student data

Data, Data Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

On April 21, 2014, Mary Jo Madda (@mjmadda) wrote in EdSurge:

“In less than two years, inBloom went from being a sort of Holy Grail for student data services to a sacrificial lamb that has brought data and privacy discussions to the forefront.”

This article, plus a host of others over the last week, examined the pros and cons of Big Business collecting a pool of student data. They asked: Is this river of data good for society? Does this sea of data invade a student’s privacy? And, most importantly, where do we draw the line — at which point do we say that the ocean of data-ostensibly required to steer our education policy, is simply not worth the potential harm to individual students? While these are valid and important issues in this debate, I found myself wondering if our national conversation was ignoring another crucial question: Is even a drop of this data being used to benefit any actual students?

Think about it. Students currently spend a lot of classroom time being tested, but how often do they directly benefit from these national tests? What if we turned the paradigm on its head? What if we eliminate all of the student privacy issues by focusing on how students can use classroom instructional time to do projects that they care about, and get the data and results from their actual work. This methodology is already taking hold across the country. Unfortunately, up until today, it has largely been going on under the radar of the national press and the national educational debates.

There is a new and exciting opportunity at hand. Imagine if Game-Based Learning tech companies teamed up with Project-Based Learning companies (something we are beginning to do). In this scenario, students would be inspired with game-based/project-based work, learning and formative assessment that they actually enjoy and that doesn’t threaten their privacy. Since students would be directly at the controls, they would be the ones to read and apply the data on their own progress. Now, whether or not school districts aggregate this performance data into meaningful insights takes on a different light.

Instead of simply revealing how an individual student in a given demographic performed on a standardized test, this new electronically recorded, formative assessment data could reveal rich insights into how and why students learn. Personal profiles would no longer be necessary or relevant. Rather, the focus would be placed on the good stuff– how and why learning takes place (i.e., where the misconceptions were, how the students corrected their mistakes, how the students applied new learning). Suddenly, our out-dated national assessment infrastructure would be transformed into a modern, Project/Game-Based learning, assessment power-house.

This scenario is not far fetched. In fact, it is ready for prime time. And with it, students will finally be able to drink from the same well of data. But, in this model, students will actually become more informed, more motivated and smarter in the process — and so will we.


Picture “Server room with grass!” by Tom Raftery, Some Rights Reserved

Co-Founder and Managing Partner of IT'S ABOUT TIME®, Laurie developed IAT's publishing direction with National Science Foundation-supported math, engineering and science curricula, overseeing Strategic Planning and Marketing.