Covid-19 and Education Analytics
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Covid-19 and Education Analytics

Jamey Hynd, Director, Business Intelligences, Katy ISD
Jamey Hynd, Director, Business Intelligences, Katy ISD

Jamey Hynd, Director, Business Intelligences, Katy ISD

The post COVID-19 response from K-12 schools is going to set the course for how technology is utilized in the 21st century classroom. 2020 will either be remembered as the year that students had to take virtual classes and teachers were tasked with temporarily pivoting to a virtual environment…or it will be considered a watershed moment in the transformation of technology in education. Schools and communities have a rare opportunity to embrace what we have learned and use this experience to adapt, sculpt and intertwine technology into the fabric of instruction.

Education analytics will be one of the keys that empowers educators through this journey. Simply put, analytics is the aggregation of data into relevant information. When you dig deeper into that definition, the waters muddy as education has moved into an age where data collection, storage and distribution is being utilized at almost every level and in almost every aspect of instructional and operational utility. From improving student progress to increasing administrative efficiency to providing complete transparency to stakeholders, the expanding role of technology in education is, and will continue, to be one of the most impact ful shifts in K12 education over the past century. At the heart of this paradigm shift lies data, the most basic and most powerful tool in technology. Froma few short decades agowhen technology was used to maintain student registration and attendance records to the now common use of intelligent computer-assisted instruction, the role of technology has grown from a green-screened administrative tool to a multi-dimensional instructional and social medium that administrators and teachers alike are racing to learn and adapt to. Educators have long worked to navigate and carefully expand the landscape of educational technology, but now, without warning, a global pandemic has forced the conversation of “what comes next” to the forefront. The answers to this question will require educators to embrace and more fully understand data, the main driver and byproduct of technology.

Analytics is the link between the questions and the answers that educators need to create meaningful change as we move forward. In the early months of 2020, all the buses stopped running and schools fell silent. Within a few days, students, teachers, parents and administrators were tasked with re-thinking what teaching and learning should look like without a proven model to rely on, a timeline to plan for, and in some cases without state or federal guidelines to refer to. As engagement began to happen in different ways and in differing degrees, the immediate questions that technology departments in K-12 began scrambling to answer were:

• What are our students learning?

• Where are they learning?

• When are they learning?

• How do we measure engagement?

• How do we collect, report and act on COVID-19 cases in our districts?

• How do we register students virtually?

• What processes can we centralize to create efficiency?

Analytics paired with close integrations between student information systems and learning management systems are helping answer these questions and most school districts are already changing how they register students, schedule students, take attendance and report grades. As we move beyond simply meeting the operational needs of schools, new questions are bubbling to the top. The next generation of questions is much more complex.

• What is the efficacy of virtual instruction versus face-to-face instruction?

• How do our students learn best in an online environment?

• What are the pedagogical strategies that have the most impact on virtual instruction?

• What technologies benefit special populations and special programs?

• How do we determine when virtual instruction is appropriate?

• What is the cost of virtual instruction as compared to face-to-face instruction and what are the trade-offs?

Answers to these questions will require input from all stakeholders including educational staff, students and parents. Answers will require us to utilize all our information systems and to begin having thoughtful conversations around the data. In the coming months, dashboards will begin to pull this information together from every system and every application available. In order to answer the big questions, we will have to start with the small answers:

• The social and emotional health of students now versus pre- COVID-19

• Bullying statistics and behavioral differences between in-person and virtual students

• Academic progress of virtual students compared to their in-person cohorts

• Energy savings across districts utilizing hybrid or fully virtualized schedules

• Assessment scores, passing rates and graduation rates of virtual students compared to traditional learning cohorts

• The cost of brick and mortar vs the cost of virtual instruction

As with most complex questions there likely won’t be any simple answers. The hope is that educators will use the analytics tools we have in place to explore the data, develop better tools and garner the best features of virtual learning to provide better options and opportunities for our kids. We need to take this time to find efficiency in personnel, process and finance. These are big tasks and the unknown is always a little frightening. Through thoughtful innovation and continually keeping students at the center of the conversation, education technology will likely come out of this stronger, smarter and better than we were before.

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