Data to the People
For all the talk and excitement about learning analytics—taken here as the analysis and application of learner-generated data and other relevant information to improve learning outcomes—we’ve yet to see much evidence of an impact on student and teacher decision-making. But, by bringing better technology to bear on a wider range of more consistently collected data, we can move from dashboards and reports that simply describe what we probably already know, to robust, real-time decision-making tools that enable students to direct their own learning.
At Motivis Learning, this vision of student agency and continuous improvement is core to our mission: We build tools that empower learners and teachers. In enabling the design and delivery of individualized learning experiences, we believe it’s essential to bring meaningful data together in a timely, reliable, and accessible way so that students—and the teachers, advisers, and administrators who support them—can make better choices at every stage of their learning journey.
Run the Numbers
Outside education, I’ve seen the evolution of how data, when accessible to the right support network, can become a powerful tool for improvement. I started jogging regularly over twenty years ago. Over the years, I’ve become fairly serious about my running, following carefully designed training plans, preparing intensively for big races, and searching constantly for ways to improve performance.
Almost accidentally, data and analysis have become fundamental to my life as a runner. When I started running, a friend bought me a spiral-bound planner with a daily section to record distance and time. I initially tracked those details simply to chart my own progress and remember good running routes. Seeing those blank spaces on the page also provided a nudge to get out and pound the pavement. As I became more serious about my running, I began diligently keeping a spreadsheet with daily mileage, speed, weather conditions, course terrain, and so forth.
That data has become a fantastic record of my journey and progress as a runner, and an even more powerful tool for shaping my goals and how I achieve them. Looking back at all those rows and columns, I’ve been able to see patterns of injuries and successful training cycles and strategies, as well as counterproductive tendencies.
Improvements in equipment have made life as a data-driven runner even better. First it was a running watch that could store multiple times and splits, ensuring I never lost track of a run. Then it was websites where I could determine distance covered. More recently, GPS watches have made it possible to track distance and pace, allowing me to fine tune workouts in real-time. And all this information is now easily–even automatically–uploaded to the Cloud, making it easy to access and share.
It Takes a Village
At the same time, the online running community has flourished, with information on pre-planned routes and terrain for any place I travel and coaching services ready to provide expert guidance and support. I’ve been able to benchmark my progress, learning from other runners and coaches in more targeted ways and more effectively modifying my approach. I’ve shared data with doctors and physical therapists, helping them better diagnose and treat various injuries.
I’ve even participated in a few races where GPS watches allowed runners to hold race organizers accountable by demonstrating mis-measured distances and inaccurate official timing. More plentiful and more reliable data, made readily accessible to me and the people I trust in my running community, have helped me train smarter, get the support I need, and achieve new goals.
Give a Man a Fish…
How I’ve learned to use data to reach my running goals has many parallels in what I have seen happening—and not yet happening—in schools everywhere. Though plenty of commentators get starry-eyed about big data, even a modest vision of using data in small ways is exciting and potentially transformative. Collecting the right data consistently, over time, and putting it in the hands of the right people at the right times drives continuous improvement.
By using the data to make patterns and trends apparent, and by putting that information in front of those people with the incentives and the resources to do something with it, we can reinforce and replicate positive outcomes while homing in on the factors that predict or even cause negative ones.
But too little of that data is making its way to the people who could use it most, namely students and teachers. That’s why we spend so much time at Motivis focusing on the student perspective in designing our learning relationship management tools.
When students ask, “What resources might be useful to solve this problem?” Or, “How do I know whether or not I’m falling behind my peers?” Or, “What have I done in the past that helped me succeed?” We want to make sure they, and their support community, have the right data at their fingertips, and have the right tools to communicate easily and effectively. By taking their needs seriously, and supporting the decisions they make in navigating their personal learning journey, we unlock the often promised but not-yet-realized potential of learning analytics.