School Data: The tip of an iceberg

Schools gather a wealth of data in their everyday operation, everything from attendance information, academic achievement, library book loans, free school meals and a wide range of other data.    We use this data regularly however I think we are missing out on many opportunities which this wealth of data might provide.

The key for me lies in statistical analysis of the data looking for correlations.     Is there a link between the amount of reading a student does as measured by the number of library loans and their academic performance for example?     Are there any indicators which might help is in identifying students who are more likely to under perform?

The issue here is how the data is stored.   A large amount of the data is stored in tables within our school management system however no easy way exists in order to pull different data together in order to search for correlations.    I can pull out data showing which students have done well, which subjects students perform well in, etc. however I can’t easily cross link this with other information such as the distance the student travels to school or their month of birth.    Some of the data may exist in separate systems such as a separate library management system, print management system and catering system.    This makes it even more difficult to pull data together.

A further issue is that the data in its raw format may not make it easy for correlations to be identified.    Their postcode for example is not that useful in identifying correlations however if we convert this to a distance from the school we have a better chance of identifying a correlation.

In schools we continue to be sat on an iceberg worth of data although all we can perceive is that which lies above the water.   We perceive a limited set of possibilities in terms of what we can do with the data.    Analysing it in terms of pupil performance against baselines with filtering possible my gender, SEN status and a few other flags however given the wealth of data we have this is just the start of what is possible.    We just need to be able to look below the water as the potential to use the data better and more frequently is there, and in doing so we may be able to identify better approaches and more effective early interventions to assure the students in our care achieve the best possible outcomes.

Reflections following a funeral

Attending a family funeral can cause a sudden moment of reflection.   What would people say about me at my funeral is the question raised in a number of self-help or self-improvement texts, and I found myself giving just that question some thought.

I was sat at the wake where I heard myself described as the “intelligent” one in the family, a title I personally don’t believe I deserve.     Thinking about it can I understand the narrative which relatives had developed, in that intelligence is measured by qualifications so more qualifications means more intelligence.   This simple narrative excludes the effort expended as well as the decision making processes including personal sacrifice in getting the qualifications I have.   It excludes the multitude of wrong turns and failed endeavors which have occurred along the way.    It also excludes a fair share of luck which has put me in the right place at the right time.     This being said I must acknowledge that at my future funeral I won’t be around to argue and therefore it is this perception, the perception of others as to me, which will be presented as fact.     But do I really want to be known for being the one with the most qualifications?   Does this make for a successful life?

So what are the stories of my life which people will draw on in describing me following my parting?    My career history might be something which comes to mind, in my adventure to work in the Middle East.   Most of my family have spent their life within a relatively small geographic area however I have spent years in each of the north west of England, the south west and also in the Middle East.   As such I may be seen as someone who explored opportunities wherever they arose.

I suspect my qualifications, as mentioned earlier, will come up albeit this isn’t something I believe is particularly important.

My work ethic may be something that comes up, as I am forever working on something be it writing in this blog, preparing for an exam, working on things for my day job or on something else.    Some of these tasks are personal and some are work related, some are about personal growth and development, however I suspect the perception will classify them all simply as “work”.

I would hope that a focus on my family would be raised in trying to ensure the best for both my kids and also for my wife.     Part of work ethic relates to trying to ensure I can best provide for them however it is interesting in that the work ethic may reduce the actual amount of time spent with them.   This is something I want to address in the year through a family holiday, something we haven’t actually done in many years now.

As I reflect I can’t help but consider that it is stories and narratives which will be recounted when I am gone.    These stories may not necessarily sum up that which I do on a day to day or week to week basis but are the things which come easily to mind, the events which are memorable.    So it may not be the items which I list above which are raised, but instead stories of when I went for a family car and returned with a two seater instead or of when I turned up at the airport to fly out having picked up my son’s passport rather than my own and the ensuing stress.

So I find myself wondering, is the funeral activity a worthwhile activity?     Am not sure it is.   Maybe a better question to consider is what are the stories of my life, have I enough of them to fill my funeral with funny anecdotes and stories, and how do I go about creating new stories in the time I have left.   I intend to focus more in creating new stories in the days ahead.

Schools, data protection and online services

As we make greater use of technology in our schools we make greater use of online services.   We might make use of an online communication tool to improve on communications with parents.   We might make use of Google Apps or Office 365 to allow staff and students to have cloud storage so they can access their files when away from the school or on any device.    We might engage with an online maths tutorial site so students can undertake self directed study online and further develop their maths skills.    We might make use of a site to manage trips or resource bookings within our school.    The number of online services we are using in schools is increasing and therefore we are sharing more and more data with online service vendors.

The above is important to note given the new general data protection regulations are speeding towards us.    These new regulations will come into operation in May 2018 and will put a focus on all organisations to prove that they comply.     It is therefore important that all organisations including schools get a handle on the data which they have and how it is stored and processed.     For schools part of this includes examining where third party services are being used such that the schools data is processed and/or stored by these service providers.    We need to be asking what these service providers do to ensure the security of our data.

To aid the above, the need to review third parties, and the increasing use of third party online sites, the government has created their Self Certification process for vendors to self-certify their provision in relation to data protection where they offer cloud software services for schools.    You can view this here.     The thing that worries me is that as I write this there are only 38 vendors listed which appear to have submitted a self certification.     This represents only the very very tip of the iceberg which represents the vast range of services being used by school.

We all need to push vendors to answer questions in relation to the protection of our school data.   We need to push them to self-certify and to share what they are doing.   We need to ask the difficult questions now before they are asked of us later.

Have you considered the data protection of school data on third party services lately?    It is time you did!

 

 

Cyber thoughts from the train

Sat on the train going on my way back from London and I noticed my Samsung Galaxy phone was displaying a message telling me that it had detected a Samsung Gear device near me and wanted to connect.    The connection it was trying to establish was via Bluetooth which was enabled to allow my phone to connect to my cars audio system.   I hadn’t even thought to disable it.

As I look around the train I can see various people making use of mobile devices including laptops as we speed through the countryside.    The train is equipped with Wi-Fi thereby allowing everyone to remain connected even as they travel.

Two things worry me about the above.  The first worry is that of stray connections such as the one my phone tried to make with another passengers Samsung Gear.    As the various people on the train sit watching their video on their device, listening to music or working away their mobile devices are constantly seeking to make connections.    To connect to Wi-Fi for internet access, to connect via Bluetooth to external speakers, wireless headphones or in car audio devices.    As we use more and more technology our devices become more and more interconnected.    In doing so though we expose ourselves to an increasing risk of inappropriate connections being made either due to device error or due to human error, such as if I had accepted the connection which my phone was trying to make without reading the actual message.    These inappropriate connections may then give rise to unauthorised access and download of our data or to malicious acts being committed via our devices.

The other thing that worries me is the free Wi-Fi.    Now I suspect most people assume that the trains Wi-Fi is sufficiently secure although I cannot be sure of this.   The issue is the ease with which a passenger on the train could bring their own Access Point and set up a dummy Wi-Fi network, pretending to be the train providers network, for other passengers to connect to.   By doing so the owner of the dummy AP could gather data from those on the train who connect to the dummy AP.   This just seems all too easy.

The third thing that worries me is general awareness and consideration of security.    I doubt many people other than myself was giving cyber security of the many devices in use in the train carriage I sat in much in the way of consideration.    I would love to be able to survey people on a train or in another public space where free Wi-Fi is available in order to prove or disprove this assertion.   My belief, until I have any evidence to the contrary, is that we are a little too accepting.

Events such as the recent National Health Service ransomware attack highlights the issue of cyber security however the impact is not limited to big incidents occurring to big organisations like the NHS.   It affects each and every one of us, every day, even when sat on a train.    Also we cannot afford to be outraged and concerned only when a large breach like the WannaCry virus occurs, before almost instantly returning back to normal and forgetting all about security and the potential risks and implications.

We need a societal shift in terms of our perception of cyber security.

Being Digitally Literate

Over the past 2 weeks I have been regularly posting my thoughts in relation to Digital Literacy over on my new blog site as www.beingdigitallyliterate.wordpress.com

So far I have posted on 6 different areas related to digital literacy:

  • Digital Literacy: Some initial thoughts on what the term means
  • Evolving Technology: How the pace of technological change impacts of digital literacy
  • Cross Platform Skills: The need to develop the ability to work across different platforms and software and to learn how to use new solutions as they arise
  • Awareness of Technology: We use technology all of the time but are more aware of some technologies we use than we are of others
  • Encryption and public safety: The internet provides a safe place for all including those who wish to do that which is evil or illegal but weaker encryption isn’t the answer
  • Where’s my data: We sign up to more and more services in doing so share more and more data with the internet

I hope to continue adding the site with regular posts, with each post posing questions to promote thinking and/or discussion.    Hopefully over time the site will build to become a useful resource.

 

Being digitally literate

Have today started a new blog site called “Being Digitally Literate” focusing on ideas around developing digital literacy in students.    My hope is to create a site which explores and asks questions as I explore and ask questions, and that by doing so it might help others to also explore ideas.

As a starting point I have decided to re-post my first entry from the site below:


What does it mean to be digitally literate?

We often speak about the importance of developing digital literacy in our students.   The issue with the intention is the lack of clarity as to what it means to be digitally literate, the areas which should be covered in developing such literacy and also the methods or approaches which should be used in this development.

I intend to post my thoughts on this matter over the coming weeks and months.   I will admit that I suspect a number of my posts will pose more questions than they answer, however my hope is that the act of posing questions will promote further thought even if this is just within myself.

To get the ball rolling I would like to just define in very general terms what I believe we are looking to achieve in developing digital literacy.    I believe the fact we are even discussing digital literacy is an acceptance that we are living in an increasingly digital world.   We are surrounded by ever increasing levels of technology in our work life, social and home lives.     As such the previous literacies, of languages and communication, including reading and writing, and of mathematics are no longer sufficient.   We need digital literacy.

Given this seeking to develop digital literacy is seeking to ensure that our students are sufficiently literate with this new technological world and with its technologies, to be successful in their lives.   To be able to understand the technologies and use the technologies appropriately and effectively.

Does the above definition cover what is meant digital literacy or is there something missing?   

Reflections: 2017 so far

Having just turned 41 years of age, it makes for a good time to reflect a little on the year so far.   Firstly I think its important to note that this year appears to be disappearing very fast.   I feel at this point as if the Christmas period was only yesterday.   I suspect a quick review of past posts will show a similar perception throughout the year.   I may be able to draw positive conclusions from this, in that time flies when you are having fun, or negative conclusions in that I am that busy I am unable to stop and truly experience or review the events that have occurred.    A third option, and the one I think I will stick with on this occasion, is the that this clearly highlights the frailty of our memories to accurately reflect past events.

During the last few months I have taken to journaling to try and keep a record of the things I have done and how I have felt.   Sadly this has been a little hit and miss with some weeks consisting of daily records of each day while other weeks have been empty of record.    This is something I want to try and be more consistent with and I have been considering that maybe I will need to reduce my blogging in order to release time to facilitate this.   Given that one of the reasons for blogging is to have personal records of my thinking, which is the same reason for having a journal, this trade off seems logical.    As such this may represent the last of my blogs for a little while at least.

I found the recent Secret Teacher article in relation to English teachers not reading quite interesting given that I had set one of my targets or pledges to be reading at least 1 book per month.   I continue to progress well on this target with the hope that I will continue to do so.    I am finding the act of reading to be relaxing but also thought provoking as I explore subjects such as stoicism, culture and also how we think.     The Secret Teacher article strikes me as representing gross generalisation, which is often a feature of online educational discussion, although generally this is backed up by some research.

The area of fitness continues to be one of my weak areas.   Still I am unable to keep up more than a sporadic attempt at physical exercise.    As I have repeatedly said before this is an area which I need to continue to work at.    I am starting to wonder whether the issue here is that I am basing my targets on what other people do while my aspirations should clearly be much lower.     A quick glance at twitter highlights various teaching colleagues across the world who have engaged in their daily or weekly run.   Am afraid the best I can hope for is a monthly or yearly doddle.   Maybe the fact that it is in my mind and therefore I am making sporadic attempts is the best I can hope for.    I suppose I can also be positive in that I have played an hour or so of football with my son on the last three nights.   Progress is progress, even if it is little and infrequent!

My connectedness is another area which is giving me similar thoughts to the above.   I feel that I should be doing more in terms or writing blog pieces, contributing to twitter chats, contributing to publications, etc.    Now again this may be comparisons with others who appear to be doing more.   Again, twitter and other social media seems to present us with models to follow however I am increasingly wondering if these are the right aspirations.   Are the few education stars on social media distorting what I perceive as normal expectations or more accurately my expectations?   These stars are a very small percentage of the overall educational body of individuals across the world yet they are very public and visible.   If plotted on a graph of connectedness they would be outliers, being significantly more connected and active than most, however this has an effect of significantly changing the average connectedness.  Take them out of the equation and the average would be significantly lower.    In addition to this there is the psychological factor in that they are very public and therefore come easily to mind.   This ease with which they come to mind makes then seem common which again impacts on the perception as to the connectedness of the average educator.   This makes me think of Coveys book, “First things first”, and that there may be a need for me to reflect on what actually is my “first thing”.

Five months of 2017 have now be completed and I must say that they seemed to have passed quickly.   The summer period is now not that far away and I look forward to using some of the time over this period to reflect and plan for the start of a new academic year, to energise and also as discussed above, to re-evaluate and identify what truly is important.   I may also look back and review my previous evaluations of the year, as I have posted year over the last year of so with some regularity, to see if any patterns are emerging, however that’s for another day!