PowerBI and School Data

powerBIEver since I started playing around with PowerBI I have found it to be very useful indeed and I must admit that I am most likely only scratching the surface.

I came to experiment with PowerBI to try and address some issues I see with data management.    School data is often presented in colour coded spreadsheets showing student performance against baselines for example.   Different sheets are used to present different views on the data such as showing the performance by subject, by gender or the performance of students by SEN status or by EAL status.   Each additional view on the data, of which there are very many, presents us with another sheet of data.  The data is often presented as flat tables of figures however in some cases may involve pages upon pages of different graphs and charts each showing different views on the available of data.   The logic here being that each additional view on the data gives us more data that we can interpret and therefore a greater opportunity to draw insightful conclusions and from there develop actions.   I believe the reality is the reverse of this.

My belief is that teachers and heads of department don’t have a lot of time to analyse and interpret data, and therefore presenting them with so much data is counterproductive.  Having so many different views on the data presented at once also is difficult to process and to understand.   This in turn leads to either ignoring the data altogether or to giving it only a very cursory glance.   For those that love data it may lead to excessive amounts of time spent poring of the data, to data overload, where time spent planning actions, as opposed to analysing data, would be more productive.    As such I subscribe to the belief that “less is more”.

This is where PowerBI comes in.    PowerBI allows me to take my mountains of spreadsheet data and present it in a very easy to digest graphical format where each of these graphs and charts are interactive.    In PowerBI rather than one sheet by subject and another sheet for gender based data, you have just one set of graphs and charts.   You would just click on a gender or select a gender and all the graphs will change to show the results for that gender.   You might then click an SEN status to see how students who are male with SEN needs are doing compared to students on average.    This means we can combine all our different views which are normally represented by different sheets on a spreadsheet into a single set of graphs and charts.   The user then accesses the various views of the data by clicking on and through these graphs and charts.

The benefit of PowerBI is the ability to dynamically manipulate and explore the data by clicking through various graphs and filters.   You develop an almost tangible feeling for the data as you explore through it.   This is something that flat spreadsheets, even if graphs are included, lack.   Also, as you have less to look at, in one set of graphs rather than pages and pages of them, you have more time to explore and engage with the data.

The one current drawback to PowerBI is simply cost.   It is free to use as an individual both web based or via a desktop application, and you can share via sharing desktop app developed BI files however if you want to share via the web platform or if you wish to publish internally via SharePoint you will need a Pro license for each user.    Where you are sharing with a large number of users, even at educational pricing, this can become expensive.   Hopefully this is something Microsoft will be looking at and can resolve in the near future.

Schools continue to be sat on mountains of data.    PowerBI is a tool which allows us to present this data in a more user-friendly form which then allows it to be easily explored and manipulated, allowing more time to plan actions and bring about continuous improvement.  If you haven’t already done so I definitely recommend putting some of your school data in PowerBI and having a play with its capabilities.

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GDPR and photos around school

photographer-424622_640Recently a member of staff popped in to discuss how she would like to share photos of a school sporting event with the various schools which were involved.   This got me thinking about GDPR and the implications for events and photography at such events.

Firstly, let’s consider the photos themselves.   They might show groups of students involved in a sport or gathered at the start or end.   They might also include spectators who attended the event including parents or visitors to the school.   My first piece of advice here is simply to ensure that it is clear to people that photography will be taking place and that such photos may be used by the school for various purposes including newsletters and other marketing or publicity materials plus that they may be shared with other organisations involved in the event such as other schools.    This notification can either be put on programmes or event marketing materials, or can be made clear at the event itself via posters or other displays.   I believe this should be sufficient as gathering specific consent from all in attendance would be impractical plus where consent is not provided, avoiding including individuals in action event photography would be very difficult indeed.    Taking a risk based view, given that no names are attributed to the photos, and therefore individuals are not clearly identifiable I see the risk of taking photos as events to be low.   As such I see the provision of notices of the intention to take and use photos as sufficient.

Once we start identifying individuals in photos, possibly by naming them, or given that the photo is of a small group of individuals who therefore are more identifiable, then I think we would need to look to have consent or some other basis for processing the data.    Schools usually have such a permission form or other method to gather permission from parents to use photos of children in their materials.  Key here is to ensure that a permission form makes clear the purposes for which photos might be used. E.g. marketing purposes, around school for display purposes, etc.

When the staff member popped in, the issue of event photography highlighted the inaccuracy of the frequently used term “GDPR Compliance”.    The term “compliance” to me conveys a sense of a binary outcome, either we comply or we don’t.    The issues in hand when looking at GDPR are not so clear.   Does compliance mean seeking permission from every individual in a photo, including members of the public?    I would think not.    As such I continue to believe in the need to take a measured risk based view on how we manage data and on our preparations for GDPR.   Where a risk exists, we need to decide whether we accept the risk.   If we do not we must seek to mitigate the risk through permission forms and notices in the case of school photography, to the point that we are then happy to accept, either this or we stop taking photos.

GDPR continues to result in confusion and contradictions of interpretation.   We seek the way, the one way, the best way to achieve compliance yet every school is different plus interpretations and attitude to risk vary.    For me the key is simply to consider your own environment, the risks and your schools appetite for risk, and to act from there.

 

 

GDPR: Third parties and training

legislation-3231548_640As GDPR approaches I thought I would share some thoughts.   Now I must admit to not being a GDPR expect, instead the below represents my thoughts taken from the perspective of managing the prevailing risks around GDPR.

Two issues which currently occupy my thinking in relation to GDPR are managing the use of third parties which either supply software which is used in school or which provide a service where they store school data outside of the school.    Another issue which is currently at the front of my mind is the issue of awareness training and how we ensure staff are suitably informed and aware of GDPR, its implications and particularly what it means for them.

Third Party solutions

Schools may make use of third party software within the school, some of which is locally hosted and stored in the school and some are cloud hosted.

Locally hosted

Locally hosted solutions might include the school management system.    In these cases, we are relying on the third-party vendor ensuring that the software they have created has adequate security measures in place to protect any data held within it.    From a GDPR point of view schools need to show their efforts to comply and in this case, I would suggest the easiest way is to ask third party software vendors to provide details of how they have ensured the security of their product either through their policies or through independent reviews such as audits, vulnerability or penetrations testing.    Although the school is responsible for the security of the infrastructure on which the solution resides, it is the vendors responsibility to ensure the security of the platform itself, independent of where it is hosted.

Cloud hosted

Where cloud hosting is used we have the same issues as for local hosting, in that the vendor must have ensured the security of the platform, however we have the added issue of the vendor supplying the hosting and the infrastructure on which the platforms sits.  My first port of call in examining third parties is their policy documents looking specifically at any GDPR, Data protection, privacy, data privacy or information security policies they may have.    In the best cases this will address issues around security of data, sharing of data, deletion and retention of data.      In my experience, most vendors will quote the security compliance of their hosting service somewhere in their documentation or in response to questions on security.   This usually addresses physical security concerns in that the larger data centres must have tight security to comply with the relevant standards.   This still leaves a requirement to ask questions around business continuity and disaster recovery, in what processes the vendor has in place in the event of a serious incident.    It also leaves questions around ensuring the security of the network on which the service is hosted.   Like with local hosting we can address this by asking questions around any penetration testing or external auditing which has been conducted.

Breach, security incident or vulnerability notification processes are also an important thing to look for across both local and cloud hosted solutions.   If a service is handling student data it is important to know that they have a process in place for notifying service users if an incident occurs or if a vulnerability is identified plus that they have a clear timeline and method of notifying users.

Awareness Training

I think a key aspect of GDPR is making sure the overall school community is aware of the new legislation and what it means for them.   As such training is a key feature of preparations.    I know many companies and individuals are offering training ahead of the introduction of GDPR however I think it is important to establish the purpose of training.   If the purpose is simply compliance then an annual presentation to all staff will suffice as it will provide that all staff have received training.  The issue here is that staff in schools are very busy and therefore the content presented to them is unlikely to stick.   Equally an online resource in my opinion has the same limitation.   The staff will complete the materials however little will stick.    For me the key is a multi-honed approach using various delivery methods including whole school sessions, sessions where discussions and materials are disseminated to department level, broadcast communications such as email campaigns and online training materials.    An awareness of GDPR and more importantly an awareness of the risks associated with processing data needs to form part of the culture, “the way we do things around here”.

Conclusions

GDPR is now fast approaching and the above are just two issues out of a myriad of issues.   Not mentioned above are the implications around developing appropriate privacy notices, the issue of establishing data retention plans, dealing with subject access requests or requests for limitation of processing, handling requests to be forgotten, handling services where data is stored outside the EU and the issue of identifying the legitimate reason or justification for possessing.   The GDPR rules are complex to implement and my advice on this continues to be to take a risk based approach.   For me, currently, the two items above in third parties and awareness training, represent to of the big risks.

 

 

 

Balance…or not?

vintage-2862708_640I have found myself discussing balance on a number of occasions.  Recently I mentioned it in reference to whether education should go through incremental improvement or a process of disruptive innovation.   In each case my reference to balance has been in highlighting some of the binary discussions which seem to arise on the Edu blog sphere and Twittersphere slightly more than they do in real life discussions.    Things are generally not binary in nature as the world is seldom that simple.    Balance therefore allows for an element of two opposing concepts or views with agreement to establish a point of agreement somewhere between the two opposite points.    Balance to me presents a continuum between two points, with the ability to select somewhere in between.    Up until recently I have been happy with this concept of balance.

The other day on the way home though I came to think about balance and I realised that my viewpoint maybe wasn’t as acceptable as I had thought it was.    The issue which came to me as I drove home was the fact that my view of balance puts two concepts at opposite ends.   For example, incremental improvement and disruptive innovation.    The two concepts are not opposites so why would they be at opposite ends of a continuum?    The reason I suspect is that in a discussion between two parties each will adopt a position, or end, and the negotiation that follows will either lead to an agreed disagreement or to a compromise or point in between.  As such from the point of view of a discussion between two people with differing viewpoints the model of a continuum and balance makes sense but maybe it doesn’t make sense as much when looking at the concepts themselves or their implementation.

In the case of incremental improvement and disruptive innovation, does more of one result in less of the other?     Maybe from the point of view of time available to undertake the process of change, it might be a case of more of one and less of the other.    Other than this could we not seek to be both incremental and disruptive?    If we were half way between incremental and disruptive what does this mean?   Does it mean spending half of our time being incremental and half of our time being disruptive and if so, how do we transition from one to the other?    Or if not related to time, what would being half way disruptive look like?     Can I be incremental but also also introduce a disruptive innovation, or could a disruptive innovation by incremental?   Are all increments necessarily equal and in which case is a disruptive innovation possible just a large incremental change?

I realise now that my use of balance hadn’t really advanced me away from the idea of binary concepts.   Having a continuum between two points isn’t that much better than having two points, especially where the concepts or points of view aren’t clearly opposites.    This all stems out of our looking for the “right” answer and as Ken Robinson said in his famous Changing Paradigms speech, “there can only be one and its at the back of the book”.   De Bono makes a similar observation in his book which is aptly titled “I’m right, you’re wrong”.    The reality is that we can actually all be right (or wrong come to think about it).    We could be iterative in our change however also be disruptively innovating as well.   There is no requirement to do one or the other, beyond the requirement which we imply in our discussions of differing viewpoints.   This extends for most binary discussions (or arguments) both online and offline.

I feel we all need to take more care in pitting viewpoints against each other.    Maybe the biggest benefit might come from accepting that differing viewpoints may all be correct, from looking for commonalities as opposed to stressing the differences.

 

 

5 years of blogging

I am starting to feel like a broken record in terms of writing about my surprise as to how time has flown but the fact that I have now been blogging for 5 years marks a milestone which I think is well worth the expression of surprise. 

It was 5 years ago the last week (I had planned on posting this to the day however ended up with the flu bug so this is slightly later than planned) that I sat in my villa out in the UAE and decided to create a blog and write my first, short introductory post.    Since then I have posted with varying degrees of regularity, from every couple of months to a period during which I posted daily for a month.   Apparently from the statistics on this site I have posted 199 times.  I have also posted 18 times over on my other site, www.beingdigitallyliterate.wordpress.com plus have a couple of other minor sites I have posted on in relation to specific projects or events. 

I will admit that my posts have never garnered a massive or even minor following as the analytics often tell me however I keep blogging.   The reason here is simply that I have come to realise that the biggest impact blogging can have is not about gaining popularity or having one’s ego massaged.  The greatest gain is in keeping a record as to your thoughts, feelings, successes, trials and tribulations to use in reflecting back.    I have come to realise both personally and through reading various books such as Predictably Irrational (D.Ariely), How We Learn (B. Carey) and Black Box Thinking (M. Syed) that our memory often does not provide us an accurate picture as to times gone past.   It is often shaped by bias towards negative issues and memories, bias towards the more recent events as opposed to those from further back in time and bias towards events where we have become emotionally involved, especially those events where we have become angry or annoyed.      As such, blog entries allow me to get a more accurate view on my thoughts, feelings and viewpoints as they were in a given moment. 

And so it is that I realise the person I really write this for, is for my future self.     So with that in mind I would like to finish this post by addressing my future self from 5 years hence: 

  • Take plenty of pictures (am not sure about posting these on social media though!) 

Pictures are great to look back on, capturing a moment in time in vivid colour and adding to our own memory of the captured event.    I look back on pictures of me on a geography field trip or out in the yard of an Abu Dhabi school and the memories flood back.  The issue is I don’t really have that many photos as I seldom make time to stop and take them.   As I move forward I hope to make more opportunities to stop and grab photos of events and moments in my life. 

  • Write plenty of blog posts 

The more I write down the more I have to reflect on.    Although I may find it difficult to find things to write on in the moment, this is due to not seeing worth in my musings in the current moment.   I cannot however see the future and the potential worth of these reflections as may exist in time yet to come.    As such I need to work to record my thoughts in the hope that they may serve me well at some point in the future. 

  • But enjoy and spend time doing things you enjoy, build memories. 

All work and no play makes Gary a dull boy….or something like that.    I need to make sure I take time out regularly to do that which I enjoy.    It is easy to get swept up in your “to do” list, and in work, without putting time aside for yourself.   It is important to be conscious of this, and of how time can easily pass us by.   

  • Don’t sweat the little things 

I think this is very important.   On many occasions I have got very stressed about projects or tasks which I have had to undertake.    In each case, and despite all the planning, meetings, discussions and strategizing, things have arisen which I had not predicted and therefore corrections and adjustments to the plan were required.   In the end the projects have arrived at their end point and been successful.    The main point here is that we cannot predict the future so changes, issues and problems will arise.   This is inevitable and therefore not worth stressing about.    With work and effort however such issues and problems will be overcome and success achieved.    The final route will most likely not match the original plan however the destination will be reached.      

  • Don’t spend too much effort long term planning.   We can’t predict the future. 

By now you may have started to spot a theme, so I will end by stating a central part to that theme.    We plan so much in what we do however in the real world there are many a curve ball waiting.   As such spending too long planning rather than acting will get us nowhere.   Now to be clear I am not advocating taking on complex projects without any planning, only that planning should be limited and measured as no amount of planning will account for the infinitive variability in the world.    Only by getting out and doing, by hitting snags and by plotting alternative courses around such obstructions will we truly get anywhere. 

And so it is that I have now been blogging for five years.   Here’s to the next five!!! 

Reflections on month 1

JanuaryI must admit that January has been a difficult month.   A number of issues at school around key IT systems have put a high degree of focus on part of my team requiring them to seriously step up and take on new challenges.   The last two weeks of January have been particularly difficult as we have struggled to fix the issues which have arose plus where we have found it difficult to identify alternative solutions.   Now, as February begins, however, after many days of struggle, solutions have been found and these solutions not only represent a solution to the problems but also an improvement on the setup as it had been previously.   I must admit to having become stressed during January and also to being annoyed at times as to my inability to resolve the issues in hand.   I also acknowledge having seen things as a “Failure” to find a solution as opposed to a “not yet” moment.   I need to be more conscious of this in future as my behaviours are what people see as opposed to my intentions so if I talk the talk I need to be seen to walk the walk.        I have also noticed myself using an old favourite phrase of mine:  “The problem is…..”.    This is definitely something I need to knock on the head, as stating the problems will most likely sound either negative or obstructive in search for solutions.   Am not sure if “the challenge is…” sounds any better but the main thing will be to take care to avoid labeling inconveniences, difficulties, momentary challenges, minor deviations from the plan, etc. as “problems”.

Professional Development

The above problems have led to me getting more directly involved with some of the schools IT systems.   This has meant dusting off my old SQL skills and learning some new software solutions, etc.   It has been fun to get directly involved although at times frustrating such as when I spend around half a day updating a tables data just to find out that an automated routine deleted the tables data every evening.   This goes to indicate the importance of documenting systems, something that is generally left to last and therefore often missed out altogether.

I must note that the above wasn’t an area I had foreseen as professional development  I would be doing this year however it has certainly challenged me and forced me to learn new things.     Challenge was one of things I had identified in my pledges so I am happy in this area at least for now.   I would also say that this highlights some concepts in the book “Open” which I have been reading recently in that my learning was in a time which suited me plus via online resources and forums as opposed to more traditional training or PD models.

Fitness

On a personal note my efforts to maintain a minimum of 30mins exercise a day in the form of walking , have been successful.    I doubt I will ever manage to do kilometres worth of jogging in the morning before work, as some do, however at least I am making an effort and making some, albeit modest, progress.

Reading

My reading in January has seen me complete two books in Open by David Price and The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely.    I have also done a little additional reading around data science and python programming.   The one thing I am looking forward to is having the garden at my new house done and to being able to sit out when the spring finally arises, to read a book or two.   Am sure I will be sharing a few photos of me sunning myself, with a beer and a good book in the months to come.

Journaling

My journaling started off particularly well this month with me putting aside time to take notes on my experiences of each week.   Sadly as other issues arose as indicated in my opening paragraph, this has dropped by the wayside.    As I reflect on this the urgent/important quadrant diagram jumps to mind.     The things I have focussed on during some of this month have been the urgent items and have also been important however journaling, although not urgent, may be very important in the long run in providing me something to reflect on.    Without a record to reflect on I am at the mercy of my incomplete and often inaccurate recollections of things. Any attempt to derive improvement is negatively impacted upon by the resulting inaccuracies or omissions.  I will need to try and ensure I make a greater effort to secure my journaling time against other needs and tasks which may encroach.

In Conclusion

I cannot believe that the first month of 2018 has already been and gone, that one twelfth of the year is gone.   As I often say, “onwards and upwards”!

My initial 2018 reading list

As 2018 is now in full flow I thought it was about time that I filled my bookshelf at least with an initial set of books to read in the year ahead.   As Naseem Taleb discusses in his book, The Black Swan, the intelligence of a person is not indicated by the books they have read in their library but by the books they are yet to read.   He suggests the books yet to be read are an acceptance of what we are yet to learn as well as an intention to continue learning through reading.   In this vain I aim to keep my bookshelf filled with the books I am yet to read.

So to my book list for 2018; the initial books are:

  • The Upside to Irrationality by Dan Ariely
  • Open by David Price
  • The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel
  • Shut Up, Move On by Paul McGee
  • Make it Stick by Peter Brown
  • The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
  • Twitter Power 3.0 by Jim Taylor and Joel Comm
  • Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
  • Change by Richard Gerver
  • The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

In addition to the above books I have also picked a couple focused on data science for the year ahead.   The reason for this is an interest in how schools might make better use of data which fits with my current experimentation with Microsoft PowerBI.  The books in relation to data science are:

  • Data Science from Scratch by Joel Grus
  • Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

The above twelve books represent my initial book list for 2018.   Twelve books to match my plan to read at least one book per month however I have every intention to add to this list as the year goes on or as my focus or interest areas change.    I have already had a list of books suggested to me by Matthew Larson (@mlarson_nj) of which I suspect a number will be added to my reading go list.

Let my 2018 reading begin…..