29 September 2017

Data Academy Session One: What is effective data use?

The goal for the first session is to dig into thinking about effective data use. What do we mean by this, how do we know it when we see it, and how do questions support this work? This session is divided into three chunks:
  • How the hell did we get here? A brief history of data use in education.
  • What do we want to "here" to look like? Building a framework for data use that we own.
  • Where the hell are we going next? The role of questions and how we know when we have the "right" one.
And, okay, maybe I will be slightly more eloquent in my delivery of those points, but there's no need to pull punches in this space. We're all friends here.

Part One: How the hell did we get here? 
Look, this whole data use in education thing was not my idea. Nor is data use in our field a new idea. Our modern leanings---the approach of "data first, questions later"---starts in the 1980's and, like most poorly thought out concepts in education, had it's start in the business world. The Baldrige Framework, the Total Quality Management approach, and similar ideas continue their creep into educational systems throughout the 1990s, and when No Child Left Behind is passed in 2001, looking at disaggregated data as a starting point is pretty much codified for schools.

But we can go even further back than that...all the way back to The Enlightenment.A philosophy develops around the idea that the world should be understood through individual reasoning. And there’s this tension that develops between science and magic…science and religion…with the idea that the truth is somewhere in the middle. But the approach itself is very calculated and cold. The numbers don’t lie. Observe first…then infer. This is still a process we apply to most of our work with data.

I don't want to say that we've been doing it wrong for a few hundred years, because for the most part, this approach works just fine. And even within the last 20 years, I can point you toward some schools where this path through data has been the start of some amazing changes for students and families. I do want to say that this is not the only way to use data. I think we can do better than a one size fits all approach.

Part Two: What do we want "here" to look like?
I am an unabashed fan of a good framework...a tool that outlines the scope of a topic and hints at the qualities that lie within. I even used the Baldrige one when I was working on my admin credential a couple of years ago. And there is plenty of good quality educational research out there about what supports data use. There are all sorts of factors from information systems to data quality to the culture developed, PD provided, administrative support, and more. We're not starting from scratch and we don't need to decide what shape to make the wheel this year. But, we are going to look at data from a new angle and that needs to meld with other initiatives.

In this part of the workshop, we'll divide and conquer a draft framework for effective data use based on some current research from both education and data science, our instruction and evaluation models, and other sources. Groups will review one resource and put big ideas onto sticky notes. These will be placed on one of four posters that form the armature of our framework. Then, groups will take a poster and organize the ideas.

I did this activity with teachers last week and they are very interested to see what their principals come up with.

Part Three: Where the hell are we going?
It is not unusual in education to find a "data first" approach---that is, the data are the starting point. However, there's plenty of good research out there to show that an inquiry approach supports engagement with data. I've asked all my participants to identify a question they want to use as the driver for their work over the next few months. 

We'll talk a little about the Goldilocks question---the one that isn't too big or too small, but fits our purposes just right. There is nothing wrong with the big and small questions, mind you. Those are important, too. But we have only so much time and resources during these workshops. There is little point in learning an answer which is already published or one which requires so many resources (or new skills or some bending of ethics) that it can't be answered within the confines of our workshops.

In the vernacular of the place where I grew up, we "kick this pig" on Tuesday with administrators and then with our instructional coaches a couple of weeks after that. By then, teachers will be ready for their second session and we'll keep rolling from there...all the way through March.

I've asked participants to respond to some questions about their skills, what they think their question will be, and one more important piece: What is one thing you wish people knew about your school? I've been asking this question at conferences recently and the answers are fascinating. I am really interested to hear what people in our district will say.

Want to follow along? Resources for this session are here, and you can see the overview of this project in an earlier post. I'd love to hear what you think...as well as what you wish people knew about your school or district.

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