Data collection and analysis has become a big priority in colleges and universities, with 79 percent of institutions experiencing substantial data growth and 57 percent of institutions reporting that analytics is a priority when it comes to big data, according to a recent study sponsored by Dell.
Most schools aren’t changing their daily lesson plans based on big data analytics, experts say, but the innovations in data management/analytics systems are promising.
“A lot of teachers are using software to organize data, but it’s an emerging industry,” Steven Ross, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education, told Tech Page One.
Specialized data software assesses students with a number of indicators that include the social, emotional, physical and mental health of students to gain a holistic understanding of a student’s learning.
“If a student is trailing on these indicators, they get an ‘off-track’ symbol, and teachers can work with counselors and other administrators to intervene,” Ross said.
With the software, “you work with the student on a social and emotional basis rather than drill after drill,” Ross said.
Many software systems also allow educators to log how a student performed on a particular lesson. After they’ve logged data on several lessons, they can identify a student’s strong suits and what skills need work.
The main objective of data collection and analysis is to individualize student learning.
“The more you know about where a child is in terms of learning, the more you can customize the learning process,” said Iwan Streichenberger, CEO of InBloom, which makes data tools for educators.
Educators can use big data to make decisions about class, small group or individual projects.
“For instance, teachers may decide to group top performing students together for group projects, or they may group a top performer in an area with a group that needs help,” Streichenberger told Tech Page One.
Collecting, aggregating data
Merely collecting student data simply isn’t effective for educators.
“Collecting data just for the sake of having it is not nearly as important as how actionable the data is,” said Andy Myers, CMO at Renaissance Learning, which also makes a data analytics tool for educators.
Aggregating student data — having teachers, counselors, administrators and other school employees log information on students and then share it — is “critical,” Myers told Tech Page One.
Streichenberger agreed with that sentiment.
“The challenge isn’t processing data, but making it available to the right people at the right time,” he said. “For instance, if we’re trying to find predictive factors for kids dropping out of school, we can look at the data and know what to look for because we know their health, personal life and academics.”
Anonymizing that information to some extent and setting privacy controls on data sets through software programs is the next step.
“When you take data and you remove personalized information and anonymize it, you can learn what’s working, what’s not working and how schools are improving,” Myers said. “You can then look at all schools across the country from a macro perspective or you can use it on a micro level in the classroom for precise, timely instruction.”
About 58 percent of institutions in the Dell study reported that security is the top challenge when it comes to student data.
Given the need for secure software, Streichenberger said educators can expect to see innovations in terms of sophisticated privacy settings in data analytics software in the future.
“Privacy is a science,” he said. “There’s a complex way to create value for the users with data without potentially compromising their privacy.”
The future of big data
In general, synthesizing student data should be a high priority for schools, some experts say.
Ross said public school systems rely too heavily on testing to assess students’ understanding of material. Instead, big data should be at the forefront.
But the tides appear to be turning as more schools and universities adopt data analytics programs.
“Eventually, we will back away from [rigorous testing]” to focus on big data, Ross said.
Check out the infographic below for more interesting statistics on digital education.