26 August 2013

Data Doesn't Have to Be Scary - How You Get it Matters

Do you ever feel like you're left with a pile like this after you've collected data for a survey or given a common assessment that needs to be graded and entered into a spreadsheet?
Yeah, I Know Someone Like That...
Gathering data to use for your building goals, data teams, or class statistics projects doesn't have to end with you and/or your colleagues spending hours in front of a spreadsheet entering values (and inevitably making errors). This TED Talk from global health consultant and pediatrician Joel Selanikio (@jselanikio) chronicles his experience with paper surveys in the developing world. What Dr. Selanikio realized from his field observations was that no matter how many nurses tramped through jungles door-to-door surveying families on child births, immunizations, deaths, and the like, dealing with the data was a cumbersome, daunting task that usually was abandoned. The result was "data-driven" decision making on vaccine supply that was formed from very small, very incomplete datasets.

What's This Mean for Me as a Teacher?
Dr. Selanikio's story is about the success of cloud-based, user-friendly, digital data collection methods, and I think we can experience the same in our schools. Beyond the results your state sends weeks (months?) after your spring standardized testing, how much of the data you gather about the student learning at your school is ever compiled electronically?

I think a lot of the one-more-thing mentally that many teachers associate with data teams in their schools is the result of their experiences grading everything by hand, tallying the scores on paper or in their grading software, and THEN taking the scores and (hopefully) copying and pasting them into some common spreadsheet. So how can you experience a similar explosion of efficiency like observed in the TED Talk?

If it cannot be gathered electronically, don't collect the data.

The Shift
Only collecting data electronically MAY mean that you and your team have to rewrite some assessments, but that might be for the best, anyway. Which is more valuable, asking a student to graph the equation of a line in slope-intercept form, (which would be hard to enter on a spreadsheet) or having the student graph the equation of a line and then tell something about its slope, intercept, or coordinates? Once students are taking what they do graphically and making textual conclusions or inferences, those responses can easily be matched and manipulated in Excel.

What Ways Can I Gather Data Electronically in My Classroom?
The secret is in taking advantage of mobile devices that you and your students already have.
Try an of these on for size:

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Thanks for sharing!