Friday, January 11, 2013

It's Time We Innovate Educational Data

Data...Educational leaders love it.  Many go to great lengths to find it.  Some even do it just to have others call them by another title.   (That's a joke Dr. Larson.)

All joking aside, today's schools are ripe for disruptive change in the realm of instructional data.  Education has an enormous problem with data that will require world changing solutions.

Schools are starving for data.  There are lots of companies offering programs that provide data to schools and teachers.  Some even do a decent job providing data that is easy to consume and interpret.  BUT, they all miss the mark.  Let me paint a clearer picture.  States require standardized testing at various levels and subjects.  They return data by which districts, schools, and teachers are measured.  The data includes course objectives, standards, student demographics, etc.  Districts and schools then purchase specialized programs for student remediation, tutoring, and progress monitoring.  Any given school might have 3-10 specialized programs that also house more data revealing bits and pieces of valuable information. I call it valuable, because I think that data, if used properly, could reveal the keys to learning.  How likely is a teacher to be able to use this data effectively when it is broken into so many fragments?  They don't have time or expertise to be able to use the data when it is provided to them in such an unorganized mess.

I question current educational methods for providing feedback on student performance and skill mastery to key stakeholders in a child's education.  What is the standard method for providing feedback on  student performance?  It's primarily letter grades.  Yes, we also give standardized testing scores and other sundry pieces of data that may or may not reveal student progress.  But in today's educational culture of NCLB they don't quite fit in.  The further my children get in their educations, the more I wish I had more specific data from their teachers that could assist my wife and I in finding activities, games, etc. that would move toward mastery of classroom objectives with which they need the most help.  It makes me ponder a world where a child is a data driven report of their skill mastery rather than a holistic grade that reveals their willingness/ability to complete tasks.

Here is the point...

Education needs a standard or a platform for housing student data.  A system that is either open source or has open standards, or APIs.  A standard for data that will allow data to be moved from platform to platform.  A platform that inspires talented developers and visionaries to create tools and systems where educational data is easy to collect, evaluate, and used to improve student learning.  We need to be able to track student performance across countless assessments, activities, programs, and other teacher-made assessments.  Educators, students, and parents need data to be easy, nimble, and powerful.  On top of all this it needs to ensure a strict level of security and privacy.  Then it must be widely adopted by state education agencies and private companies alike.

This would create a frenzy of innovation in the market of educational data and tools.  Look at the past few years in technology.  Take the MP3 file format, for example.  It was a revolutionary standard for transforming the music industry making music easier to create, and consume.  From it we were introduced to MP3 players, iTunes, iPods, and countless other music players and programs that are a part of our everyday lives now.  Then there is Twitter.  Twitter created a simple platform for sharing ideas, links, pictures, and more.  From it spawned the creation of hashtags, retweets, and countless new apps for creating and consuming media.  It was a simple platform that was easy for developers and users alike.  Yet, it was a powerful tool for communication, and remains so today.

It's a huge task, I know.  If done right, however, it could create a new market full of tools for creating and consuming instructional-based data.

So who's going to be next to change the world?