ISTE Releases A Practical Guide for Educators on Buying Edtech

To support market demands and inform procurement decisions, ISTE along with Project Unicorn, created the Better Edtech Buying for Educators: A Practical Guide. The guide provides an overview of the ISTE standards and alignment of technology to student learning goals, the importance of research and evidence in purchasing considerations, information about data interoperability and student privacy, and challenges of implementation with suggestions for ongoing support.

ISTE and Project Unicorn Release EdTech Buying Guide for Educators

To provide more insight and guidance into how edtech purchasing happens and consider how educators and leaders can work together to make more informed purchasing decisions, the International Society for Technology in Education and Project Unicorn have released Better Edtech Buying for Educators: A Practical Guide. In an increasingly complex digital landscape, educators and staff responsible for purchasing decisions have a lot to consider, including questions like: Will a particular app meet our learning goals? Will it work with our school’s infrastructure? Does it comply with data privacy laws? Does it complement existing tools? And, how do I get my data out of the tool to inform teaching and learning? The Guide was developed specifically with educators and district leaders in mind to provide practical steps for more-informed edtech decision making.

The Edtech Buying Process Is Broken. ISTE Says Teachers Can Fix It.

The edtech playground is one of a handful of case studies featured in a new edtech buying guide released by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a non-profit organization, and Project Unicorn, an initiative to improve data interoperability in K-12.

New Buying Guide Aims to Show Educators How to Improve Ed-Tech Purchasing

School districts and teachers deluged with ed-tech options now can access a new buying guide from ISTE and Project Unicorn. It’s designed to give administrators and educators ideas about how to select the best products for their instructional purposes. One goal of “Better Edtech Buying for Educators: A Practical Guide”—which is being released today by the two organizations at SXSWedu—is to improve collaboration between teachers and district officials in choosing what digital tools they use.

Future of Learning: Dispatches from iNACOL 2018

Project Unicorn is among the leading advocates for interoperability, which refers to the technical side of making that data merge possible.  Now schools can search for interoperable products in the Project Unicorn Product Library, powered by LearnPlatform, for free. Check it out by creating an account here.  

Project Unicorn Advocates for Smart Educational Data Usage

Project Unicorn thinks using data in a smarter way will only improve instruction, parent-teacher relationships, and a school’s impact in a community, and they hope to get enough districts and vendors committed to making a big difference.

96 Edtech Predictions for K12 in 2019

What the industry needs is a place where interoperability can be discussed and advocated without complicated jargon and a standards bias—maybe a “Church of Interoperability” that’s open to all. I see Project Unicorn possibly filling this role. They see the bigger picture and nicely bridge the tech and curriculum sides of the discussion.

Top Education Trend of 2018: Active Learning Spaces

The shift from marking time to measuring learning will be generational in length, but our landscape analysis suggests several interesting signs of progress that will be evident in 2019... More demand for interoperability will be evident as a result of efforts like Project Unicorn.  

Digging into Data Interoperability with the League of Innovate Schools

If we want every student to benefit from access to their learning objectives and progress, then we need to provide teachers with the infrastructure and tools to support student learning with accessible real-time data. Learn more about data interoperability and the work of districts in the League of Innovative Schools in this case study.

Self-Regulation: A Sign of K12 EdTech Maturity

Other K12 examples include data interoperability standards such as those from IMSEdFiand A4L, as well as accessibility standards such as W3C’s WCAG and use of the VPAT. We are now seeing second-level efforts focused beyond a specific self-regulatory standard, such as Project Unicorn’s push for product providers and school systems to affirm their commitment to data interoperability adoption.

From Virtual Reality to Ebooks, the Future of Digital Media in Schools is a Total Toss-up

Once student data gets tied to digital content, usually as a kid’s account for a learning product, getting the data out so it can be used by teachers for grade books and other software remains a hairball. Project Unicorn is a non-profit initiative to get both districts and vendors to pledge to make education data interoperable.

How To Advance Data Interoperability In Public Education

Every individual district, school, and classroom has the responsibility of creating secure data environments that can process and organize a great deal of data ingested and exchanged from a huge number of sources. Resources like the Project Unicorn Rubric can help districts think through smaller, incremental ways to solve for security and privacy—moving from linguistic student identifiers to unique numeric student identifiers, for example.

Interoperability Boosts the Speed of School Communications

Other initiatives also promote adoption of interoperability. For example, Project Unicorn partners with industry leaders and school systems to develop actionable interoperability solutions and encourage school administrators to take ownership “through informed comparison of vendors.”

Advancing Data Interoperability in Public Education—3 Pain Points and Their Solutions

Resources like the Project Unicorn Rubric can help districts think through smaller, incremental ways to solve for security and privacy—moving from linguistic student identifiers to unique numeric student identifiers, for example. Moving toward a new data standard creates ways to manage this data in a more unified and secure way, building tight and enforceable protocols that can move districts further along in all categories.

District Leaders Seek Interoperability to Access Data Educators Need

About two months ago, ed-tech companies were asked to sign a “vendor pledge” committing that their digital tools and platforms will meet a standard for interoperability. The pledge is the work of Project Unicorn, a group that is a part of Innovate EDU, a New York-based nonprofit focused on closing gaps in student achievement through new learning models and tools.

Full Benefits of EdTech can't be Realized Until Data is Interoperable, Report Finds

"The benefits of interoperability are numerous, such as allowing data to “follow” a student transferring from one school system to another, even across state lines, then enabling teachers in the student’s new system to review and understand the student’s earlier work, progress and areas of struggle.


Denver Public Schools in Colorado, not one of the states that participated in the symposium, has been working on interoperability issues. The system signed the Project Unicorn pledge to pursue interoperability; the state of Oregon, a symposium participant, also took the pledge."

Project Unicorn Signs First Companies to Help Schools Handle the Hairball of EdTech Data

"The national project, run by the Brooklyn-based nonprofit InnovateEDU, began in 2017 by getting 26 school districts to agree to its pledge to improve school data interoperability across software programs. Less than a year later, the number of K-12 school systems has ballooned to more than 400 representing some 3.2 million students, and the first-ever edtech companies are also signing the vendor version of the pledge.

The 34 edtech vendors include well-known names, such as McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage Learning, and not-quite-household-brand startups, such as Clever and Newsela."

Ed-Tech Vendors Asked to ‘Pledge’ Efforts Around Interoperability

"A new effort unveiled at the ASU+GSV conference asks ed-tech companies to sign a “vendor pledge” committing that their digital tools and platforms will meet a standard for interoperability, which is defined as the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications...“We feel there’s a lot of momentum in this space, and we’re at a critical moment,” said Mote, in an interview. “Starting with the demand side is the right way to go…it’s up to all of us to hold this community responsible.”

5 Levers That Can Unlock Smarter Demand for Education Technology

"Put differently, simply asking “what works” stops short of the real question at the heart of a truly personalized system: What works, for which students, in what circumstances? Without this level of specificity and understanding of contextual factors, we’ll be stuck understanding only what works on average, despite aspirations to reach each individual student (not to mention mounting evidence that “average” itself is a flawed construct)." 

Day 2 at SXSWedu 2018: Paul Quinn College's Turnaround, Data Interoperability, and Learning Science

"Without privacy and security of data, you won’t have interoperability of data,” [Mike Baur] said, noting that it would be a "wild west" scenario. Data should empower teachers to make better decisions and intervene more quickly with students, but the conversation must first be set and grounded in security and privacy."

School Data is Messy, but it Doesn't Have to Be

"Erin Mote says data interoperability will give teachers their Sundays back. One of her nonprofit’s major initiatives, Project Unicorn, aims to help schools claim the power they have as ed tech purchasers. Since last year, 419 districts have signed Project Unicorn’s interoperability pledge, saying, among other things, that they will prioritize data interoperability when deciding which vendors to work with."

Project Unicorn Pushes for Interoperability in Courseware

"Formed when Mote’s national group of technologists gathered to identify the core problems in data science and personalized learning, Project Unicorn has worked hard to help people understand that interoperability isn’t a scary thing. “It's actually all over our daily lives,” Mote explains. “Whether you're using an ATM that's not from your bank, and you’re still able to get money out; or when I fly somewhere, not having to go to a Delta TSA agent versus an American Airlines TSA agent; these examples illustrate that interoperability can be so seamless. It's so foundational that it works in the background, and it's kind of magical."

Data interoperability in K-12: A Teacher’s Perspective

"Data needs to be shared in a thoughtful, responsible way with the students. I believe they will understand their own challenges better if they have access to that data. They’ll understand where and how they can improve. For example, they could see how 15 absences during a nine-week grading period effected their outcomes on assessments and their mastery of content standards. What's this item about? What makes it interesting? Write a catchy description to grab your audience's attention..." Brett Emerson, Shelby County Schools

Unbundling School Technology Purchases

"Interoperability initiatives like Project Unicorn, EdFi Alliance and IMS Global, and suites like Google Education, flexible learning management systems, and LearnPlatform (which allow interaction with and across basically any technology) are evidence of the market’s movement towards targeted purchasing, be it in individual apps or bundles.”

Not Much New in EdTech in 2017; 3 Things Could Change That in 2018

"Better interoperability is fundamental to progress on competency-based education where student progress (in most districts and networks) will be guided by judgements made based on multiple assessments.

Signs of aggregated demand like the districts and networks joining Project Unicorn are a good start."

League of Innovative Schools Districts Demand Data Interoperability

"...district leaders are working toward building collective demand around data interoperability. One mechanism for collective action is district commitment to the data interoperability pledge created by Project Unicorn, an initiative spearheaded by Erin Mote, League member and co-founder of Brooklyn Labs Schools."

Education Data and Privacy go Hand in Hand

"Interoperability represents a more secure way for information to be shared within and across schools. Because there is a consistency of definitions and protections within a single system, it makes the data much more secure." - Rachel Anderson, DQC

Project Unicorn—Making the Mythical Idea of Data Interoperability Real

"As schools and districts implement innovative learning systems, they must address issues of data interoperability. Project Unicorn provides a rubric that allows school districts and vendors to evaluate where their efforts and tools are on the journey toward interoperability. It also offers a roadmap to safeguarding student data."

"The Project Unicorn “pledge” is a way for districts to signal their commitment to interoperability – more than 400 public school systems and charters have signed the pledge already...The momentum is tangible, and the time is now. Districts have an abundance of resources and support for taking decisive steps on the path toward interoperability: standards, technology, architecture and community to deliver sustainable, connected educational data systems."

K-12 districts are starting to understand how important it is to have data interoperability for their digital tools, and to push for this capability. Ed-tech companies are starting to take notice, too. That was one of the key takeaways in a session at EdNET 2017, which focused on “Giving Teachers Back Their Sundays.” With more digital resources than ever in classrooms, there’s a growing awareness among district leaders that these products need to be able to securely share information within schools and in a district.


Today, Project Unicorn launched with more than 29 school systems, representing 600,000 students from across the country by signing a pledge to commit to improving data interoperability in K-12 education. Project Unicorn, led by InnovateEDU, has developed a core set of principles around safe and

"...currently, data interoperability across education software tools remains more of a hope than a reality. Often, the software that schools use only provides educators with the data that software developers have deemed necessary or relevant for teachers. Each piece of learning software usually has its own proprietary dashboards and reports, and the software typically does not tag, categorize, or provide access to its data in a way that makes data easy to share across systems. In the absence of data interoperability, many teachers and administrators spend hours manually pulling data from multiple systems into spreadsheets—a tedious and error-prone process that is unwieldy at scale."

"Project Unicorn: The mythical creature is the namesake of this new initiative for good reason...The project is trying to get schools to use their collective buying power to strong-arm ed tech developers into delivering programs that provide interoperability”

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