Learn the data way: Improving education with data

Learn the data way: Improving education with data
SparkOptimus Team
Written by
Aron Hartveld
The SparkOptimus Blog Team
December 9, 2020

While data-driven decision making is a must for most modern businesses, educational institutions are typically less data-driven. For our pro-bono program SOcial, a team of Sparkies, together with the management of a local education foundation, mapped out the potential of data for their school project and implemented practical processes with relevant KPIs with the educators.

© Ventklima (Interduct)

To increase education equality and quality in Rotterdam, the philanthropic organization “Stichting De Verre Bergen” (SDVB) has created a new education foundation: “Stichting Epos Onderwijs Rotterdam”. SDVB focuses on making the city of Rotterdam better and stronger, by developing, supporting, and executing social programs. The first project of the education foundation is establishing the elementary school “Het Epos” in Rotterdam-Zuid. The school aims to boost the growth and talent development of the children in the neighborhood, and to give those children – who have not always had the same opportunities as other kids – every tool to thrive. The foundation has decided that one of the key pillars to make this school succeed, is data. And to better understand how to improve their education quality and operations through data, they approached SparkOptimus.

THE UNTAPPED POTENTIAL OF DATA IN EDUCATION

Although data is on the agenda of every organization these days, data in education is a relatively unexplored field. It didn’t take long to realize that there was a huge opportunity: With data, teachers can much more accurately decide on how to distribute attention and resources more efficiently. And while staff members are permanently under the pressure of having insufficient time and resources, they still need to rely on very subjective decision making, as objective measures are difficult to obtain. Increasing objectivity by any measure may in that sense be even more effective in these settings than anywhere else.

One great example of the untapped potential is the use cases the school identified and implemented: Mapping children’s performance on both development position (grades) as development speed (improve in grades). This enables teachers to identify what children to invest more time in: Children that have relatively good grades, but have dropped in development speed, might require some more attention than originally thought, and children that seem to be behind on their development, but have high development speed, don’t require as much help as initially assumed. Based on this more objective information, the school can now create sharp monthly plans.

© Ventklima (Interduct)

CONVERTING CORPORATE LESSONS TO AN EDUCATIONAL SETTING

At the beginning of the engagement, we pulled together an enthusiastic team, being fully aware of the challenge ahead.  Although we felt comfortable with data subjects in corporate environments, the overarching issue to solve here was how to translate those lessons learned to an effective data-driven way of working in an educational setting. To jointly succeed, we had to find solutions to four key questions:

  • How do we translate the highly qualitative themes in education (e.g., child engagement, happiness, …) into actionable and measurable data?
  • What are the core decisions to be made, on every level of the organization, to achieve the school’s ambitions?
  • How do we incorporate data-driven decision making and working rhythms into existing working methods of schools?
  • How do we collect all this data, without it becoming a big administrative burden or giving the children the feeling they are in an experimental lab?

We set out to jointly tackle these questions in three workshops. We were in for quite a ride…

WORKSHOPS AND PLENTY OF COFFEE

In the first workshop, we shared relevant knowledge on creating KPI trees and embedding them into an organization. We then jointly identified KPIs on all relevant functions in the school, ranging from management to educational quality and talent development. Identifying these KPIs would allow us to understand, e.g., how well children are developing certain hard skills and soft skills, but also, e.g., how well the school engages with the children’s parents.

In the second workshop, we prioritized KPIs and discussed how they could be practically measured, without overburdening staff or creating a bureaucratic monster – a pitfall that is all too common in these settings. The key is to rely as much as possible on data you already collect and to make a strict assessment about what data you really need, vs. how it is collected. Always stay pragmatic!

In the final and third workshop, we determined how to make the data actionable. In our view, this is one of the most overlooked topics. Often, efforts of using data are wasted by merely displaying results and not considering the “so what”. This results in the all-too-familiar settings of fancy dashboards with complicated graphs and plenty of data but nobody knowing what to do with it. That’s why we tackled the question of how to “inject” the data outputs into existing processes and working rhythms, targeting the key decision moments, supported by targeted dashboards. This way, educators and staff can actually use the data in their day-to-day job.

GOING FORWARD

As a result of our joint efforts, Het Epos is now equipped with clear KPIs and dashboards. Together with practical steering rhythms, the processes help to grow the quality of their education and operations to a higher level through data. Their efforts transformed them into a front-runner in data-driven education, which they will only push further in the next years.

At SparkOptimus, we are super excited to have gone through this journey together. Already today, the school applies data-driven insights in the decision making processes, while making big steps towards the future of education, where data will be key.

“Working with SparkOptimus has been a great experience. By asking the right questions, structuring our process and giving experience-based advice they enabled us to make a huge leap forward. The level of commitment of the SO team to the project even though we were a free of charge client was truly remarkable.”
– Hidde Verkade, General director – Stichting Epos Onderwijs Rotterdam

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