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June 11, 2006

TinyZIS?

I came across this item on TinyZIS via Stephen. Basically this is an open-source effort to create a SIF-compatible Zone Integration Server (ZIS). A ZIS, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a piece of message-oriented middleware that uses the open SIF specification, rather than something proprietary like BizTalk or JMS, to handle "events" that are passed between (typically) MIS-type database applications to keep them sychronized with the same core data.

All well and good, but some of the tone of this article I found a bit puzzling, so I made the comment below on Tom's blog. I've repeated it here verbatim:

I'm not sure where this is going - an open-source ZIS is a good idea (ioNode is a UK effort in this regard) but beyond that I don't really "get it". SIF is a very good ERP-type integrated message queue solution for education, and its vendor-focus is not really a problem in this space. SIF is primarily focussed on the key logistical and provisioning challenges of (US) schools and districts. I don't see any real benefit in making it less "enterprisey".
Perhaps what you are after is a handy agent framework so that lightweight teaching and learning applications (like Elgg, and social software) can handle SIF events for things like group structures and so on? This wouldn't require writing a ZIS application; you'd just connect an agent to the existing school ZIS.
An alternative is to use Web Services for connecting the student pieces direct to SIS - in the Plex PLE prototype we demo'd last week we showed how a personal learning tool can grab cohort information from both informal spaces (via FOAF) and formal cohorts managed by SIS applications (via IMS Enterprise Web Services.) Such WS's could quite reasonably be provided by an agent that uses SIF events for synchronizing its data with the SIS via the ZIS.

(wow! lots of tech acronyms in that one!)

I actually prefer solutions where a Zone has a gateway agent providing services to social software and teacher tools, rather than moving them into the ZIS. This does create some policy issues (e.g. on security and propogation of personal information) but separates the concerns of the MIS and the "elearning 2.0" education technologists who need to innovate in their own spaces.

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