#IndieEdTech Personal APIs & The Current State of Ed-Tech

This is part of a series of posts that reflect upon the Indie Ed-Tech Data Jam gathering.

After the keynote from Audrey, we got to hear from the equally compelling Kin Lane (API Evangelist). Kin’s site was one of the first I went to when I wanted to learn more about APIs, and he did not disappoint. Even better: hearing him lay it all out in person. Kin’s site has the most comprehensive and cohesive documentations I have ever seen and I would highly recommend taking a look and imaging what APIs can do for you whether you are an educator or have influence and interest in different spheres. If you are new to APIs, Kin has a great page entitled API 101.

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Aside from causing me to briefly consider discontinuing my use of snapchat and pondering who is gathering my life bits, Kin did provoke some substantial thoughts. Kin stated that APIs are not just a local destination, they are a journey. The concept of personal APIs may not seem relevant or applicable to the average person. I’d be hard pressed to find one of my millennial friends who actually cared about where they disseminate their personal data (disclosure: an internet quiz told me I was 100% millennial so I’m not pointing any fingers). The idea that everyone is going to become consumed by the need to create a personal API is ridiculous. It just won’t happen. There are those of us who want to manage our life bits, and who see the benefits of APIs. Most people won’t care about this until there is a problem to be solved, but I believe that it is the responsibility of the institution to provide students with the digital literacy and capacity to utilize personal APIs as they see fit.

Everybody has a personal API –  just look at all the applications you use daily! When I first started researching personal APIs all I could find is people sharing how many steps they took in a day or their weight (who wants to share this?!). It’s more than just that. Applications provide API access to our personal data: places we check in, birthdays, that picture you posted of your dinner, etc. The API journey is about organizing, aggregating, and controlling this data.

We each have a core personal API stack, and defining our personal stack can allow us to control our domain, and the public footprints we leave. The need for personal APIs will grow as we take control. I hope to be able to continue developing a digital literacy and control of my domain that allows me to shape my digital identity. Kin touched on more ideas than I can sum up or have a practical understanding of, so I would highly recommend taking a look at his workshop he gave at Davidson here.

What does this mean for the educational institution? After a quick break, we moved to the beginnings of our design session led by Ben & Erin of Known. What can the personal API do for the institution, for IT professionals, for faculty, for students? We sat down for a sticky note brainstorm:

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Among proposed ideas were data control, online identity formation, dynamic portfolios, student driven transcripts, notification routing & storing, sharing competencies, lifelong learning, disaggregating LMS, financial information access, job searches, and community involvement. The list was incomplete, and begins to answer the question of what APIs can do for us. I would like to think that this list would encourage people to consider what personal APIs can do for them instead of just shutting down when people start to talk about program interfaces.

We also discussed the current state of education technology. As anyone would expect this list was exhausting but not exhaustive. We discussed ed-tech trends, tech factors, student needs, educator needs, uncertainties, social trends, products/services, and major players. This would set the stage for the design session that followed the next day.

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