Big Data: Trends in the Education Sector

Our recent blog article highlighted 6 things to keep in mind when optimizing Big Data for your company. An essential component highlighted by Michael Davison, co-founder and Editor-in-chief of True Interaction, is the understanding that data analytics provides AN answer, rather than THE answer.

This concept resonates in the education sector, with the U.S. Department of Education calling the use of student data systems to improve education a “national priority.” Teachers are inundated with data points that quantify formative assessment results, parent call logs, absences, time-on-task, observations and more. But as with any sector, what matters most in education is how you use data, rather than that you have it.

Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, author and scholar, wrote:

“Despite all this new information and benefits that come with it, there are clear handicaps in how big data has been used in education reforms. In fact, pundits and policymakers often forget that Big data, at best, only reveals correlations between variables in education, not causality.”

Despite pronouncements such as this from key education reformers, in the ed-tech industry, big data and analytics are exceedingly prolific. A multitude of companies collect and analyze information on how students interact with digital content.

In the United States, almost all teachers (93 percent) use some form of digital tool to guide instruction. But more than two-thirds of teachers (67 percent) say they are not fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data or the tools for working with data that they have access to (Gates Foundation, 2015).

The majority of school districts (70 percent) report having had an electronic student information system providing access to enrollment and attendance data for six or more years, and more recently, districts have begun acquiring electronic data systems:

– 79% report having an assessment system that organizes and analyzes benchmark assessment data

– 77% report having a data warehouse that provides access to current and historical data on students

– 64% report having an instructional or curriculum management system

Despite this proliferation in the use of data systems, the Gates Foundation found that there are additional barriers that prevent full implementation of data systems in schools.

Because of these barriers, teachers say data are often “siloed” and difficult to work with, inflexible, and unable to track student progress over time. How can school and district leaders optimize the data systems to impact student performance?

1. Involve teachers in data analysis.

Often, teachers are seen as the data “collectors” while school-based and district leaders are tasked with analysis, synthesis, and recommendations. This might contribute to the slow modification of classroom practices in response to data. With teachers left out of the data analysis, there is a significant barrier to classroom integration. It is important to recognize that in terms of promoting student growth, teachers know best the strategies and methods to employ. The disconnect between teachers and the top-down approach to data use in schools has created a false narrative that teachers are unmotivated and disinterested in employing data-driven instruction in their classrooms. In reality, 78 percent of teachers believe that data can validate where their students are and where they can go. District leaders and product developers can harness this desire to integrate data to provide customized solutions, tailored to grade level, content area, and demographics.

2. Invest in professional development of staff to integrate tools and practice.

Similar to our first recommendation, it is important that education leaders invest resources – financial, human capital, and time – to the development of teachers’ capacity to fully utilize and customize lessons based on student data.

Various research studies have found that those who participate in professional development programs that include coaching/mentoring are more likely to deploy new instructional strategies in the classroom. Effective professional development that truly enables teachers to integrate data systems is continuous and ongoing. Discrete training sessions to show teachers how to use specific hardware/software tools are important, but truly integrative professional development should go further by providing ongoing support and on-the-job training on how to collect/analyze data and how to adjust teaching in response to data analytics. Fishman (2006) noted that learning how to use technology is not the same as learning how to teach with technology.

3. Promote the use of personalized learning.

69 percent of teachers surveyed by the Gates Foundation believe that improving student achievement depends on tailoring instruction to meet individual students’ needs. Connecting data from multiple sources across a student’s academic, social, behavioral, and emotional experiences may help teachers gain a fuller picture of each student. Schools that adopt a learner‐centered pedagogy tend to experience greater integration and more effective use of technology in the classroom.

4. Work with product developers or vendors who can conduct full analysis of teachers’ needs when designing or optimizing data systems.

Over 60 percent of districts reported that lack of interoperability across data systems was a barrier to expanded use of data-driven decision making. True Interaction produces custom full-stack end-to-end technology solutions across web, desktop and mobile, integrating multiple data sources to create a customized data solution. True Interaction can determine the most optimal means to achieve operational perfection, devising and implementing the right tech stack to fit the specific school and or district need. True Interaction pulls together disparate data sources, fuses together disconnected silos, and does exactly what it takes for school data systems to operate with high levels of efficiency and efficacy, ultimately leading to improved student achievement outcomes.
Contact our team to learn more about how we can optimize your school or district data system.

Joe Sticca, Chief Operating Officer of True Interaction, contributed to this post.

by Jessica Beidelman