How to Turn a District’s Edtech Portfolio From a Hodgepodge to an Ecosystem

[In today’s world of digital resources, it’s hard to find a way to access everything seamlessly. The Houston School District has developed a digital ecosystem that allows teachers and students to access all resources from one portal. Discover more about their system in this Edusurge article. I work Beatrice Arnillas, the Chief Technology Officer, on the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee. It’s taken a number of years, but the Houston ISD has created a system that other schools may want to investigate. According to Beatrice, “The Houston Independent School District (HISD)’s response to this challenge has been to adopt IMS Global’s Learning Tools Interoperability Standards. Through these standards, we have eliminated multiple login/passwords and we are able to open high-quality digital content provided by multiple vendors in one platform, which we call “The HUB.””]

By Christine Willig, Oct 29, 2016


This fall, Jillian Estrella started her fourth year as a science teacher at the Energy Institute High School in Houston. To most outsiders, Energy Institute High School might feel like a school of the future. There are Smart TVs in every classroom and interactive whiteboards and table tablets in the student media lounge. All course content, assignments, grades, shared documents and study tools are delivered digitally. They are accessible through a centralized online portal that the school district rolled out three years ago.

On the first day of school, students have laptops assigned to them, and through the district portal, they have instant access to dozens of resources and apps—from Khan Academy to Google Drive to McGraw-Hill Education. When Ms. Estrella opens her own laptop on day one, she can click into one of these apps and track what her students are doing and how they are progressing. The various digital programs interact with one another and student data flows between each one. Why? Because school leaders in Houston have focused on solving a key issue: interoperability.

Four years ago, before the Houston Independent School District (HISD) began to tackle the interoperability issue, student digital learning wouldn’t have been so simple and so seamless. For example, if Ms. Estrella wanted her classes to use a variety of different digital tools, she would have to input all the names and email addresses of her students—manually—and generate new usernames and passwords for each of the various programs. Then she would have to figure out a system to help students remember those login credentials.

In the past, “I didn’t make use of as many digital apps because I didn’t have time to input all that information,” Ms. Estrella said, recalling her first year in the classroom. The problem she faced was that the different online tools and programs that were available to her students didn’t operate together and couldn’t exchange information.

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