Increasing The Focus On APIs In Higher Education Is Important

Maybe I’m a little biased at the moment, after participating in a Reclaim Your Domain hackathon with some really smart folks from multiple universities, as well as working on my first white paper on APIs in higher education, but I feel pretty strongly that higher education institutions focusing on APIs will extremely important in the next two years.

I’m constantly working to understand the big picture of the emerging API economy, the importance of the government API development phase, and working to understand what is next for the US government API strategy, while also acknowledging we need the enterprise to continue waking up to the potential of APIs. I think, right along with government, and the enterprise, another importance piece of the overall API puzzle is increasing the focus on APIs in higher education.

The University Argument
If I am making a pitch to a university, I would tell my Amazon API story, and how APIs can open up access to institutional resources, making them more accessible across campus, and externally with partners and vendors. APIs are how startups, SMB, enterprise, and the government are increasing efficiency, agility, and delivering the web and mobile apps that are part of a larger, healthier digital strategy vision. Top universities like University of Washington, UC Berkeley, and Brigham Young University or leading the way with modern API platforms, that are changing the way they do business on campus—take a look at the 250+ APIs from BYU, to get a idea.

The Student Argument
If I am making the pitch for why students should care about APIs, during the most formative years of their lives, I would point out that APIs are already touching every aspect of their lives, from the websites they visit, to the mobile phone in their pocket. If your college years are about preparing you for the world, APIs need to front and center in your education, giving you the basics, but also allowing you to peel back the black curtain on the technology that is slowly taking over our world, and establish skills that will give you an edge in your career.

Web Literacy
Computers, and the Internet are part of the higher education experience, and it is increasingly important that ALL students obtain at least a basic level of web literacy to be able to operate on the web. Understanding the workings of the Internet, like HTTP, SSL, URLs, DNS, Email, and fundamentals of privacy, security, and terms of service, are essential to the education of every individual. While they may not retain everything they learn, like the rest of their education, it will provide a fundamental base for them to work from the rest of their lives.

Domain Literacy
Students today are faced with understanding who they are in this big new world they are thrust into after being at home with their parents, and that includes understating and expanding their digital identity. What is the difference between university, commercial, and government web and mobile applications? Students need to have a sense of what is theirs, and what is a companies or institutions, and understand when some information or content is something they should personally own. Domain literacy is not just about learning about online domains like .com and .org, it is about understanding your own domain on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, or your student information system account, class forums, and the possibilities that are opened up when you are in control your own online domain.

Portfolio Ownership
Every classroom, project and program experience for a student should be considered a potential candidate for addition to a student's portfolio. Contributing to, and managing a portfolio in 2014 is done online, allowing for a portfolio to potentially be spread across campus, corporate and other 3rd party sites, platforms, and systems. Educating students about owning their own content, data and other information, and the opportunities around data portability and APIs, in helping them assert ownership and control over their portfolio is essential to education in the digital age. I'm not talking traditional e-portfolio, I'm talking about defining, understanding, and aggregating the best of what you do online, during your college years--in preparation for entering the real world.

Workplace Ready
Higher education is about preparing students for their role in society, and hopefully part of that is being a positive contributor to the workplace, and larger workforce. Modern web APIs are born out of the most tech savviest employees, developing the work-arounds, and access to resources they need to get their jobs done, and solve the problems they face. Whether it is pulling Census Bureau data, and populating a spreadsheet, or migrating the companies blog platform from blogger to a dedicated Wordpress instance, APIs are central to the skills that tomorrow's workforce will need. APIs aren’t always about developing a website, or mobile application, they can be as simple as migrating form entries from an online form, and populating a Google Spreadsheet using Zapier. If one of our goals is to make sure students are prepared for the workforce, APIs have to be a regular part of their educational diet, ensuring that when they hit the ground as part of the workforce, API literacy is default.

Digital Citizen
APIs are already touching every aspect of life from looking for a restaurant on Yelp, to paying your taxes using TurboTax. Not every individual needs to understand the inner workings of APIs and oAuth, but they need to have basic API literacy, so they know APIs exist, and that they can get their photos and other information out of a service they use. Every citizen needs to understand the apps on their mobile phone, and the relationship to their online accounts, and who has access to their personal information using oAuth and APIs, and how they can manage these settings. To interact with government, APIs are playing an ever increasing role, and allowing citizens to participate in the political process, access student aid, pay their taxes, and get access to their energy and healthcare data. Let's prepare our students for the future.

In a perfect world students need to be aware of APIs by the time they first set foot on campus. Ideally they are already exposed to them in their daily online interactions, or someday through the FAFSA process, but at the very least it should be up to the university to expose them to APIs when it comes to class registration, student information systems, or ideally as part of the school’s Domain of One’s Own program.

My argument isn't just about colleges and universities getting on board with APIs across all of campus operations, this is about faculty and administrations becoming API literate, and exposing students to APIs as part of every interaction. You don't like the student information system or class schedule when you come in as freshman? Ok, make it better. Need a list of students for a class? Here is the Google Spreadsheet to class schedule API connector. Want to bring in your posts from Tumblr into the classroom? Use the Tumblr API to get your content out, and published where you want using Zapier. Let's teach them to solve the everyday problems they face, by applying technology in sensible ways.

I’ve seen some amazing movement during my last four years of evangelizing APIs, across mutiple industries, and within city and federal government, just by educating a handful of energetic entrepreneurs and civic activists, turning on the API light--resulting in incremental change in the way companies do business, organizations and government operates. Imagine if we turned on a whole generation of citizens, helping them understand that this is the way business is done, and how personal, corporate, organizational, institutional resources are accessed, shared, and managed?

Similar to my efforts on APIs in the federal government over the last two years, I’m going to turn up the focus on APIs in higher education. By 2016, I want APIs to be ubiquitous at higher educational institutions around the globe.