How Data Analytics Can Help Your District Transition to a Digital Learning Environment
This guest blog post was written by SETDA partner, Monica Cougan, Product Marketing Manager, ENA
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic looks like it will continue disrupting education this fall. Schools nationwide must
therefore prepare by developing remote and blended learning strategies that meet the diverse needs of the communities they serve. But here’s the good news: schools have spent the past few months finding innovative responses to the challenges they face and developing some best practices that can help districts both large and small.
Santa Fe Public Schools was one such innovative district. Dr. Neal Weaver, the district’s Director of Digital Learning, started overcoming the innumerable challenges created by COVID-19 through a resolute commitment to success. “Early on we resolved to have the mindset that we have to do distance learning successfully because our students deserve it,” he said.
To get results, Dr. Weaver decided to leverage the power of data analytics. Thanks to CatchOn, an expansive data analytics tool that provides administrative leaders a window into the efficacy of their technology investments and integrations, he has been able to track how the district’s 12,000 students actually engage with the district’s technology—and therefore get real-time data about how to develop an effective digital learning program.
As a result, Santa Fe has already achieved real success through its remote learning initiatives. More than 96% of the district’s students connected to essential tools and services—plus they did so for longer and longer periods of time, indicating sustained engagement. The district has partnered with local community institutions, such as the University of New Mexico, to create hot spots around the city that help close the connectivity gap.
Looking back over his district’s successful transition to digital learning, Dr. Weaver has the following advice for other educators facing similar challenges.
- Always think of your initiatives as works in progress
Everyone—administrators, educators, students, parents—is learning as they adapt to changing circumstances. “That’s why I really emphasized to my team that we won’t be perfect, but that’s ok,” Dr. Weaver said. “It’s just so important to keep moving forward and not get stuck.” That way, it’s easier for districts to learn from mistakes and to adapt to new opportunities and challenges.
- Gather data about your community’s actual technology use
With a data analytics tool such as CatchOn, districts can see how students actually engage their remote learning initiatives—and therefore evaluate key performance indicators in real-time. “That shows us which apps the district really needs to support,” Dr. Weaver said. Furthermore, effective analytics empowers districts for the first time to gather quantitative data about what portion of students has reliable connectivity access—and that means the district can be more responsive to the community’s actual needs.
- Rethink your ideas about success to match the new circumstances
Santa Fe quickly found that the old metrics of success no longer applied. Attendance, for instance, is no longer about having all students present at the same moment. Instead, the district has discovered through data analytics that many students access resources at different times throughout the day, allowing them to juggle other responsibilities they may have at home. And so Dr. Weaver recommends districts engage the community for feedback on ways each district can meet the needs of all students, regardless of different circumstances.
At the heart of Dr. Weaver’s recommendations—and therefore of effective digital learning—is powerful data analytics. The more a district knows about how students engage technology, the more administrators will be able to make informed decisions. “Simply put,” he said, “data provides a means to guide the district.”
About the Author: Ms. Cougan joined ENA in 2012 and oversees ENA’s partner program and product marketing initiatives in her role as product marketing manager. Monica has over 30 years of experience in education technology integration that she leverages to help assess, identify, and support the needs of today’s education communities.
ENA is a SETDA Gold Partner, to learn about SETDA’s Emerging Partner Program.