Roll up Roll up! Education Analytics for Free!
Can schools and Trusts turn data into meaningful information to help drive improvements in student outcomes for free? Is there free software that can be used to join data from multiple systems into a single view of the truth?
The simplistic answer is… yes. Schools have been doing this for decades. Good teachers have been assessing learning and good leaders assessing teaching, recording this data, interpreting its meaning, and systematically modifying practice based on it.
Operating at scale, these assessments, along with work samples, can feed into moderation exercises to ensure that judgements are valid in a wider context, all using collaboration and expert practitioner experience.
Over time systems have been introduced to better manage the schools information (a Management Information System if you will…) and more easily track attendance, assessment and safeguarding data. All of these systems introduce cost, but increase the reliability of the data and in theory reduce the time to collect and analyse – freeing time to teach.
Data silos and costs increasing
What that has meant, along with a now vast array of applications for managing all aspects of schooling, is that not only have we made it very difficult to access wholistic information about a student, but that already costs are rising. How often do we consider the costs of moderation, of expert practitioner time and the school improvement services of the Trust or Local Authority? How do we judge the quality and reliability of our data? How do we ensure that the resulting analysis is _understood_ by different people in the same way? Often, we are told new processes around recording data has meant teachers and leaders have less time to teach and lead.
We need to think wholistically about our data strategy to stop the data ‘siloes’ from appearing. To genuinely provide high quality information to the person that needs it (this might be the student!) in a timely fashion to make better decisions. Your data strategy should seek to understand the total cost of ownership (TCO). Importantly it should also address the cost of _not_ improving the use of data. Taking this view from a safeguarding perspective, the costs of missing a piece of a wholistic profile could be dire.
A realistic answer to the initial question then is… unlikely. And when operating across more than a single school… no. But are there elements that can remain ‘free’ and can we collaborate and learn from others? Yes, and I think this is where ‘Open Education Analytics’ can play a part. Open Education Analytics (OEA) is an open source community coordinated by Microsoft Education.
What is so ‘open’ about ‘open education analytics’?
OEA is providing a reference architecture that Trusts and large educational institutions can deploy in minutes. By building a community around the patterns and practices we are all encouraged to freely share routines we’ve found valuable. Integrations are a big part of this – modules to load data from the MIS, from Finance systems, from the applications Trusts rely on for managing schools. Beyond integrating data, Trusts will often have common requirements for visualisations that could be shared. Even the use of machine learning for predictive models could be built by one and extended and improved by many.
Over the past few months the Community Brands Education Analytics Practice has been working with Microsoft and has been accredited as one of the first global OEA Advanced Partners. We are redefining our own analytics strategy in the context of ‘Open’ because what is better for our partners in education is better for us. Over the coming months we’ll be exploring further what OEA can mean to Trusts in the UK. OEA is not Education Analytics for free, but by working in an open way and collaborating with education partners, we can go further quicker and ultimately play our part in helping to improve the outcomes and life chances of young people.