Gathering My Thoughts With APIs In Higher Education

I had too many scribbles in my Evernote about work I’m doing for APIs in higher education, so I decided I need to publish as a story, which hopefully will help me organize my thoughts, figure out my next moves, and share what I’m doing to a couple of folks who asked what I’m up to in this area.

APIs In Higher Education Institutions
To keep API Evangelist operating I have some very supportive partners who invest in my research, and one of the areas 3Scale and I work together on is understanding how APIs are currently being used in higher education. As part of my recent research I went back through the universities I track on who have APIs, to see whats changed, and I stumbled upon the fact that BYU’s API inventory has grown to a mind blowing 261 APIs, covering almost all aspects of university operations.

I will be continuing this research on what BYU is up to, but also the 10 other institutions I’m tracking on, and as I do with other areas of the API space, try to identify some of the common building blocks universities are employing—hoping to create a blueprint that other institutions can follow. You can find all this research, kindly supported by 3Scale, up on the Github repository designated for the project.

Dept of Education and FAFSA API
Beyond the general use of APIs by universities, last November I started working on a prototype of an API for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form, looking to jump start a conversation at the Department of Education around APIs. It worked, and in January they announced that they would looking to get feedback on what an API for FAFSA would look like.

Behind the scenes I was contacted to provide a proposal for a FAFSA API, hoping to chase after some budget that could fund such a project. I worked for two days on a proposal, submitted, but haven’t heard anything more about what happened to that budget chase.

Then in April, the Department of Education asked the public to weigh in on an RFI around APIs not just for FAFSA, but at the Department of Education in general. I need another week or so to gather up all of my work from the last six months around APIs in higher education, and the Department of Education, then probably write another story or two and respond to the RFI before the June deadline.

Reclaim Your Domain
I went down to Atlanta to participate in a talk about the domain of one’s own program at Emory University, you can read more about it in an earlier post. I’m feeling a seismic shift in my world, and telling stories about using APIs to reclaim your content and data, is something I will be talking about a lot more. What is really fascinating for me is that the inspiration for doing this work to help individuals better understand and control their online world is coming out of leading higher education institutions like MIT, University of Mary Washington and Emory. You can follow my personal reclaim project on Github for real-time updates in this area of my work.

Data & Analytics MOOC At UT Arlington
In addition to Atlanta, I was in Arlington TX talking about the role APIs could play in a data and analytics MOOC at UT Arlington. While the goal was to understand how students can use APIs to better explore data & analytics, I left thinking about APIs for edX, and how we can develop a single course or group landing page that allows teachers and students to aggregate profiles and content using APIs and oAuth—a project I will be working on more using

APIs and edX
While in Texas I had the pleasure of hanging out with the folks from edX, the online course platform that offers interactive online classes and MOOCs from MITx, HarvardX, BerkeleyX, UTx and other universities, and of course we got talking APIs. An API is in their roadmap, but definitely something I would like to explore more as well here on the blog. I can’t imagine any online learning solution, between universities being successful in 2014 without an API! ;-)

Ok, Now What's Next?
I think that is it. I just needed to write all that down, after a crazy couple of weeks. Now it is easier to see the main action items:

  • Respond to Department of Education RFI
  • Create v1 of a APIs in higher education blueprint
  • Push forward with my personal Reclaim Your Domain
  • Develop class or group profile and content aggregation page that runs on Github using
  • Think about what an API program would look like for edX
  • Pull together a list of good APIs that could be used in a data & analytics course

That gives me six clear action items to move forward with, out of this hectic slice of my API research pie—higher education. I think if I can push forward with this chunk of work I can further kickstart the conversation around healthy API usage across higher education.

Maybe I’m biased, because of my proximity to Hack Education, but I’m hoping that the university is where we can make the biggest impact in educating people about the opportunities and the dangers of APIs.