Collaboration, not technology, spurs education data use

Editor’s note: This post was republished with permission from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s EdInsight blog.

In Fall, 2015, the Kauffman Foundation released EdWise. EdWise is a data system that takes publicly-available education data from Missouri and Kansas and makes them freely available through a user-friendly interface. To their credit, Kauffman Foundation program officer and EdWise creator, Christopher Laubenthal, and Kauffman Foundation Research Director Edith Gummer, recognized that the value of EdWise was not in data access, but in data use.

That’s where I come in. I’ve been studying data use for the last 15 years, particularly in the area of computer data systems. Aided by Paul Smith of Education Reform Advocates, I worked with the Kauffman Foundation to design and conduct events that helped participants learn EdWise.

Technology is not the agent of change

In researching data use, helping districts with their data systems and observing countless other implementations, I’ve learned that data systems are typically thought of in terms of the technology. The common wisdom is that we can really help educators use data if we can just hook them up with the right data systems, the right features and the right data. But the research I’ve done with Vincent Cho flips that. Our research shows that use of a data system is more about people than it is the “right” technology. More specifically, use of a system is contingent on the sense that people make of it in terms of their everyday work. Yes, technology is important. But technology is not the agent of change—people are the agent of change.

Collaboration and Engagement

Further, the research I’ve done with Jo Beth Jimerson on data-related professional learning shows that educators don’t get much out of “sit and get” sessions. They need to work collaboratively on problems that are immediately relevant to their practice. They need to talk with others about the stuff that keeps them up at night—and they need to learn about data in this context.

With this in mind, three EdWise events were built around the work in which participating educators were engaged. Activities were short, active, collaborative and required discussion. But here’s the deal: the focus was never on EdWise—it was on their work. We taught participants how to use EdWise within the context of work-based activities. In each activity, participants discussed a specific problem, and at some point during the activity, we said, “Here’s how EdWise can help you inform this problem.” Since these events were grounded in work, it felt less like “data system training” and more like a collaborative work session about data use.

So what did I learn from these events? I learned that EdWise is a viable support for using state data. In fact, post-event interviews indicated that the events had spurred data use, particularly with EdWise. I learned that educators really took to the active, collaborative format that focused on their work. And I learned that educators are thirsty for this sort of experience— more learning on how to use data, more collaboration and more ways to use EdWise—over and over, they said they wanted more.

To learn more about EdWise and the Kauffman Foundation’s work in education data, read EDinsight blogs from Christopher Laubenthal and Edith Gummer.

Jeffrey C. Wayman, Ph.D., is an education consultant with Wayman Services, LLC, focusing on the effective use of data in education. Dr. Wayman’s research on data-based decision-making includes efficient structures for creating data-informed school districts, software that delivers student data to educators, effective leadership for data use, professional learning for data use, and systemic supports that enable widespread teacher use of student data.


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