eSchool News: Do you see this kind of pilot study introducing a healthy dose of skepticism into the conversation, then?
Staples: As an academic, I say, “Show me.” We’re driven by evidence, not sales pitch. I want to understand from the perspective of a social scientist, how do these things actually operate? It’s a very small grant from the Spencer Foundation that supports research on schools. We proposed a pilot study just to say that we want to talk to people like parents, students, teachers and administrators about how they actually use it and how it functions for them, and essentially, does it build trust? Does it enhance communication? There’s literature on schools and trust and trust environment, both trust personally but also in terms of characterizing schools as being more of a trust environment vs. ones that are more antagonistic or untrustworthy. So, it’s skepticism, but it’s also saying: let’s see.
eSchool News: Could the data collection be considered as adding a layer of transparency or accountability to schools? Presumably we assume it’s accurate.
Staples: I want to stay away from value or normative judgements of whether it’s good or bad at the moment. We don’t want to make those claims ultimately anyway. Our interest is not not to to say quote-unquote whether they work or not because I don’t think we’ll be able to make those definitive types of statements.
Accuracy of data is always an issue. There’s lots in the national news and in politics right now in D.C. about data collection in schools and the privacy of it and who protects it, and these systems seem to be at the center of a lot of that. But those are very larger issues that inform the backdrop of what we’re interested in, but not specifically. If people tell us that “Yeah routinely we find that we’ve made decisions and done certain things and the data was inaccurate” or something then certainly that will become a theme or an issue that we might point to that this is a problem or a potential issue.
eSchool News: Is the data collection around the SIS tied into these larger student privacy issues?
Staples: Well, sure. I think that’s an issue, again stepping back and coming in as a sociologist: What does all this data collection do? How does this affect relationships within organizations? How’s that data used; what’s the protections involved in terms of who has access to it and what they do with it? Again, it’s not about whether it’s bad or good. The data may be terrific and it may work great and that’s fine. I just want to find out. We’re operating in a vacuum where no one’s taken a look.
eSchool News: Do you envision a larger study coming out of this pilot?
Staples: It’s too soon to tell. We’ll just have to see. We haven’t collected any data yet, but I would like to think that a larger study would come out of it one way or another.
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