Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

Getting the most from computer data systems?

ende einer aera 057-768015

Interpretive flexibility. Cheese grater. Lampshade.

Ever wonder how it is that teachers could have all sorts of “fancy computers” for accessing information about kids, but use only a sliver of those functions? Ever get the sense that school districts attend to the technical problems around technology, but not the “people problems”? Part of the problem is that we need to think more deeply about what people mean by “data use” and how people envision technologies serving those aims in practice. Sensemaking processes, social construction, and interpretation matter.

I have a manuscript (co-authored with Jeff Wayman) currently under review with Teachers College Record that addresses some of these issues. We hope to hear back soon about its acceptance (or if additional revisions are in order). A scratchy version of this manuscript was presented at AERA and is available here. Below is the proposed abstract– I hope that it may be of service to those who have been pondering this stuff.

Background: Increasingly, teachers and other educators are expected to leverage data in making educational decisions. Effective data use is difficult, if not impossible, without computer data systems. Nonetheless, these systems may be underused or even rejected by teachers. One potential explanation for such troubles may relate to how teachers have make sense of such technologies in practice. Recognizing the interpretive flexibility of computer data systems provides an avenue into exploring these issues.

Objective: This study aims to explore the factors affecting teachers’ use of computer data systems. Drawing upon the notion of interpretive flexibility, it highlights the influence of sensemaking processes on the use and implementation of computer data systems.

Research Design: This comparative case study draws upon interview and observational data gathered in three school districts. Matrices were used to compare understandings about data use and about computer data systems within each district by job role (i.e., central office member, campus administrator, and teacher), as well as across districts.

Results: Our findings challenge commonplace assumptions about technologies and their “effects” on teacher work. For example, access to a system or its functions did not determine changes to practice. Paradoxically, we even found that teachers could reject or ignore functions of which they were personally in favor. Although computer data systems can support changes to practice, we found that agency for change rested in people, not in the technologies themselves. Indeed, teachers’ sensemaking about “data” and “data use” shaped whether and how systems were used in practice. Although central offices could be important to sensemaking, this role was often underplayed.

Conclusion: We provide recommendations regarding how researchers, school, and district leaders might better conceptualize about data and data systems. These recommendations include recognizing implementation as an extended period of social adjustment. Further, we emphasize that it is the unique duty of school and district leaders to share their visions regarding data use, as well as to engage in dialogue with their communities about the natures of schooling and data use.

Update: We heard back and the article was finally accepted!


4 comments on “Getting the most from computer data systems?

  1. Miller Guidance
    December 3, 2012

    Very true. I appreciate the conclusion that an extended period of social adjustment is needed for effective implementation of data and data systems. I have also found an administrative vision to be necessary, not only to implement systems of data use but also to ensure that the data is not a silo of practice. The ultimate goal is an articulated system in which all components of school reform (teaming, data and instruction) work together. Decisions are made with the end result in mind and resources are concentrated on those activities that impact student performance.

    I also know that many administrators need a model (with comprehensive methodology) to support a vision that is relevant in the current school reform movement. There is a lot of talk about having a vision, but few models of practice that can be applied to an existing school or district. We need to provide examples of the end result; provide a vision.

  2. vinnycho
    December 4, 2012

    Thanks for the comment! I’m not sure if it’s clear from the abstract, but we found that even when two districts had the same computer data system, differences in vision among them definitely influenced whether (and in what ways) technologies were used. Our full discussion section will definitely slice up the different ways to think about vision, including the ways in which we can press further on how leaders can work with vision in mind.

  3. Miller Guidance
    December 4, 2012

    Sounds good. I think vision plays a huge role in the implementation of school reform components and how the components work with each other.

    Might I suggest adding a research component that would illuminate how using a model to support vision during the implementation of data system technology affects the use of the technology. The Miller Guidance System has taken the approach that use is primary. Our data system technology is specifically designed to interface with our processes which were written to reflect a vision consistent with school reform initiatives.

  4. vinnycho
    December 7, 2012

    The article has been officially accepted; I think that it addresses your suggestion and hope you enjoy!

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This entry was posted on December 3, 2012 by and tagged , , .