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Pearson Platforms / Blog / 2012 / 4

Education 3.0: Data Hurdling

by Jeff Borden
11 April 2012

I just returned from Australia where I had the opportunity to speak with educators and administrators from all over the country.  I really do enjoy my town "down under" as the people are amazingly friendly and the discussions are often quite productive.  It's a wonderful place to visit as well as work!

But despite the kindness I am always shown, it doesn't change the fact that education problems are still education problems regardless of where in the world you go.  And so, for a week I discussed the same issues, concerns, and problems with these educators that I discuss regularly with American educators.  They are the same issues I discussed with educators in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia last year.  There really are several "universal" problems with education.

And as I think towards the future and "Education 3.0" concepts, some of these problems are very frustrating to me.  They are not frustrating because there are no answers, but they are frustrating because of the politics of implementation and the tenacity with which we (educators) seem to distain change.  Believe me, I get the frustration that many of my fellow professors and administrators feel at the notion of "trying something new" every other year.  Some hot shot in the organization comes up with the plan that will fix everything, they try to make it work for a while (meanwhile…back at the ranch…the people who are supposed to implement the new program are doing everything possible to ignore it, knowing it will fail and go away), and eventually the originator loses their muster or the university takes on another "new" program that will be better than the first.  I've worked both inside and outside of education long enough to have seen that scenario play out over and over again.

So, when I talk about solutions, I am not talking about a fly-by-night, theoretical notion.  I'm talking about something that has changed our planet and almost every industry on our planet in a profound way.  I'm talking about the realistic and effective use of data.

"But we use data!" you might be saying.  I know, a lot of schools "use" data.  Grades are data.  Demographics are data.  Financial aid is data.  But I've also seen and heard from HUNDREDS of educators that even these relatively simple data elements rarely work together.  Why?  There are several reasons actually.

First, some technologies simply can't merge with others.  While in Australia, I listened to an administrator explain how their Student Information System categorized students in such a specific way, there were several work arounds that every other system had to accommodate just to function, let alone report on.  When I asked if the SIS could simply be changed, the answer was a resounding, "NO!"  So, in order to get meaningful data across systems, there would now need to be dozens of work arounds, hundreds of hours spent finding ways to aggregate information outside of appropriate systems, and ultimately too much headache and hassle to do it anyway.

Second, I was speaking recently with what I thought was a very well "connected" school.  I assumed this was a school on the cutting edge in terms of data driven decision making.  Then, as I asked a simple question, I got a shocking answer.

ME: "So what you should do is pull in your financial aid data to see how students who make it into their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th semesters rank by both grade and outcome, in relationship to their financial aid status.  This way your marketing group has insights into the academic…"

ADMIN: "Let me stop you there.  We can't do that.  The man who controls the financial aid data set would never share that with anyone else at the college."

HUH?  So, the politics at the school prevented the sharing of data across departments because of a power play?  I have heard this from K-12 organizations as well as higher education consistently throughout my career.  One school, many departments, even more silos.

So, as I think about Education 3.0 and its reliance on data, I wonder how/when this will change.  We have access to the right data today, assuming you are using the right system(s).  But because of the challenges I listed above, and a few others, the ability to compare / contrast / correlate data sets is extremely difficult.  But think about the kinds of decisions one could make by using the following:

Grades - Outcomes - Activity - Clicks - Time on task - Learning path - Demographics - Financial Aid - Helpdesk support - Behaviors - Cognitive Patterns - Retention - Progress - Matriculation - Hints Received - Pre tests - Post tests - Learning style preferences - Learning community involvement - Etc.

ALL of that (and more!) is available data if a school is using the right system(s) and pulling the information together in a meaningful way.  And all of that is what is driving Education 3.0.  Meaningful, useful, effective data is out there…we just have to harness it productively.

Good luck and good teaching.