

Tags:  2020  brokered  data hub  direct  ecosystem  hybrid  Specification  Unity 

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2020 North American Elections: UPDATE

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 3, 2020
NA-Elections

2020 North American Elections: UPDATE

Following a successful nominations period, we are delighted to confirm that we have received the required number of nominations to fulfil the Elections process.  In lieu of the Community vote, the NA Elections Committee have recommended the NA Management Board complete the approval process on the ballot.  The results of the 2020 NA Elections will be announced during the opening session at the Interoperability & Privacy Symposium on March 19, 2020.

Tags:  2020  A4L Community  elections  North America 

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Proposed Changes to the Unity Product Standard

Posted By Penny Murray, Monday, February 3, 2020
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2020

Proposed Changes to the Unity Product Standard 

Unity-logoThere is no denying that the transition to the Unity Specification in North America is rapidly becoming a reality.  Because of this, the Policy & Procedures group is looking to update the requirements around SIF Certification. 

As part of this work they are proposing the following. 

  • Consumers will not be required to create their own environment, but the call will still be supported.
  •  Changes Since support will be expected of all providers.
  •  Unlevel the Transport Layer Security (TLS) to version 1.2.
  •  Certificates exchanged to verify identity employ a key length of at least 2048bits.
  •  All certificates employed must be current.
  •  All valid certificates will be accepted.
  •  Hostname and certificate mismatches are allowed.
  •  All encrypted connections employ a cypher with a minimum key length of 128bits.
  • Keep:  HTTP 1.1, XML 1.0, UTF-8, XPath 2.0, XQuery 1.0, XSDs, Gzip,& UUIDs
  •  Authentication (pick at least one):  SIF_HMACSHA256 or OAuth 2.0 /w Bearer Tokens
  •  Those using JSON will need to use PESC JSON.

 

Notes:

  1. We have one report that Gzip is not currently working with the Test Harness.
  2.  For testing our Bearer Tokens do not currently expire.

The current SIF Specification Product Standards can be found here: https://www.a4l.org/page/SIFCertification

 

Please provide any feedback or comments by February 14, 2020 to John Lovell, Technology Director.

 

Tags:  2020  Community  North America  Product Standard  SIF certification  SIF Specification  Unity 

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2020 North American Elections: Nominations open!

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, January 14, 2020

2020 North American Elections: Nominations open!

Nominations for the North American Management Board and North American At-Large Technical Board are now available.  Nominations will be open from January 15 - February 12, 2020 (inclusive).  

The North American Management Board is elected for two-year terms.  This year there will be five (5) seats open for the North American Management Board.  To be eligible to run for the North American Management Board, the individuals shall be at least eighteen (18) years old and be A4L Community Voting Participants or employed by or representing an A4L Community Voting Participant and duly authorized to represent that A4L Community Voting Participant, but need not be residents of the District of Columbia.  An A4L Community Voting Participant Member institution (including associated subsidiaries of an A4L Community Voting Participant) may have at most one representative on the North American Management Board at one time. 

Those North American Management Board Members that are serving their second year of a two-year term and will be returning to the North American Management Board for 2020 include:

  • Aish Agrawal, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  •  Andrea Bennett, CITE
  • Peter Drescher, Vermont Agency of Education
  • George Gatsis, Follett School Solutions
  • Jim McGlynn, Public Consulting Group
  • Jay Pennington, Iowa Department of Education

The North American At-Large Technical Board is elected for a one-year term.  There are four (4) seats open for the At-Large Technical Board members. North American At-Large Technical Board members must be A4L Community Voting Participants or employed by or represent an A4L Community Voting Participant and duly authorized to represent that A4L Community Voting Participant. 

You can download the policies and procedures for the Annual Elections as outlined by the Elections Committee at: https://www.a4l.org/resource/collection/B97C225C-E805-4025-82E7-E3285528892A/2020_North_American_Board_Elections_Process_and_Policies_FINAL.pdf

For the 2020 A4L Community Annual Election process, the following dates apply:

  • January 15, 2020Nominations open
  • February 12, 2020Nominations close
  • by February 19, 2020: Elections Committee convenes to confirm ballot
  • February 25, 2020: Ballot released
  • March 10, 2020: Voting closes at 5:00 pm Eastern
  • March 11, 2020: Elections Committee convenes to confirm results
  • March 18, 2020: Elections results announced during the Interoperability & Privacy Symposium

The A4L Community will be using a virtual election tool and all nominations must be submitted electronically.  Nomination information will be sent to all North American A4L Community members via email.  Please consider nominating yourself or someone else to run for one of these leadership positions.  The Primary Business Contact will be the official vote for each A4L Community Voting Participant.  Please contact Penny Murray to confirm your Primary Business Contact. 

Sincerely, 
Larry L. Fruth II, Ph.D.
Executive Director/CEO, A4L Community

Tags:  2020  A4L Community  elections  North America 

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Announcement to Membership: 2020 North American Elections

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, December 17, 2019

NAElections

Announcement to Membership: 2020 North American Elections

The Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community has continued to have phenomenal leadership over the past year.  The leadership, guidance and overall dedication to the Community prove critical to our collective successes. With the upcoming Annual Meeting, it is hard to believe that it is time for elections again!  Nominations for the North American Management Board and At-Large Technical Board will be available from January 15 - February 12, 2020 (inclusive).
 
The Management Board is elected for two-year terms.  This year there will be five (5) seats open for the Management Board.  To be eligible to run for the Management Board, the individuals shall be at least eighteen (18) years old and be A4L Community Voting Participants or employed by or representing an A4L Community Voting Participant and duly authorized to represent that A4L Community Voting Participant, but need not be residents of the District of Columbia.  An A4L Community Voting Participant Member institution (including associated subsidiaries of an A4L Community Voting Participant) may have at most one representative on the Management Board at one time.

The At-Large Technical Board is elected for a one-year term.  There are four (4) seats open for the At-Large Technical Board members.  At-Large Technical Board members must be A4L Community Voting Participants or employed by or represent an A4L Community Voting Participant and duly authorized to represent that A4L Community Voting Participant.

You can download the policies and procedures for the Annual Elections as outlined by the Elections Committee on the A4L Community Site here (login required).

For the 2020 A4L Community North American Annual Election process, the following dates apply:

  • December 17, 2020: Announcement to membership that elections will occur
  • January 15, 2020: Nominations open
  • February 12, 2020: Nominations close
  • by February 19, 2020: Elections Committee convenes to confirm ballot
  • February 25, 2020: Ballot released
  • March 10, 2020: Voting closes at 5:00 pm Eastern
  • March 11, 2020: Elections Committee convenes to confirm results
  • March 18, 2020: Elections results announced during the Interoperability & Privacy Symposium

We will use a virtual election tool and all nominations must be submitted electronically.  The Primary Business Contact will be the official vote for each A4L Community Voting Participant, unless a designee is provided.  Please contact Penny Murray, to confirm your Primary Business Contact, or organization ‘designee’ for the 2020 NA Elections.

We will send out information to submit your nomination beginning on January 15, 2020.  Please consider nominating yourself, asking someone to nominate you or nominate someone else to run for one of these leadership positions within the A4L Community!

 

Tags:  2019  2020  Community  Elections  North America 

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SIF Unity Specification (North America): errata published

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 30, 2019

SIF Unity (North America): errata published

UnitySpecification

It has been reported by A4L Community members that there were a few inconsistencies in the recent release of the SIF Data Model Specification 4.0 (also known as the Unity Specification), and the Community has been working hard to address them. 

We made the release designed for ease of adoption, even easier to move to!  Those who dive into the depths of the SIF Unity Errata are likely to get a bit confused... the changes are so subtle and designed to change the meaning zero percent, one might ask, “Why they exist?” The answer is ease of use.

Those working with system that are case insensitive won’t run into conflicts when leveraging the schemas to do common activities, such as generating code.  Also, in the errata you will find guidance on how to work around one conflict you may encounter, but we simply could not handle on our end.  So, if you are work with the Unity release, it may be easier to grab a copy dated June 24, 2019.

To review the SIF Unity Specification, please go to: http://specification.sifassociation.org/Implementation/NA/4.0/

 

 

Tags:  2019  Data Model  errata  North America  Specification 

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The Global Education Privacy Standard (GEPS) is ready for prime time!

Posted By Penny Murray, Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Global Education Privacy Standard – or GEPS – is finally a reality and ready for prime time! 

 

SDPC-GEPSThe tool aligns contract clauses with technical obligations to meet those clauses and then allows you to map those obligations to control benchmarks from any source (IEEE, ISO, NIST, etc.) to create a machine readable XML Privacy Obligations Document (POD). The POD can accompany a contract between end user and vendor. 

 

What does that mean for you? 

If you are an end user it means you can instantly communicate the critical privacy expectations with your vendors beyond normal contract terms in an automated way.  Vendors benefit by getting enough information in the POD to deliver on the expectations of their customers and then be able to validate they fulfil their part in privacy stewardship. 

 

To find out more, please visit: https://privacy.a4l.org/geps/

 

Tags:  2019  GEPS  Global Education Privacy Standard  SDPC 

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Migration 0: Making Unity the Obvious Choice

Posted By Penny Murray, Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Migration 0: Making Unity the Obvious Choice

 

migration

For the North American market, the Unity Specification seeks to meet the SIF devotee where they are, and add value on top. 

 

As we listened to various stake holders we heard:

  • We must have backwards compatibility with the SIF 2 Data Model that we have built up and built on for the last two decades.
  • We want the more efficient and more easily built to REST based infrastructure underneath.
  • We demand a better mechanism to support option sets: as they evolve: as they are localized, and in particular tying them to CEDS.
  • We require those who adopted SIF 3 to be included, particularly those leveraging xPress Roster.
  • We aspire to be the first standard moving Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).


Unity has all of the above features, making a migration path both reasonable and fruitful... yet the path is still unclear. 

 

We need some trailblazers, willing to help us put together a guidebook.  We hope to have chapters on how to: start fresh, leverage compatibility, and exchange data more robustly.  So, if you already consider yourself a guide or are willing to be one of our great trailblazers, make sure your membership is up to date, then join the Migration team!

 

For further information, please contact John Lovell, Technology Director (jlovell@A4L.org).

 

Tags:  2019  Community  migration  North America  working group 

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'Unity’ Specification enters Community Review

Posted By Penny Murray, Friday, March 29, 2019

'Unity’ Specification enters Community Review

 

SIFSpecThe Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community, is now proud to cause a new “buzz” – the best of the best from 20 years of interoperability specifications to address school needs and allow for states and vendors to implement the US Department of Education’s Common Education Data Standards (CEDS).  The new Specification – code named “Unity” – is built using 20 years of experience by our more than 3,000 volunteer members developed using open, non-proprietary and transparent processes linked to a quality control Certification Program.  It contains the most comprehensive K12 data model and modern transport technologies to securely move the data to provide it to the right person at the right time in the right way under local data privacy policies.

The North American Technical Board (NATB) has set out to provide the market with an incremental path forward… and the recipe is simple!.  This draft Specification includes data objects from the (NA) 2.8 Data Model; xPress Roster objects; IEP objects; Address and Student Program Association objects; Support of UUIDs and legacy GUIDs; Pluggable Code Sets & Extension Points throughout; and CEDS Mapping.

The Community Review is currently slated to run from March 28 – April 14, 2019 (inclusive).  ALL North American Community Members are encouraged to provide their approval/feedback before COB on April 14 and will need to login to the website to access the survey here.

 

Tags:  2019  Community Review  Specification  Unity 

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If you have not seen the State Student Privacy Report Card, the grades are not good...

Posted By Penny Murray, Friday, February 1, 2019

If you have not seen the State Student Privacy Report Card, the grades are not good...

You may have seen the recent release of the State Student Privacy Report Card which analyzes the thoroughness and quality of student-data privacy laws passed in the LogoU.S. in the past five years.  If you have not seen it, the grades are not good.  On the one hand it shows that there is a lot of work to be done on the legislative front regarding student privacy, it also does not address or advocate for supporting the “on the ground” realities schools and districts face every day in their roles as data stewards.

This “you should…” versus “you can by…” is the reason that the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) was initiated.  All the legislation, pledges, promises, suggested guidelines and signatories have elevated the conversation around student data privacy but not the “how” to act to ensure it.  The three key activities being addressed by this non-profit, membership driven community of thousands of schools, dozens of states, numerous countries AND marketplace providers are tactical with possible immediate how to impact:

  1. Privacy Contract Vetting: The Common Contract Framework is a set of tools allowing schools to manage their numerous applications, streamline contracting for them, and workflow from the identification of an application to its implementation in a school/district – and everyone informed throughout!  There are now 7 State Alliances using the same contract clauses for all vendors.  That is critical mass!
  2. Privacy Effective Practice Development and Sharing: The Digital Tools Governance project provides a “how to” develop any privacy policy, procedure, process in addressing issues in each digital ecosystem.  You can craft teacher PD, FERPA 101 for vendors, data breech policies, vendor engagement, etc. – you pick the topic!  You can then share your product with the rest of the Community.
  3. Technical Privacy Expectations: The Global Education Privacy Standard (GEPS) will allow the legalese in contracts to be converted into technical requirements so suppliers can get the relevant information they need from their customers and allow them to prove the adherence to those contract terms.  This is a collaborative effort between the SDPC and the technical wizards of the Access 4 Learning Community and their SIF Technical Specifications.

To see if your state has an SDPC Alliance (there are 22 now with more coming in each week) you can be a part of, or are interested in learning more about the tools, community and support in your tactical student privacy issues drop us a line.  Don’t wait on legislation to fix this!

 

 

Tags:  2019  external  State Privacy Report Card 

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