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Data System Workshops – Applying New Research

I’m doing some work with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, designing workshops to introduce their new EdWise data system. Paul Smith, a former colleague of mine at Johns Hopkins University, is helping me with these sessions and we’re tapping some research I’ve done with the wondrous Vinny Cho. I’m going to tell you how we’re doing these sessions, but first: what’s EdWise?

EdWise puts publicly-available state data into one place, aggregated at the school and district levels, so no individual student data are available. Most of these data are accessible through the state of Missouri’s website (EdWise has some Kansas data available also), but it’s hard to connect one form of data with another. Christopher Laubenthal of Kauffman leads the EdWise project and he’s done a nice job creating a system that allows the user a wide range of comparisons. I think it’s incredibly smart that the Foundation isn’t just publicizing the system, but is also providing (free) workshop support for educators and other stakeholders.

One of my favorite things about being involved in this work is that we get to put into practice the research that Vincent Cho and I have been doing on data systems (Cho & Wayman, 2014; Cho & Wayman, 2015 – brand new!). In this research, we explore the ways that different people see data systems fitting into their work, and the social processes that help them understand this. See, data systems are usually implemented in districts by getting the system in perfect working order, then showing everyone how to use the system. This is a “technologically deterministic” approach, implicitly assuming that once everyone knows how to use the system, they’ll automatically see how to use it to improve their work. In contrast, Cho and I take an “open systems” perspective, that the data system doesn’t have a predetermined or automatic effect on educators’ work. Instead, different people will have different perspectives on how the data system might support their work and these perspectives are developed socially (i.e., through discussion and collaboration). These ideas aren’t new in organizational and technology research, but they’re very new in research on educational data systems.

How are we applying this research to our EdWise workshops? In short, we’re not focusing on EdWise, we’re focusing on the work that’s important to our participants. We began planning our sessions by not assuming that we knew how EdWise should be used (that would be technologically deterministic, right?). Instead, we talked to a few district leaders in Kansas City and asked them what they were working on, what challenges they faced, and what kept them up at night. We then examined ways that EdWise could support this work. We designed collaborative activities around this work, and in the course of these activities, showed them features of EdWise that would help them do this work. And not just a few features either – they got a heavy dose of EdWise through this work. Thus, the goal of the workshop is to help them learn about EdWise, but the focus of the workshop is on their work.

How do you want to learn a data system – or anything, for that matter? Do you want to sit there and have someone show you all the clicks? Or do you want to do something that’s practical to you and learn what you need when you need it? It seems so obvious and so simple, but I haven’t seen anyone else taking this approach. And I’ve only learned it through the research I was fortunate enough to do with Vincent. Kudos to the Kauffman Foundation for recognizing that any data system needs support. And further kudos to them for being open to a new way of approaching this support!

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading.

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