Don’t Mince the Meaning: Rostering vs. Provisioning & Their Roles in Enabling Digital Learning



According to a recent Gallup report regarding educational technology use in K-12, 65% of teachers say they use digital learning tools to teach every day. To provide their services, digital learning vendors require timely and up-to-date access to student, teacher, and class roster data. Unfortunately, schools haven’t changed their rostering processes to meet digital demands, i.e. they’re still manually compiling and uploading these rosters to third-party applications. 

However, manually rostering each student into each resource is time-consuming and tedious. Since we’re at the point of nearly universal digitization of learning materials, automated rostering has become a crucial component in K-12 education. 

Recently, we discussed the concept of automated rostering and how K-12 can benefit from a rostering solution with its roots in Identity and Access Management (IAM). Since roster data is closely associated with identity data and provisioning manages identities and their permissions within an organization, a question we often hear is "How is rostering different from provisioning?"

While there is often confusion around the roles of rostering and provisioning, the two are not interchangeable in their definition or functionality. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two and then touch on how both can work as parts of one comprehensive IAM platform that addresses K-12’s unique security and automation needs. 

What is Provisioning?

At its most basic level, user account provisioning is about managing identities and their permissions. Going a little deeper, user account provisioning involves the creation, management, and maintenance of an end-user’s objects and attributes in relation to accessing resources available in one or more systems.

The goal of provisioning is to provide the right amount of access to the right applications. For example, once a student enters a school district or a new teacher is hired, the user’s identity is provisioned into the district’s Active Directory (AD), and the user gains access to the district’s data in accordance with their role. So, a user provisioned as a student would have access to student-based systems, while a teacher would have access to teacher-based systems and applications.

What is Data Rostering?

At a very high level, rostering is taking information from one system, transforming that data, and then pushing it to another system. Rostering defines student, teacher, and classroom data and the relationship among each, and then converts that data into rosters that are used by the third-party applications. 

For example, a student who has second period history with Mr. Smith needs access to applications specific to that course. An application, like My HRW, uses a roster list for that particular class to assign the textbooks and assignments appropriate for Mr. Smith’s course.

The focus of rostering is on the schedule and courses being managed. So, rostering is concerned with whether the roster of each student and teacher is correct for each course. Where provisioning deals with the identity, rostering deals with the course and it’s associated list. 

What rostering solutions don’t do is create or manage users. In fact, rostering doesn’t create or manage anything. Instead, rostering provides data and the relationships with data. Compare it to having a Netflix membership: Netflix provides members with access to a repository of TV shows and movies, but Netflix is not concerned with what their members watch. 

Automated rostering solutions also don’t touch the applications. The data is simply provided in an easily consumable format, such as a CSV file or via API connection. This too can be compared to Netflix. While today, Netflix is synonymous with streaming content, Netflix still gives members a choice in how they consume content. Subscribers can directly stream content (API connection) or they can choose to have DVDs mailed to them that they must put into a DVD player to play (CSV file). Either way, Netflix isn’t concerned whether you actually watch the content or even have a DVD player— their focus is only on providing the content in the requested format.

Rostering and Provisioning as Parts of an IAM Platform

Though rostering and provisioning seem similar, it’s a false parallel; the two functions are distinct. Whereas provisioning is concerned with the creation and upkeep of user identities, rostering is concerned with taking user data and plugging that into applications. 

While rostering and provisioning are not the same, both are critical processes when it comes to enabling the digital classroom. Districts should adopt an enterprise mindset to rostering and take a security-first approach to automated rostering by choosing an IAM solution that offers both capabilities in one platform. 

As long as K-12 continues to adapt in the face of the digitization of learning resources, familiarity with these terms will become more and more common. By understanding the differences between these functionalities and how they can work together as parts of a comprehensive IAM platform, districts can keep their data secure and stay ahead of the digital curve.

To learn more about our solutions for K-12 education environments, click here.

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