Cloudy with a Rain of Data

I attended the press conference for the release of SETDA’s (State Educational Technology Directors Association) report Transforming Data to Information in Service of Learning. It was hosted by SETDA’s executive director, Douglas A. Levin, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, May 21, 2013.

The presenters had RTT (Race to the Top) funding* and spoke in an alphabet of words that few regular people, including school board members who make big decisions, understand. SETDA had the task of trying to make it understandable and explain fluent ways to help schools and communities understand the task, cost and rationale. There was an attempt to make us understand the terminology and to explain the importance of the topic.

[*Update 5.23.13, 2:10pm: See the correction from Douglas A. Levin.]

As I sat there I knew I was privileged to be a part of the audience. My concern is that we have a digital divide, and one part of it is big data information. The report spells out data standards and interoperability initiatives. I know these topics and descriptions from my work on the NIIAC, but the school boards, parent committees and people dealing with the transformational change in education, as well as regular citizens, have a lot to learn. This is actually a Race to the Top project, and SETDA is trying to facilitate learning and understanding across the states.

Douglas A. Levin, SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association) executive director.

Douglas A. Levin, SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association) executive director.

The presenters ... spoke in an alphabet of words ...

The presenters … spoke in an alphabet of words …

Click image for PDF report.

Click image for PDF report.

Posted on 5.23.13 at 10:23am.
Updated on 5.23.13 at 10:30am.
Updated on 5.23.13 at 2:10pm.

6 Responses

  1. […] I attended the press conference for the release of SETDA's (State Educational Technology Directors Association) report Transforming Data to Information in Service of Learning. It was hosted by SETD…  […]

  2. Thanks for attending the release event and covering it. Full details on the report and context can be found online at:

    I do want to offer one correction. While the speakers from North Carolina spoke about work they were doing under Race to the Top, none of the 14 K-12 data standards and interoperability initiatives we profile in our report are supported by or have any connection to that program. For each of the initiatives, we provide details on funding, purpose and future plans.

    And, as you note, communications is an issue. The work is highly technical and at the ‘infrastructure’ level. That is, it powers the services and software that educators and students use (and know by name), but most of us will never need to interact with it. The broader point we intend to make, though, is that we all have an interest in supporting these efforts if our goal is to leverage technology to meet our learning goals.

    • You alway provide the ideational scaffolding that allow us to understand, have awareness and act for our learning communities.
      Thank you for the correction.

  3. Here is Anne Wujick’s viewpoint. This has been a week in Washington with many reports. We lean on those who share to interpret for us.

    Data and Privacy
    Anne Wujcik — Friday, May 24, 2013
    There’s a lot of attention being concentrated right now on various aspects of data. Part of the push back about too much testing has to do with growing parental awareness that each test administration generates a lot of data points about their children. When that sat on aggregated score sheets in a district office or when individual performance reports became part of a child’s cumulative record, there was less concern, but as technology allows more manipulation and analysis of data and storage shift from a file cabinet to the cloud, anxieties mount. Parents not only want reassurances about what schools are doing with that data, some are beginning to question whether lots of it even needs to be gathered. Recent changes to The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and pending changes to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) have made the schools more anxious about compliance and interpretations vary on just what anyone, much less the educational vendors, can do with personally identifiable data. Two new reports look at different aspects of data. The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) published “Transforming Data to Information in Service of Learning.” The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) released “Data-Driven Innovation – A Guide for Policymakers: Understanding and Enabling the Economic and Social Value of Data.”

    SETDA developed its new report to raise awareness among educators about many of the major initiatives currently underway to address data standards and interoperability issues. It organizes its discussion of the initiatives along three dimensions:
    initiatives that focus primarily on providing a common language or vocabulary and structure that are a precursor to the seamless sharing of data among different systems and applications
    initiatives that provide rules for allowing data to move between and among applications without it first having to be transformed in some way
    initiatives are intended to optimize the process of finding appropriate resources, including standards-aligned resources, whether through an online search engine or across independently-operated, affiliated content repositories
    Throughout SETDA’s focus is on ensuring that all the data that sits in district and state information systems is made accessible to educators in ways that guides decision making and can be used to support student success.

    SIIA’s white paper is not education specific. It takes a broad perspective, providing an in-depth look at the benefits and challenges of data-driven innovation along with a detailed public policy roadmap. SIIA crafted the white paper to provide guidance to help policymakers understand and enable the economic and social value of data-driven innovation. SIIA’s fundamental principle for policymakers is to avoid creating broad policies that curb data collection and analysis. The white paper outlines 10 essential policy recommendations that SIIA believes will make certain there is an effective balance between ensuring the tremendous economic and technological opportunity of data, and addressing privacy and other concerns.

    In their own ways both reports underline the need for balance. Perhaps the challenge is even bigger in education, where the discussion is about protecting the privacy rights of children than in the consumer market. Somehow we need to find the balance between being very committed to protecting privacy without letting that stifle innovation around the ways that data can improve teaching and learning.

    It’s ironic that just as the technology is robust enough to deliver on the promise of personalization, fears – both legitimate and unfounded – could stand in the way of further progress. Teachers and product developers alike talked for years about data systems that would track what a student had mastered and what she was struggling with, alert teachers and help in assigning just the right series of interventions or review activities, reteaching until mastery was achieved. Today we talk about delivering activities that are tailored to a student’s preferred learning style and personal interests. It would be hard to imagine a parent objecting to data gathering and analysis that could pinpoint their child’s reading difficulty and suggest ways to address the problem at a very granular level.
    At the same time we need to be careful not only in the ways we describe these data systems but in the way we think about them. We must always remember that despite the data analysis and pattern recognition that suggests that when a child does X, the most effective learning path is then Y, that may not always be true. I’d bet that there will be a few (or maybe more than a few) students in any given class who will not prosper on that path. Children are infinitely unique and we can never forget that or the power of human understanding and interaction in guiding students to really deep learning.

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