Data Driven Classroom

What if you hired a consulting team to help you understand some vital information and, when asked how they came to their conclusions, they said: “it’s a combination of intuition, experience, standard practice, and clues from the market.” We can safely assume that the consultant would be looking for a new job asap. Professionals are expected to produce hard empirical evidence to support their findings- and relying on mere speculation is unacceptable.

Why then do we lower the bar for the mentors of our future generation? Our education system is built around standardized testing and procedures have not changed in decades. The vast majority of classrooms operate under a “standard” practice approach rather than exploring and adopting new technology and methodologies to create a data-driven, research-informed, culture. Teachers should be held to a higher standard than nearly any other profession- they are the primary influence on our children’s future, after all.

Let’s get one thing clear- I am in no way blaming teachers for the lack of data-driven decision making in the classroom. For context, I have 4 sisters: 3 of whom are teachers and one of which is majoring in early childhood education well on her way to becoming a teacher. I understand the challenges teachers are faced with when crafting their curriculums because I talk with them often about their course material, student engagement, and program designs.

When asked how they evaluate their students' performance and progress, the majority of teachers cite online “grade books” and “assignment submission portals” as the most innovative assets available to them- neither of which analyzes data or reveals any kind of performance evaluation advisement. Teachers are not the problem- they are doing their best with the resources they’re given. Institutions and supervisors simply do not give educators access to the tools they need to explore and analyze data. In fact, regulation often prevents them from implementing technology- even if they wanted to.

The amount of data produced in the education system is unreal. From transcripts, to test scores, to socioeconomic data, and student surveys- it is insane to me that this treasure trove of insight is being wasted. If teachers could utilize the tools necessary to collect and analyze this data, they would have the ability to intervene immediately- instead of when it’s too late.

Potential Challenges

I am not blind to the fact that simply giving educators the technological capabilities to evaluate data is not going to work unless they know how to make sense of it all. Data analytics is an entire career field in which most workers have advanced computer and engineering degrees. It’s crucial to understand: simply giving someone a hammer will not produce a house.

Teachers are time challenged as well. Even if they were curious enough to learn how to analyze data- there aren't enough hours in the day available to them for collecting, cleaning, and combing through the data for insights.

Potential Solutions

  • Pair teachers with data coaches. According to the February 2019 issue of The Chronical Of Higher Education, “Large universities, like Carnegie Mallon, the University of California at Davis, and the University of Central Florida, have centers where experts in learning science and data analysis work alongside faculty members to conduct research on their teaching.”
  • Give teachers more data power: Indiana University professor Ben Motz is a pioneer in the field of “educational data mining” and continues to develop methods for producing student insights through the exploration of data. For example, surveying students prior to the start of the academic year might reveal that only X% of the students got an A or a B in a pre-requisite class. With the compilation and evaluation of this data, a data scientist could easily generate a report which would then be delivered to the course instructors with recommendations on how to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of their students. This type of report is easy for educators to understand and implement in the classroom.

The biggest takeaway from my research on data (or lack thereof) use in the classroom is that educators want to explore it but are lacking the necessary resources. It is up to the policy makers, budget setters, and other controlling entities to help our teachers embrace the benefits of data in the classroom.