Teachers Devise Personal Data Collection Systems

student_writingData-driven decision making is the bee’s knees in many fields, but not a whole lot is known about how post-secondary education professionals actually use teaching-related data to better their day-to-day teaching habits.

Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison interviewed 59 faculty members and 20 administrative folks from three large research universities. They found that not many instructional data systems exist beyond grades and end-of-course student evaluations. Perceived popularity contests and poor response rates raise red flags about evaluation data’s representation.

Many still maintain the notion that once enough institutionalized measures are put in place, better student learning will somehow follow. Researchers found some teaching professionals were confused by the very idea of using data to improve teaching skills. Rather than some unintelligible bubble-sheet data three months after class ends, for STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) students especially, feedback and ongoing engagement with teachers is crucial to success. Struggling students will often leave their fields of study altogether.

Lacking much other meaningful analysis, many educators created personalized opportunities to collect and use meaningful data to examine and improve their own teaching. Authors Jana Bouma-Gearhart and Matthew T. Hard advocated for practice-based research that studies how post-secondary educators actually apply available data. Open-ended student evaluations, education research, and informal discussions were identified as helpful resources for teachers.

Faculty teams that elected to share information relevant to related courses were notably successful at improving individual and organizational learning. The authors noted that, “the desire for improvement and accountability should not trump the interests of those most central to the teaching and learning enterprise – that of educators and their students”.

By Matthew Hunt