How can Schools cope with the data-driven age?

Everyone is talking about data, or even big data, about AI (artificial intelligence), about digital transformation and that buzz is moving around every industry including education. Leading schools have thought and talked about smart learning and operation systems, but some questions still linger: Is it just a contemporary trend or a must? Why and how much should schools invest in?

The importance of data

The importance of data is undeniable in helping school management board to look back into past and current incidents in a comprehensive view without being over-reliant on memories, which prepares leaders with informed options for future events.

Data if is stored, arranged and used properly can boost operation efficiency significantly. There are many data points schools can collect such as student information and demographics, academic assessments, teachers’ quality tracking, parents’ feedbacks, resource usage, etc. However, what’s the point of recording all the data if not used and analyzed as all the information just goes wasted, so does the effort to collect them. These days, many principals still use intuition or anecdotal evidence for decision making, this should not be prolonged especially for if educational organization wants to scale up.

There are some examples where data can benefit schools’ academic and operation processes. First, timely record of students’ assessment and teachers’ performance can depict the change in quality of teaching and learning through times. It helps headmasters to compare between different classes, grades or even schools and it provides more imperative scale of data rather than just the genuine feelings after one or two class observations. Such data when carefully scrutinized can show trends, patterns and existing problems and from there, school management can create holistic solution rather than fragmented ones. Not only beneficial in teaching and learning, data analytics can be useful in resource planning and tracking. With systematic control, school leaders can see where leaks in resources are or if facilities and budget is effectively distributed. Moreover, using data analytics can reduce manual and painstaking work of administration and prevent data loss or inaccuracy, which takes burden off both manager and staff’s shoulders.

How do we treat data?

The next question is how to apply data analytics in a wide range of school activities. Where should we begin with as swimming in piles of information seem to a nightmare. After consulting different education organizations of various scales, we solidify the process into the phases below:

1. Data identification

This step needs collective effort from across departments to identify all the data points and which data sets can be served for management purpose. In other words, this step is to make sure the school stakeholders have (1) a clear understanding of each data points and (2) adequate data input sources.

2. Data collection and storage

Data can be in many forms, from papers to digitalized platform. The school needs to set up data collection system and storage that best capture important information and can categorized logically. We prefer the school use DMS (Document Managing System) that provides larger storage capacity as well as more environmentally friendly than the original methods: big rooms with tons of papers.

3. Data Analysis

To this point, the management needs to identify what they want to know first, what exactly are they looking for like the students’ scores or school department’s budget. Only when they clarify their needs, then they can decide which measurement can yield from data.

4. Data visualization

Figures are rough, they always are. Nevertheless, we can make the number become more attractive by giving them better presentation. We highly recommend publishing reports using Tableau or Power BI for better visualization.

One more thing to note, to really introduce data driven culture into schools is not an overnight process. It takes time not only to build system but also to educate schools’ management, staff and teachers to truly understand and correctly evaluate the importance and nature of data. Yet, this is a valuable investment education organization should put in for maximum efficiency.