Monday, May 30, 2011

Choosing Data Tools to Improve Teaching and Learning

Chapter two of Victoria Bernhardt's book “Translating data into Information to Improve Teaching and Learning” focuses on data tools need improve teaching and learning. (Yes, I know, it sounds redundant!)

Bernhardt makes the pretty intuitive case that there is a need for electronic tools for data collection and analysis so that teachers can improve student learning. She then goes on to say that the key is knowing which tools you need, which functions you want, and which tools you need first (Barnhardt, 2008; p. 7). She then emphasizes that the necessary hardware and network infrastructure needs to be in place before implementation of any system.

Student Information Systems (SIS) are “transactional or operational databases that house mainly demographic and student achievement data” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 10). Barnhardt considers this to be the most essential part of the infrastructure. Curriculum/Instruction/Assessment Management Tools “allow users to align K-12 curriculum to standards, provide instruction and curriculum resources and assessments, and measure student performance against standards” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 13). Data warehouses are “analytical databases that store many years of data and enable school districts to analyze data across different systems” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 15)

After discussing the details of each of these systems, Barnhardt provides “Tips on Enlightened Purchasing”. Important points to consider are involving a broad membership in the selection process, determining purchase priorities, researching vendors, and buying non-proprietary systems.

As a project manager in my pre-teaching career, the information in this chapter makes a lot of sense to me. I was the project manager for the purchase and implementation of a new financial system for a non-profit organization. I coordinated the process of meeting with users to understand and write the system requirements, choosing potential vendors, hosting vendors on-site, doing follow up with staff and vendors, and ultimately implementing the system in our organization. So I have experienced many of the things laid out in this chapter.

What I learned is that there is no “one size fits all” and there is no one-stop shop or perfect system for any organization. Weighing out the priorities of all end users - teachers, administrators, etc. - as well as the cost to the organization, the implementation timeframe, and other internal factors makes the process of implementation challenging and emotional. Barnhardt's points to “talk with current users” and “buy only tools that manage and share data using non-proprietary architecture” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 15) are well founded.

It seems that Barnhardt also makes the assumption that the purchase of these systems will be made from “ground zero”, in the absence of already existing systems. In today's world, this is not completely realistic because there will always be the need to either integrate with an existing system or to migrate data from an existing system.


Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.

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