There’s been a lot of change in the education sector over the last 12 months, and it’s only recently that institutions have started reopening their doors to teachers and pupils alike, to assume physical – instead of virtual – classroom learning once again.
Caroline Lewis, of workplace data analytics organisation Tiger, shares her thoughts on the role data analytics play within the sector, and how they can help to create a more enhanced learning experience for students and staff, as we start to return to some semblance of normality.
Keeping connected through technology
Rewind to this time last year and the pandemic – and subsequent lockdowns – meant that many further (FE) and higher education (HE) establishments had to reassess the way they delivered lessons, set assignments, and interacted with both fellow colleagues and pupils.
However, bridging this social interaction and learning gap was made possible through investment in unified communications and collaboration tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams – which allowed schools, colleges, and universities to digitise their daily operations and keep in touch.
And even if some schools had been ahead of the curve and already invested in updating their technical infrastructure, they are unlikely to have experienced the extensive use and dependency compared to recent times.
Digital transformation projects were – and continue to be – accelerated, and this isn’t a trend which shows any sign of slowing as the UK’s mass vaccination programme continues and social distancing restrictions begin to ease.
Has technology therefore gained an even stronger seat at the education table? That really depends on the data that managers have been able to unlock and understand.
Data’s role in streamlining and enhancing education
With any type of investment comes questions surrounding the return it brings – and the same applies with the technology assets schools have procured to help them weather the uncertain storm of the last year.
Decision-makers are now evaluating past purchases – such as collaboration software – to see how useful it has been and if it’s providing the key data to help leaders take action and improve staff and student satisfaction levels, foster a greater level of engagement, and futureproof operations.
When it comes to insight, for example, schools’ senior leadership teams can easily see how many Zoom or Teams licenses they have bought for their users – and the cost. However, without contextualising this data, it doesn’t really inform business-critical decisions around whether or not to keep the software.
Whereas if the data provides detail as to which students are attending lectures, whether they’re dropping out of lessons, or not even switching on their video, this can build a truer picture as to how engaged individuals are.
Insights like these – which are made accessible to staff via savvy data analytics software – can also help to uncover any potential patterns that could signal some wellbeing issues, or where pupils require extra support in a certain subject area.
For instance, something as seemingly simple as having the camera function repeatedly disabled could indicate that a student is in need of help due to feeling unmotivated. They might be struggling to keep up or maybe having technical difficulties. In any case, by having this data pieced together by technology – in easy-to-digest dashboards – teaching staff can intervene early enough to stop anyone becoming ‘left behind’ and help to reduce the number of dropouts from the course.
The truth is that without this level of detail and intelligence, making informative decisions which benefit the future of the education setting is like trying to operate in the dark.
But one big question is that as teaching migrates back into the classroom environment, will this level of real-time insight still be required?
Data analytics in education after the pandemic
Much like commercial industries, the future of how education will be delivered is somewhat unknown. And whether it’s work from anywhere, hybrid working, or something else entirely, the trend is likely to impact all sectors, education included.
Of course, if the number of virtual lessons decrease and are replaced with in-classroom learning, there will be less video call-based data to analyse. However, for HE institutions, distanced learning can often be a core part of the course, so not much will change in the way they are delivered.
Therefore keeping an element of virtual learning available may be beneficial to accommodate a host of scenarios and to offer increased flexibility for students.
It’s vital to note though that data intelligence goes way beyond solely online meetings.
Whether it’s monitoring the number of course enrolments, evaluating resource gaps and requirements, or looking at student and staff absence trends, when data is contextualised, it tells a far greater story. As a result, this can help to streamline operations, inform budgets, reduce unnecessary expenditure, and help to identify additional support needs.
Data is incredibly powerful. Gaining visibility and transparency over the analytics that are relevant to each individual’s role can transform how a school operates – and generate a more collaborative environment in which staff feel empowered via workplace insights.
Caroline Lewis, Sales Director, Tiger