How do we collectively help schools manage all this data?
Data Security. Big Data. Personalized Data. Data Breech. We all have been inundated lately with the growing complex conversations around data management including the critical information collected in education.
One fact not to lose focus of when you pick up that publication touting the numerous perceived educational data shortcomings or fears: Schools have been in the data management business for decades.
Each year we force schools to expand their expected core competences past their traditional charge of preparing future citizens for life, further education, or entering the workforce. Schools are now psychological, pharmacological, marketing, nutritional, social and, yes, even correctional systems hubs for numerous “non-core” competence.
One of the latest and highest profile new deliverables is safe and effective management of administrative, operational and learner data. Keep in mind that over 86 percent of American schools have less than 5,000 students enrolled and many times the local data, educational technology, networking and IT management falls on the shoulder of 2-3 period a day classroom math and/or science instructor!
This lack of personnel bandwidth is probably one of the reasons for the influx of large data initiatives like those being seen from foundations, venture capitalists, marketplace providers, and even government entities. We all think that we can help these schools “get it right.”
It is critical for schools to address data and communication shortcomings as parents and students living in this “Information Age” have unprecedented access to data in all other aspects of their lives, whether it’s ordering products, banking or accessing technical support in real time with the click of a button.
So with that, the question remains: how do we collectively help schools manage all this data?
(Next page: 3 ways schools can manage data and communication shortcoming)
My time at a state education agency provided clarity around two related areas of need that schools have: technology decision-making and data management. And that is the rub – the entire data enterprise has become more complex. We all agree that effective usage of technology can provide long-term benefits, not the least of which is abundant data about learners, for use by practitioners to improve teaching and learning processes.
As the lead of the SIF Association  (a unique, global non-profit community of thousands of schools, government agencies, non-profits, and commercial entities who openly collaborate to build free technical blueprints for data management) there are some immediate actions the broader community can take – no matter which hat you wear:
- Schools and governments need to demand technical solutions built to openly and collaboratively developed, freely available technical specifications. Would you allow for dozens of different electrical outlets be used in your building? Have you travelled globally with differing voltage? Complicated!
- Solution providers need to collaborate using these standards and reduce the “one-off’s” and “platform lock-in’s” that tactically solve short term problems, yet don’t satisfy the accelerating demands for the secure and intelligent delivery of data to all constituents.
- Standards organizations and philanthropic entities should align and fund this technical blueprint work, no matter what constituency, to eliminate the growing “either/or” propositions currently being forced on end users and developers. Governments also could support this by linking funding to the usage of such standards.
It is time we as a community of stakeholders work “with” schools and not “at” schools.
Larry Fruth, PhD, is currently the Executive Director of the SIF Association. The SIF Association is a non-profit membership organization comprised of over 3,200 educational institutions, government agencies and vendors whose mission is the development of a global platform independent, vendor-neutral blueprints for data sharing among software in education internationally.