Dig a Little

Don’t hide your data – use it!

GUEST COLUMN | by Andrew Howard

mining dataHave You Seen My Data?

I was at a school in Chicago the other day, talking to some teachers about the effects of flipping their classrooms using technology. During my discussions, I was somewhat surprised to find out how little the various stakeholders knew about what was going on with technology right in their own school. Specifically, I was floored to find out how little these educators were using the data they were already collecting, such as student performance data, state standards progress, and RTI implementation results. This data – now more accessible than ever thanks to educational technology – is like precious gold waiting to be mined.  Yet so often it’s left behind, unused, or simply not communicated. We must fix this lack of awareness if we are ever going to leverage technology to improve student learning.

A Look At How Data Is Used

On this particular day, I was sitting at a table with four teachers, an aide, and an assistant principal. Each teacher talked about how they were using digital curriculum to replace some of the lecture elements in their classroom. Interestingly, each of the four teachers was using digital curriculum differently.

At one end of the spectrum, one teacher asks her students to use digital content after they complete the “real” pencil-and-paper work. This educator isn’t looking at how her students perform on digital content; instead, she merely uses the content to “babysit” her students.

At the other end of the spectrum was a teacher who uses performance data to prescribe specific content for students, and checks student performance to better enhance both the student’s digital and analog curriculum. She then uses the feedback loop to constantly improve and reinforce her students’ experiences. Consequently, the class is motivated and engaged by digital learning. She even has several students who have taken it upon themselves to access digital content outside of school, with some completing a whole year of fourth grade math in two months!

This school also has a data initiative where a specialist reviews volumes of student data in an effort to help the administrators better assess student performance. But when the assistant principal at the table asked the teachers how they used the data, not one of them knew about the project.

Making the Connection

It’s great that digital content has the advantage of being automatically corrected, so that teachers and administrators don’t have to spend precious time correcting content. But to truly get the most out of their digital content data, teachers need to be able to see how student performance data is relevant to their instructional program. Here are some thoughts on how to ensure your “gold” – data culled from your educational technology programs – is not only mined, but used in your school:

Make It Actionable. To completely leverage the value of a blended learning environment, it is important that dry data is converted into actionable information, and that information is presented to the right party to help inform change.

Communicate Your Findings. Data from individual students – who may generate upward of 100 data points per data selection – needs to be communicated to other stakeholders so that trends can be analyzed intelligently. For example, an administrator at the school I visited had interesting information about academic trends of students in the school, but unfortunately, that information never made it back to the teachers who worked with the students.

Do More Than Keep Score. Right now, too many schools use data to build scorecards: showing who is succeeding and who is failing. In the future, data needs to be used for more than just determining who is winning and who is losing. Instead, data can be used to identify trends and create high-quality learning experiences for every student.

When data leads to information, we will start to unlock the value of technology in schools and will finally allow learners to benefit from all of the data schools collect.

Andrew Howard is the co-founder and president of Wowzers, an elementary and middle school math software company. Andrew uses philosophy and his Asian Studies degree to think deeply about problems in the K-12 space, and to provide simple solutions. He loves the intersection of education, the humanities, and technology, and prefers technology when it gets redundant tasks out of the way and lets humans interact. Write to: andrew@wowzers.com

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