Being “Data-Driven” is More Than Just Quantitative Data

By: Matt Rhoads, Ed.D

Dr. Matt Rhoads is a Tech and Instructional Leader and Innovator with hands in Adult Ed, K-12, and Higher Education. He is the author of several books and is the host of Navigating Education – The Podcast.

This past weekend I attended the Association of California School Administrations Region 17 Annual Conference at my alum mater Concordia University, Irvine. During the conference, I got to listen to George Couros, a well-known educational leader who has made large contributions to the field of education and education technology. I am in agreement with almost everything he said during his presentation, but one thing that stood out I want to address as it’s something I have heard before that has created much confusion. He portrayed data-driven decision-making as something that is turning education and learning into just quantifiable numbers and neglecting the holistic view of the child and their learning in addition to throwing the relationship component of education out the window. Further, Mr. Couro’s stated he likes to use the word “evidence-based” instead of “data-driven” because he believes this is a more all-encompassing term. I believe this is a misnomer because, “data-driven,” when taking into account all the different types of information encompassing the term data, it ultimately means the same in terms of its breadth as “evidence-based.” Therefore, I feel like its a matter of semantics and something I want to clear up so teachers and educational leaders have a better understanding that “data-driven” takes into account the entire child in a holistic matter if we can define “data-driven” and implement it appropriately. Also, I believe when taking into account what “data-driven” entails, we will know so much more about the student than we have had the ability to do so in all of history, which allows us to build relationships with students like we have never before been able to do.  First, there is a misrepresentation of “data-driven.” Many people assume “data-driven” only encompasses quantitative data, which is only numeric data. Yet, in actuality, if we take into account the full definition of data, we see it relates to not only numeric quantities, but also qualitatively in text, characters, symbols, pictures, and video, which represent a much grander scope of what data is; a methodology of processing of storing information. Thus, we must remember this as educators because we cannot think of data in just a quantitative sense. We cannot box “data-driven” into such a small parameter of what it can actually encompass. Second, we can analyze all types of data regardless of whether it’s numeric, textual, pictures, or video. Furthermore, each type of data can be analyzed. Coincidentally, what gets analyzed the most is numeric quantitative data because its easier to conduct statistics since its quantifiable. By having quantifiable data and using statistics to organize and enhance the data, it can transform the data in ways we can make decisions quickly, efficiently, and with large populations of students. This is great, but we have to understand that the data analysis of the data we collect may look different in a multitude of ways within the classroom, school site, and district, which does not have to be only quantitative data.  What does this look like going beyond quantitative data? Two recent examples come to mind.  In my classroom and for my school sites WASC accreditation, we analyze textual data in a qualitative manner through the process of coding and critically organizing the text we see into themes we develop, which in turn, drive our decision-making. I have utilized Google Form surveys and shared Google Docs to collect qualitative data to then analyze on a spreadsheet. It’s powerful because massive amounts of textual data can be collected and warehoused for you to analyze. This textual data provides us with a picture of what’s going on that numbers can never give us. A narrative of what they see and feel; their perception(s) of what’s going on. As a result, student and staff collected textual data provides us with an opportunity to see their thoughts regarding in-class progress, feelings about school climate, and much more. Going beyond textual data, we analyze the data we collect in the form of pictures and videos in classrooms. For example, on the application Flipgrid, students develop videos where they respond to a prompt or respond to each in an online video-oriented discussion board. Analyzing the videos can take the form of rubrics and student video responses. Also, as an instructor, you can analyze what types of themes you see regarding your student’s responses when you watch their recorded videos. I also want to mention this type of practice can be utilized for students and staff at a school-site if educational leaders want to engage in professional development or analyze the school climate of their school site and/or district.  Lastly, “data-driven” will never replace the one on one human interaction between a teacher and their student’s. However, when “data-driven” is used to include all types of data in addition to the relationship component teachers and educational leaders have with students, “data-driven” further enhances what we can learn about a student and can further cultivate our relationships with them. Here are two examples of how this occurs. First, we can use quantitative data and statistics to see learning gaps in learning through assessment. Second, we can use qualitative data to gather information on students using their own words and develop themes over time regarding their feelings about school and their efficacy in their ability to learn. Third, we can utilize pictures and videos and analyze these brief moments in time for themes.  Over time, as with anything, if “data-driven” is used to the scope I discussed instead of a narrow quantitatively only manner, it creates the most detailed picture of students we have ever had as teachers and educational leaders we have ever had in history. Thus, in alignment with Mr. Couro’s belief that “technology will not replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational.” Therefore,  in a similar sense, “data-driven” utilized by great teachers and educational leaders to encompass quantitative and qualitative data as well as pictures and video as data, they have so many more pieces to the puzzle in building their relationships with students and within their decision making to transform relationships with students to improve their schools like never before in the history of education.  

Published by Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D.

Innovator, EdTech Trainer and Leader, University Lecturer & Teacher Candidate Supervisor, Consultant, Author, and Podcaster

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