28 September 2014

Using Data: Technology, Training, Time and Teamwork

As a fairly experienced educator, I was VERY shocked at the opening statement of Wayman & Stringfield’s (2006) article that student data is an “untapped resource in helping educators diagnose student learning needs.” I find it hard to believe that teachers do not use data to plan out teaching and learning, as “data use is central to the school improvement process” (Chrispeels 1992; Earl and Katz 2002 in Wayman & Stringfield, (2006)). Thinking more closely however, I thought of a few fundamental reasons why data may not be used or may not be used effectively; namely lack of access, lack of time, and lack of training.

One of the major components to why data is not used or is used but perhaps inefficiently, is due to the way it is stored and accessed. Historically, data has been collected, but storage systems effectively rendered that data “inaccessible to most practitioners” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) which can only “frustrate flexible analyses” (Stringfield et al. 2001). If there is no systematic way of finding or storing information with access for all stakeholders, data becomes useless. Indeed, in Wayman & Stringfield’s (2006) study of effective uses of data on improving teaching and learning, those involved stated that “user friendliness, system speed and updates, timely data, and longitudinal data” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) had a positive impact on their ability to access and use data effectively.

Another reason for the lack of use of data may be due to there being no guidelines or even programme to be used as standard. If you are (un)lucky enough to work in a school that provides no standard facility, there is an “increasing number of computer systems” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) providing many options to record this essential data and developed solely for “the purpose of efficiently delivering student data to educators” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). Whilst there are now many “computer systems with user-friendly interfaces that allow rapid, easy access to student data for teachers and other educational professionals” (Wayman et al. 2004 in (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006), having the time to learn them on top of everything else we have to do as classroom teachers, is a hard call. But one we have to make and all the more reason that teachers need to find ways that work for them.

Linked to the time factor is another problem I have encountered in terms of “longevity” of systems – initiatives are often introduced but are not given adequate time to be implemented and utilised effectively. Many schools “move quickly in implementing these systems without providing adequate professional development for principal and teacher skill building” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). To be effective, there needs to be a “seamless partnership between technology and curriculum” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) where teachers, faculty, principals, and districts “work together over time in order to build trust that sustains open and critical conversation” (Jackson & Davis, 2000) about data and assessment, and it is essential that “everyone in the school community [must be] involved in looking at student and teacher work” (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Equal to this is enough time to learn, implement, study and use the data; one factor in the success of using technology based data to improve planning and development specifically cited the necessity of being provided “time during the work week to examine and learn from student data.” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). This meant teachers were “better able to tailor instruction because they had more specific information” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) as well as the time to do so.

Finally, collaboration with other teachers is essential in discovering “patterns for student performance, [to provide] a better, more well-rounded understanding of what a student’s capable of” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). Wayman 2005; Wayman et al. (2004) found that “the most effective application of data use is to involve all teachers on a faculty” as well as emphasis on using “multiple sources of data in an effort to gain a whole picture” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). Overall, data can be used effectively to improve teaching and learning with technology along with adequate time, training and teamwork.

Wayman, J. C., & Stringfield, S. (2006). Technology-Supported Involvement of Entire Faculties in Examination of Student Data for Instructional Improvement. American Journal of Education , 112 .

Stringfield, S., Reynolds, D., & Schaffer, E. (2001). Fifth-Year Results from the High Reliability Schools Project. International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement. Toronto.

Jackson, A., & Davis, G. (2000). Looking Collaboratively at Student and Teacher Work. Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century , 24 (25), 1-31.

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