by Thor Olavsrud

Can Data Analytics Make Teachers Better Educators?

Jul 28, 20145 mins
AnalyticsBig DataMarkets

Teachers have always had to analyze data about how their students are learning, but data analytics tailored to their needs offers the promise of supporting and automating much of that work, allowing them to spend less effort administering and more effort teaching.

“We’re all data analysts now,” has become a common refrain in the data analytics world as organizations increasingly rely on data to provide 360 degree views of their businesses and customers and to aid their decision-making. In many ways, this has been true all along — employees have always had to make decisions based on the information at their disposal, often incomplete, analog or anecdotal in nature.

Teachers are an excellent example. They’ve always been data workers — assessing students’ understanding of the material based on test scores, classroom engagement, quality of homework, etc., with the goal of improving that understanding.

Knowing that individual students learn in different ways, many schools today have adopted the idea of personalized learning as their pedagogical approach: They assess each student on their learning needs, interests, aspirations and cultural backgrounds to create a personalized education program designed to maximize education outcomes.

Teachers Have Always Been Data Analysts, Analytics Can Help

Adding analytics and data visualizations to the mix won’t suddenly make teachers into data analysts. Rather, the promise is that access to more and better data, and the capability to visualize it in more meaningful ways, will make teachers better able to perform the data analysis they’ve been doing all along.

“Currently, if you look at the way teachers work in the day, they not only teach, they are being asked to sift through miles and miles of data and see what it actually means for them and what it actually means for the student,” says Raj Chary, vice president of technology and architecture at education content provider Triumph Learning.

On Thursday, Triumph Learning will go live with GET Waggle, an online learning platform with Common Core and state standards-aligned content in English language arts and math, built with embedded analytics at the core.

Waggle is built for grades 3-8 and available in both Math and English Language Arts (ELA). Teachers can use Waggle in the classroom or assign it as homework. Waggle uses games, review sections, progress indicators, and other fun features to engage students in the learning process.

The platform, winner of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Literacy Courseware Challenge grant, is powered by adaptive learning technology from Knewton. Knewton’s adaptive engine analyzes what students know and how they learn best, providing learning recommendations, instructions and hints customized to each student.

Analytics Can Make It Easier to Personalize Education

“Today’s classrooms are filled with students who have different needs, come from different backgrounds, and have different interests,” says Jess Nepom, implementation architect at Knewton.

“Within Waggle, Knewton technology figures out what each student knows and recommends which concepts to work on next — helping all students meet course goals, master material and get ahead. Teachers can assign specific assignments to their students, and Knewton will recommend the right practice items to help students complete the assignment successfully. Productive struggle is encouraged within Waggle: Students can explore lessons and accelerate learning when appropriate.”

“For instructors, Waggle features a robust, easy-to-use interface that provides actionable information about their students, along with suggestions of ways to use that data to inform instruction and intervene when necessary,” Nepom adds. “Educators can identify students who are struggling or excelling in certain content areas, and take immediate steps to remediate or accelerate as necessary.”

When students get something wrong in their work, Waggle doesn’t just determine that they reached an incorrect answer. It’s able to determine how and why they were wrong — maybe they guessed quickly or needed a hint or two before getting to the right place. Paired with historical data about how they fared in previous experiences, Waggle’s interactive skills are designed to create a snapshot of student progress.

The data is exposed to teachers and school administrators through embedded analytics that help educators identify where students are excelling or struggling. Teachers can then use that data to accelerate lessons or provide remediation in those areas tailored to the student’s individual needs.

Data Visualizations Must Be Delightful

Waggle’s visualizations and reports are powered by Visualize.js, a JavaScript framework included in the newly released TIBCO Jaspersoft 5.6 platform and available as a cloud service. It combines the capabilities of the full Jaspersoft analytic server with the control of JavaScript, giving developers the capability to leverage REST APIs to embed the features of the Jaspersoft analytic server directly into their applications with just a few lines of code.

“GET Waggle makes it simple for teachers and school administrators to track and measure students’ progress and growth on skills and standards,” Chary says. “Data visualizations and analytics are a key component of our product platform, and the ability to take immediate actions on key metrics makes it a very powerful tool for our users. We needed visualizations in our product to be delightful, not a daunting experience.”

“We want this platform to be very simple for teachers and to surface data that is meaningful,” Chary adds. “We want it to actually tell a story to teachers: ‘Hey, out of 30 students, these five students are really struggling with these skills. They’re actually putting in effort, but they’re still struggling.’ Then the teacher can just focus on what they really love, which is teaching, not trying to be a data scientist.”

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Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.