Data literacy in education is essential

Graham Cooper, Head of Education at Capita, talks us through why data literacy needs to be the new normal

Data analytics is not just about driving efficiency. It also has the power to improve outcomes and ensure every student achieves their potential.

Today’s education solutions enhance the opportunities for children and young adults. By knowing about an individual, rather than guessing, education professionals can create profiles of each learner and use data to better understand when intervention may be needed.

No one working in education decided to join the profession to trawl through spreadsheets of student performance data.  However, being able to understand the information enables better interpretation of trends and sometimes, and the chance to uncover the hidden story.

Today school, college and university leadership teams are awash with data. While many solutions ‘slice and dice’ data to turn it into actionable information about a year group, class, or subject, there are still a lot of cases where data is siloed – lacking standardisation and incomplete.

No one working in education decided to join the profession to trawl through spreadsheets of student performance data.

The situation becomes even more complex when multiple locations, campuses and groups of schools or colleges are involved, and an aggregated view is required.  Add in a requirement to compare how your school, college or university is doing compared to others and it’s easy to see why education data managers (a very important breed of person in educational establishments these days) never have a quiet moment.  The days of the late 1990s are gone – schools, colleges and universities have to be data literate to survive and thrive in today’s world.

Enhancing education with data and technology

The best results are achieved when education technology solutions are used together to follow the learning journey from nursery right through to higher education. Educational organisations that want to do well should follow the below guidelines:

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  • Get strategic – agree what data your institution will collect, with what frequency, and how it will be used.
  • Use the technology you have (or get what you need) – use the full capability of your student management information solution, which should have in built capability to show you data as interactive dashboards, ‘drillable’ reports, a library of key data analyses and alerting systems that tell you when things change.
  • Provide easy access where it matters most – put the data in the hands of those that can do most with it, and do not just keep it hidden behind the doors of the establishment’s management offices.
  • Don’t act in isolation – make sure you understand your institution’s data in context and not in isolation (although that’s important too).  Consider how you compare to those establishments like you and against national benchmarks.  If that data shows you are different, either positively or negatively, ask why this could be?

What’s next for education data analytics?

Data and analytics are awash with buzzwords: big data, data lakes, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and so on.  Advances in data analysis techniques and technologies such as software bots and voice assistants mean we are on the cusp of a revolution everywhere, not just in education.

Think about the next time you buy something online.  You’ll see ‘people who bought that also bought this’, or ‘48% who looked at this went on to buy that’, or ‘recommended for you’.

Now, apply that experience to education data in schools, colleges or universities and what might happen?

Systems will soon be telling us things like ‘did you realise that, based on her current pattern of attendance and results, it looks like Philippa will drop out of her university course next term’ or ‘did you know that Lauren has been absent from school the last four Mondays in a row and this absence pattern is shared by Andrew, Natalie and Chetan’.”

We are on the cusp of a revolution everywhere, not just in education.

Similarly, how far off are we from being able to say: ‘Hey, (Alexa / Siri / Google) – what is the likely outcome for our GCSE resits and A level results this year in Maths, and what actions should I take now to improve them?’.

That future is just around the corner.

For more insights, please see here.

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