Blog: Idea Exchange

Higher Ed to Ed Tech: No More Data Silos!

Kevin Michielsen August 13, 2019

Higher education institutions are dedicated to supporting student success, and have a sincere interest in demonstrating their institutional effectiveness. In June 2018, EdTech reported that 61 percent of institutions had “some form of analytics-driven initiative in place.” To that end, the ed tech industry, including Watermark, has come forward with purpose-built software focused on particular areas of concern, such as assessment or curriculum management. It’s been a great leap forward, but one that had an unanticipated consequence: data silos.

The sheer number of solutions used on campus has multiplied, and higher education has recognized the issue and turned to ed tech providers for help in overcoming data silos. In fact, administrators at Georgia Institute of Technology recently published on the critical importance of interoperability: “As professionals in the broader academic technology space, we feel platform fatigue due to the many technology players and their offerings. Secretly (or openly), we wish for a day of platform convergence. … We reiterate and remind the importance of interoperability to our technology providers and ask them to prioritize this over adding new features and functionalities to their platforms.” The authors emphasize the need for convergence to streamline user experience; ease data extraction, ingestion, and analysis; and simplify support services.

Fortunately, a new software category is emerging, the educational intelligence system (EIS), which promises to bring campus data together for greater insights. Here, we’ll look at the current state of data on campus, consider the challenges of using siloed data, define a vision of educational intelligence, and discuss how institutions are bringing data together to realize the great promise of educational intelligence.

Point Solutions on Campus

Students, faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders use a growing number of disparate point solutions to answer specific sets of questions or operationalize specific processes. Many of these solutions fulfill their mission, while capturing a segment of campus data that can’t easily be shared across the institution, but point solutions present two additional, significant challenges:
For every solution used on campus, users experience a learning curve, and incur the time lost to “task switching”—shifting attention from system to system to complete their uses of the systems.
Faculty and administrators are left to cobble together data from multiple systems for analysis, requiring help from IT or data professionals—all of which is resource intensive.

The new challenge for institutions is bringing data from different software together within a unified system to make capturing and reporting data easier for all stakeholders while informing decision making and driving changes that improve student outcomes.

For example, consider the current experience of a college dean who continues to carry a teaching load, coordinates her department’s reporting, and serves on several cross-departmental committees:

She is responsible for inputting her teaching, research, and service into a reporting database, analyzing course evaluations, coordinating assessment, and participating in curriculum and faculty review processes. These tasks occur in separate systems with distinct workflows and notification systems. As a result, she spends hours managing each process while juggling the demands of teaching, mentorship, and administration.

What this dean and many others on campus could use is an educational intelligence system.

Defining Educational Intelligence

In 2015, Eduventures defined educational intelligence as “leveraging data at multiple points across the student lifecycle to make intelligent decisions to positively impact student outcomes.” You’re familiar with learning management systems and student information systems, each providing essential insight into a specific area of your institution. An EIS will provide the most complete view of your institution, and how your work contributes to student outcomes, bringing together the full range of data from your LMS, SIS, and HR system, as well as software addressing specific needs, such as assessment and course evaluation.

With such a common-sense purpose, why isn’t EIS already common?

We now take LMS software for granted, forgetting that it emerged in 1990, evolving from point solutions for gradebooks and file sharing. SIS came into common use a decade later. Together, they have paved the way for EIS, which captures a much wider swath of data in support of broader goals than those served by LMS and SIS, such as improving student success and informing decision making. Though in its early stages, EIS is gaining traction, and there’s a clear path toward realizing the concept as articulated by Eduventures.

By bringing together data from assessment, faculty activity reporting, curriculum and catalog management, course evaluation and more, EIS will virtually eliminate redundancy, and provide a unified source of data which institutions can use to inform decision making and improve learning outcomes. Institutions looking to gain the advantages of an EIS should begin planning their transition from point solutions.

Moving Your Institution Toward Educational Intelligence

Centralizing and integrating campus data is no small undertaking, but pivotal early steps are underway in higher ed technology. Campus Technology recently reported on the University of Denver’s use of integrated solutions. With integrated course evaluation and faculty activity reporting solutions, “We now have the ability to centralize and integrate our course evaluation, faculty activity reporting, accreditation tracking, and data collection processes” said Linda Kosten, Senior Associate Provost, Academic Administration. “[We now have] better abilities to leverage our data across processes so that we can make informed decisions that will improve both student and institutional outcomes.”

In addition, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Offices of Academic Assessment and Institutional Research now inform assessment of learning outcomes with course evaluation data. Feedback on courses and instructors flow to instructors for the courses they teach and to administration for courses they oversee, and indirect measures of assessment are gathered for each program outcome tied to a course. Student responses are tied back to assessment and captured in a single database to inform a range of institutional processes including program review, faculty review, and accreditation reporting.

These “point to point” integrations are leading the way to educational intelligence platforms where multiple solutions share a common data structure that allows for deeper inquiry. Similarly, easier user experiences are now emerging. Unified sign-in and navigation reduce task switching for users, and pave the way for streamlined interfaces so moving between tasks feels seamless, just as it does in the Google suite. Key benefits include increasing participation and engagement with the systems.

Let’s return to our college dean. Imagine that she logs into a unified system that streamlines workflows and surfaces meaningful insights so she sees a dashboard with summary information relevant to her role, including snapshots of the students she advises, progress reports and tasks for the committees she serves on, key statistics about her program, and progress toward her own professional goals. Instead of spending time navigating disparate software systems, aligning data and reports, she’s prompted for any actions she needs to take, and finds the insights she needs to be an effective leader. That is the value of an integrated EIS system.

The Vision for Educational Intelligence

A fully realized educational intelligence platform will empower institutions to gain insight into questions such as, “Are our students demonstrating the learning outcomes that we articulate in our course catalog for degree programs and general education?” or “How are our academic departments performing on the tenets of our institutional mission?” or “Can we demonstrate faculty’s influence on student success and retention?”

By putting better data, richer detail and deeper insights into the hands of administrators, faculty, and students, institutions gain a more comprehensive picture of effectiveness, better inform decisions, and drive meaningful improvements that move the needle on student outcomes.

Author
CEO Kevin Michielsen
Kevin Michielsen
Watermark