Automated integration with a Student Information System

Most itslearning customers utilise a Student Information System (SIS) that can automatically synchronise user data as well as groups and courses with itslearning. This article describes the basic elements of that synchronisation. Especially new itslearning administrators should be aware of the items discussed here. 

Please note this article aims at briefly presenting the basic elements, and does not comprise a complete documentation of all features and settings. Please reach out to your itslearning contact in case of any questions.


Introduction to user integration with itslearning

The two most common ways to synchronise data from a SIS to itslearning are as follows:

  • XML files sent as batch jobs to itslearning with an agreed frequency, typically nightly
  • IMS Enterprise Services API that synchronises on the fly with itslearning

Both methods synchronise the selected elements with itslearning, usually persons (in various roles), groups (of various types), and memberships of the persons in the groups. Some SIS also support synchronising carers and mentors. 

It is important to remember that the SIS is the master system. We strongly advise against manually changing the synchronised data in any way. Instead, it is best to leave it up to the automated synchronisation process to maintain.

Synchronisation keys

A key element in the synchronisation process is what we in itslearning refer to as synchronisation keys. That is, the unique identifiers of each person and group. What exactly is used as the synchronisation key varies from SIS to SIS, but it is critical to keep them unique and also unchangeable. 

Remember, if the synchronisation key of a person or a group changes, for itslearning it is a brand new person or group.

Synchronisation and safety filters

In the batch XML synchronisation method, the data in the file(s) are synchronised with itslearning in such a way that itslearning deletes data missing from the file as compared to the previous import. For persons however the delete operation is a soft delete in that they are upon deletion deactivated and moved to a trash can available for system administrators. If the person re-appears in the synchronisation data, they are restored from the trash can. For courses, please see course archiving below.

To prevent unintentional deletes, or other changes for that matter, there is a safety filter that will stop the import if the percentage value of changes is too high. The filter values are editable per customer, and offers some degree of customisation. Depending on the filter settings, the import will be stopped if the changes (deletes, inserts or updates) are too many compared to the filter settings for persons, groups or memberships, respectively.

In the IMS ES web service API method deletes are handled as explicit delete requests. Please refer to the technical documentation for details.

Course archiving

For courses, there is a special setting available which archives the courses in the deletion process. We strongly recommend enabling this setting. 

Upon archiving a course, the corresponding course hierarchy is deleted, all current synchronised members are made manual members and the course status is changed from active to archived. This means all the members can still access the course later, through the archived courses list. 

If the same course re-appears in the synchronisation data, the course will not be automatically returned from the archive.

New school year

Upon a new school year, the synchronised data can change a lot, and this is expected. Most courses will also typically be archived. Upon school year rollover it is also crucial that the course synchronisation keys are unique, or made unique through synchronising them under a special school year specific hierarchy, which will be deleted when the school year changes.

Local "Back To School" processes may exist, and we recommend reaching out to your local itslearning teams in case of any questions. itslearning can also pause the synchronisation e.g. for the summer holiday period. 

Transferring the data to itslearning

In the case of XML synchronisation, typically your IT department or SIS vendor has an automated task scheduled to run the export and send the file to itslearning sftp every night. If the synchronisation has not taken place, that department or vendor should first be consulted.

In some cases, itslearning may have middleware in place that handles the data transfer from your vendor to itslearning integration servers. Examples of such integrations include, but are not excluded to:

  • IMS One Roster based integrations
  • Alvis integrations (SE)
  • Adela integrations (SE)
  • KMD Studica integrations (DK)
  • integrations with the Clever integration platform
  • a few other bespoke integrations 

Most integrations with IST (NO, SE) utilise a client application from IST that runs on the itslearning servers. This application pulls the relevant data from IST to itslearning.

How can I monitor the integration?

In the case of XML synchronisation, representatives from your organisation can subscribe to a status email that is sent every time the synchronisation is run or attempted to run. That email will tell you the status of the sync (completed or failed), together with a summary of all changes for each type of data. 

In the case of a failed sync, the email will tell you the reason. Most typical reason is that the number of changes in the file exceed the safety filter. In this case, please check with your SIS team, and if the changes are expected, reach out to your local itslearning team to allow the changes to be synchronised.

Please see here for more details

Single Sign-On

We recommend utilising Single Sign-On with itslearning. This way, the users only have one set of credentials to remember and use. The data used in the SSO process will need to be included in the SIS synchronisation, for example a username, email address or some other identifier such as a national ssn.

itslearning supports a number of SSO methods, such as Office 365, ADFS and a number of national identity federations such as Feide and MinID (NO), Skolfederation (SE), and uni-login (DK), and MPASSid (FI).

Can we quality assure a new or changed integration? 

Absolutely! As a part of the integration project, a test site will be made available for the duration of the project. That test site can be a blank one, or a copy of the production site so as to be able to test any changes carefully. We will only deploy changes to your production environment after you have reviewed the changes and let us know we're good to go.

Relevant endpoints for itslearning APIs and SAML Service Provider are available through the links to the itslearning developer site below. 

For service level and other contractual details, please refer to the terms and conditions for service delivery

Checklist for new or changed integration

The file attached below can be used as a checklist for a brand new, or a changed integration to make sure all the relevant items are covered.

More information

Please refer to our developer site for in-depth technical information about how data can be synchronised with itslearning.

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