There’s no question that data has the potential to make significant impacts in education. Schools have plenty of it and, as a former teacher, I’m quite familiar with the value data can bring to help schools be the best possible support for students’ learning.

But I’m also aware of the pain points schools face when trying to do anything useful with it. One such example is when schools decide to change the way they collect data. A simple decision, if not managed correctly, can create problems down the track – missing data, duplicate records and inconsistent measurements to name a few.

Another problem amounting to more than mere inconvenience is when IT systems, like the teens I used to teach, “are just not talking to each other anymore”. As more learning systems are being outsourced to the EdTech sector, schools rely on them to provide easy access to their database in a way that integrates with the school’s own systems. Unfortunately, this process is never easy. It’s quite common for schools to not know how to access their own data!

Input from a data scientist is important for schools

Improving data management has been identified as one of the top three priorities for schools in 20221. Poor data practices can be costly to educational organisations who are seeking to make well informed decisions but haven’t the time, expertise or even the courage to step off the ledge and jump into that dark pool of data that swirls amongst the school’s folder structure and databases. Who knows what’s lurking there?

Enter the Educational Data Scientists. Well-versed in solving education problems using data engineering, database design, statistics, data analytics, visualisation and artificial intelligence, they are business minded professionals who see exactly how the data got this way but have the tools to work around it or even build technical solutions to fix it. They are problem solvers dedicated to helping organisations unlock the potential that their data holds.

There are a number of ways that schools can benefit from a data scientist’s input:

1. They can call the data out of darkness

A data scientist is skilled in making data coherent, dynamic, visual, live and meaningful. They are like a chef pulling out ingredients from the cupboard: taking ordinary spices and grains, then transforming it into something insightful, usually in the form of an interactive dashboard, a visual presentation, or a machine learning model. They aren’t intimidated by obscure datasets and unkempt files and are experts in accessing data deeply embedded in third party resources. They can guide an organisation’s overall data strategy on how it ought to be collected and work with IT teams to optimise data collection within their system design.

2. They can use data to enable teachers

The word ‘data’ gets a bad rap in schools for often being associated with measuring performance or making comparisons between others. The ‘yardstick’ approach to student data can be quite discouraging for schools who are only just getting by with the limited resources they have. A data scientist can flip the script – rather than using data to measure teachers, they can use advanced analytics and machine learning to enable teachers, automating the administrivia that impedes their best work. For example, AI-powered analytics can help spot trends in student data that can otherwise go unnoticed.

3. Schools can start to use the right data

A thriving school seeks a complete picture of the child, but schools are by and large unequipped to wrangle in the gigabytes worth of submitted files, LMS login data, scanned documents, report comments, co-curricular activities, sports awards, absence reasons…the list goes on. A data scientist can gather, clean, model and interpret this data to gain a clearer picture of what’s going on for students.

Whether it’s student data, enrolment forecasting, HR analytics, marketing strategy, business strategy, data is vital. A data scientist is familiar with all sorts of data types and business problems to help make schools leaner for them to focus on the main game: quality education.

For more information on how you can improve data management at your school, make sense of your data and use it to save time, get in touch.

Education Future 2022 Infographic

1. The voice of Australian educators, Education Horizons