In our daily lives, data is everywhere – and for schools, colleges and universities, which generate hundreds – if not thousands – of pieces every day, being able to use intelligence effectively in fact-based decision-making can have many operational benefits.
So, while having a pot of data is one thing, if it’s not organised and there’s no strategy in place to convert into valuable information and insight, then it really is just a bunch of numbers with no context or narrative.
A change in the learning tide
The education sector has vastly evolved over the past year, and the pandemic has roused many challenges – and opportunities – for institutions, both individually and collectively.
Increased social distancing measures and a digital-first approach to learning are just two of the most notable changes of the last 12 months, and there’s no denying that the transition to accommodate these new processes has been rapid.
But it hasn’t been solely the rollout of an effective online learning experience that’s been crucial; departments have had to quickly find new ways of communicating with one another too, to keep the educational ship sailing smoothly.
As a result, many primary schools, HE (higher education) and FE (further education) sites have invested in and deployed unified communications and collaboration tools to help them plug the gap to stay connected – whether it be in the form of Zoom or Microsoft Teams licences – and continue their daily operations with minimal disruption.
For some, this was a drastic step. For others, it was an upgrade of a system they already had in place.
However, while implementing this technology has played – and continues to play – an important part in maintaining some form of ‘normality’ for teachers and learners, what we’ll see happening over the coming months is institutions reflecting on some of the immediate reactions of 2020 – especially regarding their technological investments.
For example, some sites may have invested in Teams software, but they have the wrong licence.
With some packages offering instant-messaging-only access and others providing voice functionality, at the start, some sites purchased 60,000 of the most expensive licence – giving all levels of access to students and staff. In reality, they may have only need 3,000 of the more costly licences and the most basic subscription for remaining users. But, without data, many managers wouldn’t have known this, nor how to optimise their licences.
And if there’s a £7 difference between these licences per calendar month, it’s easy to see how this can quickly soar into hundreds of thousands of pounds – in some cases, millions – being spent on technology that isn’t being used to its full capacity.
This is why there’s likely to be more focus on ‘sweating the assets’ this year, to make sure the investment is truly working for the institution. And rightly so.
But to be able to make an informed decision that’s in the best interest of the site, there needs to be proof of how effective the technology has been at fulfilling its original purpose – and whether any adjustments need to be made.
Finding the data to back-up managerial calls
Having the evidence to support decision-making is crucial in any sector or role, but when it comes to education, it’s no secret that budgets are already stretched, so any additional investment has to be for the greater good of the institution.
Taking the example of remote or home learning platforms, knowing which staff have been delivering lectures, which students have been attending them, how many pupils have logged on to complete and submit assignments, and what productivity, engagement and grade attainment levels are like, are just some of the areas that generate hundreds of pieces of valuable data.
But this intelligence needs to be captured and analysed to be able to provide genuine visibility that can help support, improve and speed up any critical decision-making processes.
You might also like: Helping to build a digital future for a new Northern Ireland
Something as seemingly simple as knowing which students have their video on during a lesson and interact with the instant messaging functions – facilitated by specialist data analytics software – can help institutions create a picture of not only how successful online learning has been, but if learners are engaged.
This then paves the way for wider investigation into why there might be any disengagement, triggering teacher intervention to help prevent ‘at risk’ students falling further behind and ultimately to prevent course dropouts.
Is it because they have internet connectivity issues, and their home setup isn’t conducive to effective learning? Are they feeling isolated and unmotivated? Or do they need further support from their tutor? It could be one of many things, but the reality is that without the insight in the first place, this would be difficult to flag.
While a dissection of the data is vital for helping to provide an engaging learning experience – on an individual level – as well as shape a supportive wellbeing strategy for all those within the academic environment, there are also many operational areas it can streamline.
Naturally, this has an impact on an institution’s reputation too – if it’s efficient and listens to its employees and enrolees, the feedback received is likely to be more positive.
The future of data in education
In reality, data intelligence will be more crucial than ever in the education sector in 2021 and beyond, not only as institutions try to navigate the perpetual challenges from the pandemic, but also as they begin their recovery phase.
“In reality, data intelligence will be more crucial than ever in the education sector in 2021 and beyond, not only as institutions try to navigate the perpetual challenges from the pandemic, but also as they begin their recovery phase”
No matter whether the nation is in or out of lockdown or social distancing is or isn’t in place, granular insight in education will always be relevant, offering a gateway to not only saving sites money – by identifying system weaknesses or convoluted internal processes – but streamlining processes to make staff happier, and providing tailored student support – even when it’s unable to be delivered face-to-face.