Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Too Much Information: The Surge in the Collection and Use of Data Has Created a New Problem for K-12 Administrators-Where to Put It All, While Ensuring It Stays Safe and Accessible. Data Warehouses Have the Answer

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Too Much Information: The Surge in the Collection and Use of Data Has Created a New Problem for K-12 Administrators-Where to Put It All, While Ensuring It Stays Safe and Accessible. Data Warehouses Have the Answer

Article excerpt

AMONG ITS MANY SWEEPING CONSEQUENCES over the past five years, the No Child Left Behind Act, with its mandates for collecting and documenting student achievement statistics, has fueled a surge in the volume of data collected by schools, districts, and state education departments. But this information explosion has gone hand in hand with technology's growing affordability and availability, and the realization by school officials that they can put data to work to improve both administrative and instructional processes.

Yet as the collection and use of data has grown, a subsequent problem has emerged--where to store it all, while ensuring it remains protected yet accessible, usable, and meaningful. That's where data warehouses come in. Born in the corporate world, data warehouses integrate data from the various operational systems a school or district uses, and when combined with a data analysis tool, enable administrators to analyze performance over time. More and more administrators at every level are using data warehouses to help manage huge volumes of data and to monitor student progress.

Why a Data Warehouse?

"The first thing that needs to be understood is that data warehouses are tools, not solutions," says Jill Abbott, learning strategist for the Schools Interoperability Framework Association (www.sifinfo.org), which promotes the use of a common technology framework to allow interoperability between the different applications used by schools. "In general, there is a lack of understanding about what a data warehouse truly is."

A data warehouse is essentially a facilitator. Without one, or with one that is limited or poorly constructed, the data that a school collects often ends up in disparate silos, preventing the school from obtaining a comprehensive view of how students are performing, how poor performance might relate to absenteeism, how effective teachers are, where the most effective instruction is taking place, and so forth.

"Without a way to manage data, educators miss opportunities to help children that they would have seen had they had access to data," says Shawn Bay, founder of eScholar (www.eschlolar.com), a New York-based company that has implemented hundreds of district-level data warehouses. "Not having a data warehouse also means administrators spend huge amounts of time collecting and integrating data manually to meet compliance reporting requirements--time that could have been spent helping children."

A school without a data warehouse must cleanse and integrate data individually for each report, creating inevitable inconsistencies that ultimately destroy the credibility of the data and limit its impact.

A data warehouse solution, on the other hand, allows school officials to not merely store data in one place, but to analyze the data they collect, examine trends and statistics, and put data into the hands of teachers in near real-time. Empowered by that data, teachers and administrators can then identify individual student weaknesses and make the necessary adjustments to address them before it's too late.

Data warehouses are typically designed to handle large amounts of data stored longitudinally over time. As a result, they can become very large. In fact, the largest databases in the world are typically data warehouses. Sometimes, data that is not needed for analysis is archived to a secondary system or stored at a less granular level of detail if space needs to be reclaimed.

The data is stored in a structure, often called a data model, created in a relational database. This data model is important. If it is not well designed, a school or district may be stymied in its efforts to analyze the data. Also, if the data model is strictly fixed, the district may not be able to add the custom data that it wants to analyze.

But there's much more to data warehousing than just a database. Data must be collected, transformed, verified, and analyzed in order to be useful for decision-making. …

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