What is SSO and what does it stand for? Why should we care about tech integrations? In this post, we will define terminology and dive a bit deeper into why you may want to look at integrating different products.
SSO, which stands for “Single Sign on”, enables users to access external software systems without the need for separate login credentials. When SSO is implemented, a user can log into two separate websites using the same login credentials.
What does it mean to “integrate” technologies?
Typically, a web technology product is built independently of others and is meant to stand alone as its own service. However, and especially in the education world, the rapid growth of new technology has created an ecosystem with numerous applications, software, and hardware devices. In turn, many of these products and services have proven to be quite complementary to each other and are sometimes actually better leveraged when used together. An example of this in our “physical world” is the integration of water and ice dispensers built into our refrigerators. While you may find ice or water independently, the solution as a whole makes a ton of sense.
The same approach applies to web technologies, especially within the education world where practically every institution uses an LMS. LMS stands for “Learning Management System”, which is a web solution used to organize and disseminate course content each semester. LMSs are used for grading, syllabus and document storage, roster management, communication with students, and a list of other admin or class related activities. Examples of these solutions include Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace (previously known as Desire2Learn), Sakai, Moodle, and others.
While LMSs do a lot of different things, they can’t do it all or be the best at everything. This is where other products can help by focusing on delivering specifically value and potentially integrating with an LMS or other platform that is being used by faculty members, students, and administrators. To integrate with LMSs, the IMS Global Learning Consortium developed a protocol called LTI, or “Learning Tools Interoperability”. LTI is a standard way of integrating learning applications and web technology with platforms such as LMSs, portals, and other web services. Put differently, LTI provides a framework for education technology products to follow in order to integrate with one another.
Integrating or coupling technologies can provide different benefits, as we’ll cover in the next section. Moreover, the philosophy behind these integrations is that since the companies behind each independent product has a narrowed focus in that specific area, the end user will end up benefiting as product synergy is achieved via the coupling of the technologies.
To dive into the technical side a bit, integrating technologies typically means that two or more systems “talk” to each other and share some information to create the integration. The “deeper” the integration, the more “sharing” of information between the systems. This should of course be done with user security and data privacy at the forefront, thus the birth of the aforementioned protocols and frameworks.
Why integrate technologies, what are some of the benefits?
As previously mentioned, one of the main benefits of integrating technologies is the synergy that can be achieved through that process and the birth of new features that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Though perhaps the bigger advantages of a proper integration are easier sign up and ongoing access. Implementing a proper SSO integration means that users only need one account and ID to access the various systems, making initial sign up and ongoing access extremely simple.
Lastly, a well designed integration could mean a better, unified user experience. Instead of two systems operating independently, they can be designed to look, feel, and operate as one. A simple example of this is some integrations still open an integrated product in a new browser window while a more integrated and well designed integration would open the integrated product within the user’s current environment.
We’ve gone over what integrations mean and why we would want to integrate technologies, but what about actually doing it? What is the best approach?
One of the most important questions that one should ask when considering an integration is, “Which friction points are we looking to reduce?” In other words, where are users having difficulties in using current, varying, independent technologies and how would an integration solve those issues? For instance, are a lot of users having a difficult time tracking multiple accounts? If so, SSO may be a great solution.
Are users having a difficult time understanding which system is used for which part of their workload? If so, then an integration with a unified user experience may solve a lot of the confusion.
Lastly, one may take a look at the “add-ons” or “luxury” features that would come through an integration. For instance, would two integrated products produce analytics or student performance metrics that otherwise would not be attainable and do those metrics, in the long run, help improve outcomes? If the answer is yes, then an integration may be worth looking into.
Acclaim is a secure, video platform used in classrooms across the country. Teachers and students can easily record, upload, organize, and collaborate around videos files as part of class activities, discussions, and assignments.