The Need for a Common Higher Education Data Model

In the current state, the ability for higher education institutions to provide holistic assessments of student learning, development, and success and to provide comprehensive advising (using curricular and co-curricular data) and other student services using disparate systems is virtually impossible. This is because the interoperability between systems may be limited or they require IT staff/vendors to develop interfaces so that data can be moved between the systems through some form of files including text, xml files, or other means. In addition to the limited interoperability, the lack of data liquidity (ability to move data from one system to another) which I shared in this post is even a bigger constraint. That there is not a single common structured data model in higher education is one of the big impediments towards an environment where disparate systems within the institution can have a set of systems working together as one. Even a bigger goal is for multiple higher education institutions to have the ability to exchange information between their systems in cases where students may be attending both institutions or if they transfer from one to the other.

I wrote this blog about a proposal for a Common Learning Portfolio Markup Language in 2013 based on my observation working with several information systems our university and the inability for these systems to easily exchange data among them. These systems include electronic medical records, student information system, residential management system, judicial conduct, and other systems. What I observed is that these systems cannot interface with each other because they were either created by different vendors or they were developed by our developers. These different systems also did not share a common data model or infrastructure which could make it easier for our developers to readily build programs to exchange data between them without having to develop additional programs to extract, transform, and load (ETL) the data.

Just recently, I noticed efforts by different vendors to develop/implement their versions of structured higher education data models and infrastructures. I haven’t delved into the details of each model/infrastructures to definitively talk about how they are implemented but given my limited access and understanding of the data models, it seems these efforts by the vendors are specific to their set of products (and their partners, however that’s defined). In addition, these data models do not seem to include co-curricular information such as involvement with student organization, career internships, and volunteer activities.The links below provide information about these different efforts:

Oracle Higher Education Constituent Hub (HECH)

“Constituent data is distributed across the enterprise among various systems (e.g. HR, Student Information, CRM, and Learning Management) across the Campus and all University locations. It is typically fragmented and duplicated across operational silos, resulting in an inability to provide a single, trusted Constituent profile to business consumers. It is often impossible to determine which version of the Constituent profile (in which system) is the most accurate and complete.. The HigherEducation Constituent Hub (HECH) solves this problem by delivering a rich set of capabilities, interfaces, standards compliant services and processes necessary to consolidate Constituent information from across the institution. This enables the deploying institution to implement a single consolidation point that spans multiple languages, data formats, integration modes, technologies and standards.”

Salesforce Higher Education Data Architecture (HEDA)

“Leverage a newly established data standard and managed package to meet the needs of any institution. Institutions can continue to deliver value across campus by building on core objects, fields and automation and integrating with a growing number of Higher Education AppExchange apps that are standardized on HEDA.”

Ellucian Higher Education Data Model

In many industries standards already exist, albeit with only partial adoption. In the HE sector, however, Ellucian had a unique opportunity to start with a “clean slate” and to create something new…and so we created the Higher Education Data Modal (HeDM). HeDM is a defined standard to illustrate a uniform view of “the world”, so that users can view data and interact with each other. The data model itself creates a defined data object or entity, reaching all corners of an institution, covering Recruitment, Students, Finance, Advancement and beyond.”

The US government has also started their effort to standardize education data through a project called Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project. This project seems to be more abstract in nature in that the data model is not designed specifically for any set of vendor products but rather more of a definition of a structured data model and the adoption is voluntary.

While education institutions across the P-20W (early learning through postsecondary and workforce) environment use many different data standards to meet information needs, there are certain data we all need to be able to understand, compare, and exchange in an accurate, timely, and consistent manner. For these, we need a shared vocabulary for education data—that is, we need common education data standards. The Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project is a national collaborative effort to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of education data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across P-20W institutions and sectors.

It seems we are moving towards the right direction with the efforts I mentioned above, though it seems we are still years away from having a set of common data model that can be used by all higher education institutions.

As I noted in my introduction above, it seems to me that until a common structured data higher education data model that can be used as a standard exists, higher education institutions will not be able to develop holistic assessment of student success and to provide services such as advising that use curricular and co-curricular information.

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Need for a Common Higher Education Data Model

  1. Paul Brown

    Joe. This is a great post and articulates a definite need that I think is going largely I discussed in our student affairs circles. Thanks for bringing it to the conversation!

    Reply
  2. Tim Bounds

    I’ve been struggling with this same issue for a while. We have over twenty systems that mostly work well by themselves, for the single purpose they were designed to do. But as you stated, using these for any meaningful assessment is nearly impossible. I thought that one of the solutions from a large vendor, like Oracle, may be the answer, but I haven’t been impressed by what I’ve found so far.

    I’ve started to look at a data warehouse, or data mart, as a solution for our assessment needs. I think if we can identify a set of data from each system to be combined in a database just for reporting and assessment, we can do a lot more than is currently possible. This may not be the best long-term solution, but it’s something that we can do using existing tools available to us in a fairly short amount of time. I hope that by starting small and providing some data where none currently exist, we can build some momentum for a larger project.

    This won’t solve all of our problems, but it’s a start. I have to try something.

    Reply
    1. Paul Roberge

      Tim, you may want to check out what Lingk has to offer. They have a really cool open data platform that incorporates the CEDS data model with REST API data feeds designed for easy and secure student affairs and co-curricular data sharing. The middleware can be hooked up to the SIS or data warehouse to connect your ecosystem of apps in a very cost effective way. They work with both institutions and vendors based on the projects deployment approach. http://www.lingk.io

      Reply

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