Learning standards. Kindergarten readiness. Achievement gap. Personalized learning. Universal preschool. Can you define the terms buzzing around the education world? Jargon can be overwhelming—even for the experts. And language can be further complicated by disagreements on (or misunderstandings of) what terms mean, politics, and different definitions that depend on context.
Whether you’re an educator or education expert, a parent or family member of a student, or a voter hoping to learn more about local schools, a clear understanding of education terms, and the issues surrounding them, can help in many ways.
As education experts ourselves, QIP employees encounter a lot of jargon, much of which has the potential to cause confusion. Here are a few tricky education terms we’ve seen lately, along with descriptions of what they mean—and don’t mean.
Education and career pathways are maps. Students, educators, employees, and employers can use them to navigate through the various stages of attending school and participating in the workforce. As I explained in my previous blog post on education and career pathways, just as people use regular maps to travel from point A to point B, they can use education and career pathways to advance from one milestone to another in their education and careers.
In order to create education and career pathways maps, we need data and metadata. We also need standards to make the data interoperable. These data collection and standards efforts must be open and created with input from various stakeholders.
Moving toward a Google Maps model
Google Maps is a good metaphor for education and career pathways maps. In both types of maps, people can choose among possible routes based on needs and interests.
Data attached to each milestone (like a credential or job) help people determine where they are and what their goal or destination is. Data allow the technology to show different ways to reach each destination and to suggest the fastest or best route, given internal and external circumstances.
On Google Maps, the internal circumstances may be that a person is riding a bike, or a driver can’t take toll roads. The external circumstances may be construction or traffic congestion on some roads. In education and career pathways, the internal circumstances may be that a person has a job, is a single parent, and lives 50 miles from the nearest college. The external circumstances may be that a state law passed that will change certification requirements in three years’ time. Like Google maps, a data-driven pathways navigator would suggest personalized routes based on the circumstances. It would recommend different career pathways to people in different circumstances, even if both share the same goal.
We have not yet gathered the large amount of data and metadata needed to create education and career pathways maps. We also don’t have a complete set of standards that can make data operable between systems. Although several promising initiatives aim to address these problems, we are still in the beginning stages of creating rich and open pathways maps that have the power and utility that Google Maps brings to street navigation.
Data needed for the four kinds of pathways
Education and career pathways come in four varieties. Each kind of map serves different purposes and requires different kinds of data and metadata.
In a competency pathways map, routes are defined based on expert recommendations for sequencing learning. Each milestone contains data defining a competency (a skill, piece of knowledge, disposition, or practice). For example, mathematics teachers recognize that proportional reasoning skills are prerequisite to success in algebra (see this Doing What Works presentation on developing proportional reasoning). A competency pathways map may indicate that students must reach a defined level of mastery in proportional reasoning before learning about linear equations.
A content pathways map serves the needs of curriculum developers who are building coherent sequences of learning activities. Each milestone contains data defining a learning resource (for example, a video or discussion guide). Digital resources are alternatives to static resources such as printed textbooks. Data linking specific lessons and activities may define prerequisite and post-requisite relationships to maintain a coherent sequence while allowing for personalized learning. The data of each content milestone may also link to competency definitions (milestones in a competency pathways map) that define what the learning resource is intended to teach or assess.
In a credential pathways map, routes indicate means of achieving each credential. This kind of map shows how “stacking” credentials in different ways could lead to the same outcome. A credential pathways map could show, for example, that a series of micro-credentials add up to the same qualifications as a certificate program.
A career pathways map may include milestones for career options as well as for job qualifications. Many professions require education credentials, licensure tests, entry-level experience (for example, working as an apprentice), and/or achieving full certification. Additional conditions might be required before becoming a master of the trade or profession. Data on a career pathways map must be attached to the destination milestone (the job itself, linked to the competencies required for the job and other metadata), as well as to milestones that indicate how one can qualify for the job.
The future of education and career data systems
Pathways maps can help bridge traditional institutional boundaries—such as between K-12 and higher education and between education and employers. When education and training programs are better aligned to what lies ahead, they can prepare students for long-term opportunities. Moreover, students are able to make more informed choices when they understand the full range of options available to them.
Furthermore, as new careers are invented, learners will be able to see how to train for emerging, high-demand, higher paying jobs. If learners have trouble acquiring new competencies, they can explore other modalities of learning and practicing to achieve the same milestone.
Learning pathways data, combined with experience data, can be improved using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to optimize route recommendations. The full potential of this kind of optimization will depend on pathways data being open on the web and fully interoperable, and with comprehensive coverage connecting competencies, credentials, and careers.
Making education and career pathways a reality
Without access to robust learner navigation systems, students are not fully informed about routes to prosperous and fulfilling careers. Educators and students often make guesses about which routes are best, or make random choices due to uncertainty. Education institutions assume they are helping students acquire the competencies they need for their futures, but data show a mismatch between workforce needs and job seekers' skills.
I invite you to join in the effort to work toward robust education and career navigation systems, and to create the data standards needed to make systems interoperable. With dedication and collaboration among a variety of experts, organizations, and agencies, we can make standardized, open-data pathways maps a reality.
To learn more, attend the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) iFEST conference, in Alexandria, Virginia, on August 27–29, at which I will be facilitating a session on this topic. I also invite you to view my video Demystifying Pathways Data.
Jim Goodell (@jgoodell2) is Senior Analyst at QIP. He works on connections between education sciences, policy, practice, and personalized/optimized learning. He wrote Turning ‘Google Maps for Education’ From Metaphor to Reality for EdSurge. Learn more about Jim here.
Recent statistics show a mismatch between the skills secondary and postsecondary students are acquiring and the rapidly changing needs of industry. In June 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. job openings had increased to 6.6 million, while the number of unemployed people was down to 6.3 million. According to the 2017 ExcelinEd white paper Putting Career and Technical Education to Work for Students, “Many of these open positions offer middle- and higher-wage salaries, as well as opportunities for continued training and advancement by employers, but they go unfilled due to a lack of appropriately skilled workers who have completed aligned programs of study.” Pathways data—data that help students navigate through different points in their education and career trajectories—can help solve this problem. These data define not just the routes to success (i.e., to the desired destination), but also the milestones along the way.
It is clear from these reports that current students and education providers could use better alignments to the most promising opportunities in higher education and the workforce. At the macro level, we see gaps between what students are learning and what they need to learn to transition into the college programs of study and work positions that are available. At the micro level, a student’s skill gap in any area (e.g., proportional reasoning) becomes a roadblock for learning further skills that depend on that prerequisite understanding or ability (e.g., operations with fractions, word problems, and physical science applications). The lack of well-defined education pathways data—and the failure to use the information that is currently available—is limiting opportunities for students, employees, and employers.
Four kinds of education and career pathways
There are four kinds of pathways that serve different purposes:
- Competency pathways define recommended sequences of learning. They show prerequisite and post-requisite relationships between competencies. Competencies can include skills, knowledge, dispositions, or practices.
- Content pathways define sequences of learning resources or learning experiences.
- Credential pathways define sequences of credentials that build an individual's qualifications. These pathways often include “stackable” credentials that can help a person qualify for a different and potentially higher-paying job, by adding qualifications to those he/she already has. (See also this explanation of stackable credentials from the U.S. Department of Labor.)
- Career pathways define a series of structured and connected education programs and support services that enable students, often while working, to advance over time to better jobs with higher levels of education and training. (See also this explanation of career pathways from the Career Ladders Project and this definition from ExelinEd.)
Visualizing pathways as a map
Although the four kinds of pathways have different purposes, their structure looks the same. In each case, the information can be visualized as a map. Points of interest on the map, called milestones, can represent
- a competency (e.g., a skill, piece of knowledge, disposition, or practice);
- content (e.g., a learning resource or program);
- a credential (e.g., a qualification or degree); or
- a career opportunity (e.g., an internship or job).
While these different types of milestones can all be points in a pathways map, the metadata for each will be different, depending on type. For instance, a credential milestone will have different metadata properties than a competency milestone.
A path is a connector between two milestones. Paths, similar to road segments on a street map, represent recommended ways someone can navigate from point A to point B. On a pathways map, a path shows how to get to a slightly more advanced milestone via its prerequisite milestone. Figure 1 shows the relationship between two milestones and a path.
A pathways map can be formed by connecting many milestones and paths. People can then select routes based on interests and needs. A career pathways map in nursing, for instance, may have several possible routes. There could be an entry-point milestone of a high school diploma, with two paths leading from there, one to a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) qualification and another to an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to qualify as a Registered Nurse (RN). Another path could lead from the LPN to the RN. The LPN and RN could each have a path to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). All of this creates many possible routes and destinations (illustrated in figure 2). Additional routes could be created, thus expanding the map, by adding paths from the BSN to graduate degree qualifications for other positions in health care.
Note that, unlike a street map, a pathways map is unidirectional. While people commonly travel from point A to point B and then back to point A, they do not travel from a more advanced milestone to its prerequisite. Of course, people may need to relearn a prerequisite they either missed or forgot in order to advance; they may also decide to double back and change routes. But they will never begin at a master-level job and move from there to a basic internship in the same field, or start by learning differential equations before moving on to addition and subtraction.
More information about education and career pathways
QIP team members are working with teams from edtech initiatives (such as those mentioned in my recent EdSurge article on initiatives working on learner navigation) to help define standards for pathways data that will serve all levels of education, training, and careers. I will be facilitating a session on this topic at the upcoming National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) iFEST conference in Alexandria, Virginia, on August 27–29. See also my video Demystifying Pathways Data on YouTube for another look at education and career pathways.
Jim Goodell (@jgoodell2) is Senior Analyst at QIP. He works on connections between education sciences, policy, practice, and personalized/optimized learning. He wrote Turning ‘Google Maps for Education’ From Metaphor to Reality for EdSurge. Learn more about Jim here.
One of the most exciting conferences in the realm of education data is the NCES STATS-DC Data Conference. If your interests and work involve education statistics, this is a great opportunity for learning and networking. STATS-DC attracts approximately 800 to 900 attendees, and there are multiple simultaneous sessions.
STATS-DC in a nutshell
The annual STATS-DC conference is sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Education. “STATS-DC” is not an acronym, but a shortening of the word statistics, plus a mention of Washington, D.C., where the conference takes place. This year’s theme is “Visualizing the Future of Education through Data.” The 2018 conference will be held during three consecutive days in late July.
One important feature of STATS-DC is that U.S. Department of Education offices provide updates and training on federal policies and activities that affect data collection and reporting. Another highlight is presentations by state and local education agency personnel who work directly with data collection and reporting, as well as by experts from other organizations who share strategies and ideas involving education statistics. Finally, since the conference draws participants and presenters from diverse locations—including a variety of specialists in education and data—it offers great networking opportunities.
Twelve kinds of presentation topics
Many presentations occur simultaneously at STATS-DC—typically 10 presentations at once in 10 rooms. To decide which you are interested in attending, refer to the 2018 Agenda at a Glance, available on the IES conference web page (also provided on paper in the conference registration packet). The Agenda at a Glance color-codes presentations by topic. There are 12 topics, and each presentation is assigned to one of them, based on its content:
- CCD: The Common Core of Data is a national database that contains information collected from public elementary and secondary schools.
- Data Collection: Federal, state, and local agencies collect data about education—a large logistical operation.
- Data Linking Beyond K-12: Linking data from K-12 to early learning, higher education, and workforce provides information used to support students.
- Data Management: Collecting, storing, and using data requires governance, oversight, and procedures.
- Data Privacy: When personal information is collected, privacy and security concerns are paramount.
- Data Quality: It is important that data are as accurate and precise as possible.
- Data Standards: The education data community is forming common standards, or understandings, about what terms mean and how they are used.
- Data Use (Analytical): Analysts use data for analyses such as time series, for academic research, and in many other ways.
- Data Use (Instructional): Educators use data to improve teaching and learning.
- Fiscal Data: Data on finances can help agencies, districts, and schools plan budgets and use resources efficiently.
- SLDS: The Statewide Longitudinal Data System Grant Program provides grants and resources for the development and expansion of student-level state data systems.
- Other: Some presentations may not fall into any of the above categories.
To decide which presentations you would like to attend, you may also wish to read abstracts. Abstracts offer more detailed information about each presentation than is available in the Agenda at a Glance and are available on the Agenda tab of the NCES STATS-DC web page. The Agenda will not be included on paper in the registration packet. However, it is posted online in both HTML and PDF formats, and complimentary Wi-Fi will be available to conference participants in the meeting space.
Making plans to attend STATS-DC
QIP staff will be attending STATS-DC this year, as we have every year for many years. We are currently preparing for the event as described in our recent blog post about how to maximize the benefits of a professional conference. If you are a member of the education statistics community, are interested in learning more about education data, or are attending for another reason, we look forward to seeing you there.
To register and access details about the event, visit the NCES web page on 2018 STATS-DC. If you are unable to attend STATS-DC in 2018 but are interested in attending in a future year, check for updates about future conferences on the IES web page on conferences, workshop/training, and technical assistance.
Attending a professional conference should not be an exercise in hoop jumping, but an opportunity to enhance your career in meaningful ways. After all, attending a conference consumes more resources—including money and time, for you and your organization—than staying at the office. It makes sense to get the most out of every conference you attend. Consider following these tips to gain the most benefit from your next conference.
Choose a conference carefully. It is likely that there are more conferences in your professional field than you have the resources to attend. Instead of choosing one at random, or based on one factor, such as location, take time to research options and weigh multiple factors. Here are questions you might ask:
- To perform my job, is it necessary that I acquire the information presented or shared at the conference?
- Will I learn a new or relevant skill?
- Is there a way for me to contribute to the conference as a presenter or participant?
- Are the people who attend the conference people I should communicate and network with?
- Is the cost of the conference worth what I will get out of it?
Prepare beforehand. Decide which sessions you’d like to attend, and create a schedule of how you will spend your time. You might make spur-of-the-moment adjustments, but having a general itinerary is important so you don’t miss an important session or event. Also, look into whether there are any pre- or post-conference sessions or meetings that you might be interested in attending. Finally, update and remember to bring your business cards and any other materials you may want to share with others.
Talk to people. The word networking gets so much press that it can seem more complicated than what it really means—talking to people. No matter how shy you feel, strike up conversations, and engage with those who speak to you. Great relationships often begin with a spontaneous conversation between strangers. Conversations can occur before sessions begin, after sessions have ended, in the hallways between sessions, and at social receptions. Networking is at least as important as learning at conferences—some suggest even more so. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article about academic conferences, “networking is the whole point.” Networking is also one of the most commonly overlooked opportunities by conference attendees.
Take (the right amount of) notes. While attending sessions, write down important information that you may find useful later. However, don’t focus so much on taking notes that you don’t actually listen to what the speaker is saying. QIP Proposal Manager Mary strives for a balance between engaging with what’s happening and recording key details that she can refer to later. That way, she doesn’t miss out on the learning opportunities of the moment—or the learning opportunities that will come when she’s back at the home office. You can also look into whether presentation slides will be made available to participants after the conference. If so, you will not need to write down anything that’s on a slide, just a note to yourself to access the slides later.
Follow up afterward. It’s easy to slip back into your day-to-day routine without incorporating anything you learned or reconnecting with anyone you met—but don’t allow this to happen. It is important to be proactive after the conference has ended. Capitalize on the benefits of attending, because otherwise they slip away. For example, QIP Project Associate Dee makes sure to use the business cards she obtained to contact the people with whom she networked. Other QIP employees have contacted speakers whose presentations piqued their interest. By contacting fellow conference participants, you can continue, or begin, professional conversations for mutual benefit. Also remember to incorporate the knowledge and skills you learned into your professional life. Refer to your notes and any available slides, and make changes accordingly. You might also share your findings with your teammates. For instance, QIP Communications Director Deanna has given presentations on what she’s learned at conferences and on how the organization can incorporate the lessons into their work.
Maximizing the benefits of a professional conference takes a bit of effort and initiative, but the career advantages you will gain are worth it. Attending a conference allows you to learn new things and connect with people in your field, and these insights and connections will stay with you long after the conference has ended. Remember, for best results, it is important to take actions not just during the conference, but also beforehand and afterward. Following these tips can help you advance your career and be a leader in your organization and professional field.
A few QIP workers have learned working long hours on the computer can cause pain and injury, but have thankfully healed and discovered how to prevent future problems.
Some of us at QIP work from home, while others work on-site; in either case, we tend to spend much of the workweek pressing keys, grasping and clicking mice, gliding fingers on touchpads, and looking at screens. All of these activities put one at risk for problems that a QIP director, a graphic designer, and a writer/editor have experienced.
Luckily, some of the most common risks inherent to these types of activities can be mitigated by following a few key protocols. Though we are not doctors and are not offering medical advice, a sharing of information and resources, as well as an examination of our successes and lessons learned, may be helpful to other computer professionals.
Use proper ergonomics, and take breaks from the keyboard and mouse
Aches, pains, tingling, and numbing in the hands and arms can result from a poorly designed workstation. QIP Communications Director Deanna started experiencing those symptoms many years ago. She now practices proper ergonomics and other measures to remain healthy.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides a Computer Workstations eTool with a broad array of information about working at a computer safely. The site includes explanations of how to set up an ergonomic workstation, checklists for workers and employers who wish to evaluate workstations or purchase equipment, and best practices for avoiding the muscle damage that can result from repetitive use.
While there is a lot of information on the site, and computer professionals should be aware of all of it, here are a few tips we’d like to highlight:
- Hands, wrists, and forearms should be in a straight line.
- Elbows should be bent at between 90 and 120 degrees.
- Feet should be flat on the floor or a footrest.
- Throughout the day, take regular breaks from the computer.
The OSHA site includes helpful diagrams that illustrate proper ergonomics. Another source with a user-friendly diagram is the Computer Ergonomics page provided by the University of Michigan to advise students on safe computer use. A single, printable poster on this site illustrates proper workstation posture.
Both OSHA and the University of Michigan University Health Service warn that using laptops safely presents special challenges. According to the University of Michigan site, “Laptop computers are not ergonomically designed for prolonged use. The monitor and keyboard are so close together that they cannot both be in good positions at the same time. For prolonged use, it's best to add a separate monitor and keyboard.”
QIP Writer/Editor Liza started experiencing muscle pain as a result of non-ergonomic laptop use with insufficient breaks. She, with the help of QIP, invested in a new monitor, keyboard, mouse, and wrist cushion. These items help her maintain a healthy posture and maximize the comfort of her arms and hands. She also began taking breaks from the computer every one to two hours, as well as a lunch break away from her desk. She reminds herself to take breaks by setting an alarm each time she sits down to use the computer. Liza says, “The health of my arms and hands is important to my job—and to everything else I do. Investing a little money in ergonomic devices, and also being proactive about taking regular breaks, allows me to work as a computer professional without pain or problems.”
Deanna discovered that regular massage; arm, chest, and shoulder stretches as shown in this Prevention article on doorway stretching; orthopedic arm bands that compress the muscles; and a kneeling chair ease the pressure on her forearm muscles and alleviate her symptoms. Even proper hydration can make a difference in how her arm muscles feel, something she learned from her massage therapist. “I was initially misdiagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. I later discovered that my issue has to do with the overuse of the muscles in my forearms,” Deanna says. “Regular massage has by far been the most effective element of managing my symptoms, but being mindful of how often and the manner in which I use my arms, and being aware of my posture, are crucial to my health.”
Position the monitor appropriately, and take breaks from screen viewing
Hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, backs, and legs are not the only parts of the anatomy that can be harmed by computers. Unfortunately, it is also common for modern professionals to experience eye pain or vision problems due to prolonged or nonergonomic screen viewing.
The OSHA Computer Workstations eTool contains information on how to safely use a monitor and how to avoid eye strain due to lighting and glare issues. Here are a few of the many recommendations OSHA gives:
- The top of the monitor should be at or just below eye level.
- The monitor should be at a right angle to a window with bright light.
- Throughout the day, take regular breaks from looking at screens.
An article in The Atlantic on eye health contains information about how to protect your vision if you’re a heavy screen user like those of us who work with computers for a living. According to the article, experts offer this advice: “Take what they call a ‘20-20-20 break’: Every 20 minutes, give yourself 20 seconds to check out what's going on 20 feet away from you.”
QIP Senior Graphic Designer Jess got valuable advice from her eye doctor when she started experiencing vision issues. She says, “I now designate, within every hour, a few one-minute breaks when I do not look at any screen. Instead, I look out my window or go onto my balcony to simply look around.”
It can happen to you
It can be easy to dismiss health recommendations, to assume that they apply to other people, but not to you. Each of us at QIP who were harmed by computers had never dreamed that it would happen to us. However, if you work on a computer for a living, it pays—literally—to follow the protocols advised by experts. No one wants to miss work due to health reasons. And no one wants everyday life to be disrupted due to painful muscles or vision problems. Professionals who use a computer can mitigate or avoid many health issues by ensuring that the workstation is set up ergonomically and by taking regular breaks throughout the day.
While big data’s growing influence has impacted our lives across a spectrum of issues, it also has created many questions and concerns, particularly among education researchers.
Big data allows researchers to uncover patterns in data that might be otherwise invisible. This has led to several powerful advances, such as better treatments for disease, improvements in agriculture, and more timely and effective responses to natural disasters. The benefits of big data have even been highlighted in popular media, such as in the movie Moneyball, which dramatizes how the pioneering use of large datasets helped a general manager assemble a winning baseball team.
But the rise of big data has also prompted many to note its potential negative consequences. Within education, researchers have identified not only benefits to using big data, but also legitimate concerns. As they do with all data, education researchers have a responsibility to focus on both the integrity of their research using big data and on clear communications about this research to the public. Further, their communications with the public should focus not just on the research itself and its useful possibilities, but also on the precautions they are taking to ensure that the rise of big data does not negatively affect the education community.
Big data, defined
The term “big data” refers to very large and complex datasets—those datasets that have been described as “defying traditional data-processing applications” (National Academy of Education, 2017). Modern technologies allow us to capture information in previously unforeseen ways and transform it into digital data. This has resulted in datasets that are much larger and more complicated than anything seen before. From a research standpoint, big data changes data collection from an often lengthy and painstaking process to one that can happen nearly automatically, given the right connections to sources.
Big data in education: improving teaching and learning
Big data in education tends to fall into two major categories: administrative data and learning process data. Combining digital data from these two areas in innovative ways can allow researchers to identify patterns or correlations that may otherwise go unnoticed.
- Administrative data can be demographic, behavioral, and achievement data and may include items such as attendance records, transcripts, and test scores.
- Learning process data are continuous records of students’ behaviors and may include online assessments, keystrokes, or time latencies (e.g., the time it takes a student to respond to a question).
Innovative data analyses can lead to useful solutions to problems in schools and classrooms, uncover potential inequities in learning opportunities, and zero in on students’ needs in ways that reveal how to personalize learning more effectively. The overarching goal of this data collection and analysis is to expand possibilities for teaching and learning—including how to meet individual students’ needs.
Big data in education: legitimate concerns
Education researchers have raised some legitimate concerns about big data. While they recognize that big data has many exciting possibilities, researchers have also identified some potential problems with its use—or misuse. These concerns tend to fall into three main categories: misinterpretation, inappropriate use, and data privacy and security.
- Misinterpretation concerns center on the possibility that studies using big data may be misunderstood by readers—especially if the studies are distilled or simplified before reaching the public—and that these misinterpretations could lead to inaccurate decisionmaking.
- Inappropriate use concerns suggest that the public nature and accessibility of some big data may lead to people using the data in ways that were not intended and that defy accepted research standards.
- Data privacy and security concerns are based on concerns that individuals’ personal information may not be properly protected, which could lead to data breaches or other inadvertent disclosures of private information.
As the education field continues to move toward greater use of big data, each of these issues should be specifically and consistently addressed. This can be accomplished through strong data governance, research standards, and other precautionary measures.
Researchers’ responsibilities: communication with the public
Education researchers must think not just about the research on big data, but also about how the public is receiving and reacting to this research. Public discussion of big data is frequently negative and inaccurate. Unlike the measured considerations of big data presented in academic articles, much of the communication about education-related big data to the public has encouraged skepticism and fear. It is not surprising that many parents and other stakeholders have developed negative views, given the frequent headlines that tout the “big dangers” of big data. The public less frequently encounters news that describes the potentially positive aspects of this education information or the clear standards that are in place to protect the privacy of personal information.
At the same time, researchers should work to ensure that members of the education community understand the legitimate concerns about big data and what we can all do to avoid or mitigate problems that may arise from misinterpretation, inappropriate use, and data privacy and security issues. Walking the fine line between explaining the intricacies of this difficult topic and communicating concisely and clearly is something education researchers must strive to master.
Big data is indeed a problem if it is used ineffectively, inappropriately, or by individuals without a requisite level of comprehension of the complexities of the subject. But that is true of all research data. Data, in various forms, can reveal that something has happened, that a phenomenon exists, or that variables appear to have a relationship, but data cannot on their own reveal why. It is the responsibility of researchers—especially those in the public sphere—to provide the lenses that make research relevant and comprehensible to varied audiences, from parents and teachers to administrators and elected officials.
It is important for education researchers to make clear that they are using the same stringent research standards for big data analysis that they have adhered to with previous types of data. Additionally, they must communicate to the public that they are regularly discussing the potential hazards of big data and routinely updating methodologies and security protocols as projects and analyses become increasingly complex. The clearest path to public trust in the research process is via straightforward and detailed communication.
Bridget Thomas (@DrBridgeQIP) is Senior Education Researcher at QIP and Adjunct Professor at George Mason University. Her work focuses on early childhood policy and translating research for multiple audiences.
Think about some businesses or organizations you have visited recently. Did the employees working there display a commitment to quality? You can likely remember instances when you witnessed extreme quality—or the opposite. How do great employees do great work? One of our QIP core values—committing to quality—involves two very different types of work. It turns out that both types are essential to the human brain’s ability to be productive.
Deep work produces quality
The scholar Cal Newport coined the term “deep work” to refer to distraction-free, cognitively demanding work. In his book Deep Work, he cites evidence that many workers are continuously distracted by email, text alerts, phone calls, social media, and clickbait temptations, and have trouble finding sustained time to think deeply.
Consider whether you engage in deep work, for around 90 minutes, without distraction, on a regular basis. If so, that’s great. If not, Newport has some recommendations:
- Change your phone notification settings.
- Find a work environment that minimizes disruptions.
- Schedule deep work sessions into your day.
QIP Program Manager Kris Dunman, for example, protects her deep thinking time because attending to tasks such as emails, phone calls, and meetings, while very important, sometimes prevents her from accomplishing deep work. She marks calendar time slots as busy when she needs to focus on specific projects. She says, “I aim to respond quickly to colleagues. However, phone calls and emails can make it difficult to accomplish work that requires focus. Fortunately, I can rely on team members who help to make sure our projects balance responsiveness with time for deep thinking.”
Don’t skimp on shallow work
Newport notes that the human brain can sustain only about two deep work sessions per day. More than this on a regular basis will exhaust your brain’s daily capacity for deep work—and you risk burnout. What Newport terms “shallow work” plays an important role in helping our brains recover from deep work sessions, as well as process the problems we were tackling in those sessions. Therefore, email, text messaging, and Internet surfing can have an important place in our lives—so long as shallow work is not all we do.
In a New York Times article about the value of “wasted” time, Lisa Belkin writes, “Over the years I have come to see that the hours away from the writing are the time when the real work gets done . . . a paragraph turns itself this way and that in a corner of my brain even while my fingers are buying books on Amazon.com.”
Deep vs. shallow
Reflect on how much deep versus shallow work you tend to do each day, or each week. If the balance seems off—you are either working deeply too often and burning out, or shallowly too often and feeling unable to concentrate—strive to gain the necessary balance. Finding time for both deep and shallow work is just one way you can enhance the quality of your outputs on the job. We find that striving to keep this balance helps us stay true to that particular QIP core value. Indeed, our commitment to quality runs so deep that we named our company after it.
Standard operating procedures are critical to the efficiency of most organizations. But real success in business (and life) also requires a thorough understanding of one’s values.
In 2017, QIP had been in business for more than a decade, and we knew intuitively what we stood for and how we engaged in work activities. In addition, we had many written documents that codified different aspects of our business—a website, an employee handbook, and marketing materials. We also had years of experience in assisting clients, hiring employees, and managing a growing team. However, QIP had not yet established its core values.
Staff knew that QIP had many informal values that we acted upon daily, but these values weren’t formally expressed in words or in writing. We realized that adopting a set of company core values would not just reinforce who we are to our current employees and clients; it would also make a statement to prospective employees and partners about how we do business and why we are successful.
A scary and messy idea
Because one of our most cherished values at QIP has always been to avoid a top-down management style, we realized that our core values would be more authentic, meaningful, and accurate if we involved our entire team in the development process.
This felt like a scary and messy idea. It would be so easy for senior managers to simply craft core values and announce them. What if all employees engaged in the creation process only to discover that everyone’s ideas radically differed from one another?
We ultimately decided to take the plunge because we wanted to remain loyal to our values and management style and maintain a spirit of inclusivity. Plus, we knew that QIP employees hold high standards of excellence. Having worked together as a team for years, our values could not be too far apart. And if they were? Well, that would be a learning experience that would make our company stronger.
A six-step process for crafting core values with employee input
At a company-wide retreat in fall 2017, our 26-person team gathered in a hotel conference room and engaged in a multistep process. The process began with presentations and group activities that provided contextual information about core values and concluded with the development and refinement of our core values.
Step 1. Understand that core values are not empty jargon. Using prepared PowerPoint slides, senior managers explained what core values should be—important and lasting standards and beliefs shared by a group—as well as what they often, unfortunately, end up being—marketing jargon that no one cares about or believes in. This web page inspired and informed the presentation, especially the cautionary tale regarding Enron. The team broke into groups and made up some fake, clichéd “values” so everyone understood what we do not want our core values to be.
Step 2. Learn that core values are not aspirational, accidental, or permission-to-play values. Senior managers defined other list items that would not be core values. For example, a value that a company aspires to but does not currently hold is not a core value. A commonality that arises by accident and is not actively cultivated is not a core value. And baseline standards of behavior (permission-to-play values) are not core values; this is because core values show how a company excels in contrast to its competitors, not ways in which it follows basic governmental laws and societal rules. This web page offers more detailed explanations on what core values are not. After presenting this information, we had the groups brainstorm examples of these types of list items that are not core values.
Step 3. Realize that core values are important and lasting standards and beliefs. After senior managers gave the team a thorough, multipart definition of what core values are, the groups discussed published lists of other companies’ core values. This allowed everyone to gain an understanding of the wide variety of possibilities. During this activity, employees noticed many similarities—and differences—between our company and the companies we discussed. We began to think about what makes us unique.
Step 4. Draft lists of core values. Armed with this contextual information, the team drafted lists of authentic core values that would represent QIP and differentiate us from other companies. Employees gathered in their traditional daily working groups this time. Each of the groups brainstormed a list to share with the full team.
Step 5. Combine and refine the lists of core values. We happily discovered that the groups, working separately, drafted lists that were strikingly similar to one another. Many of the words chosen by the groups were identical or synonyms, and nothing on the lists stood out as wildly divergent or unexpected. We were happy to learn that QIP’s culture truly does center around a few important principles that we all intuitively understand.
Step 6. Finalize and adopt our core values. Upon returning to our home offices, the Communications & Content group at QIP edited, proofread, and visually designed our new core values. Senior managers sent a polished draft to the entire company to request any last individual input. We took this feedback into consideration and made some minor changes. Finally, we adopted our core values and published them on our website.
Reflecting on the process and keeping the core values relevant
In the end, we were glad that we engaged in the multistep process of coming to a group consensus on core values, instead of imposing ideas from the top down. This effort gave everyone on the team a voice, and a stake, and we discovered that our team truly has the values we thought we saw at QIP.
Our next goal is to make sure our core values stay relevant. We plan to refer to them often in the future. This may happen during interactions within our team and with external clients and contacts, during recruitment and hiring of new employees, through our website and blog, on social media, and during annual performance reviews.
We can now confidently say that we nurture, promote, balance, celebrate, and commit—and this is what makes us QIP.
We’ve recently welcomed the year 2018 into our lives. With it will come new experiences, lots of growth, and many changes. Some of us made personal New Year’s resolutions as we contemplated the preceding year as well as looked to the year ahead. January is also a great month to make resolutions for your 2018 work life.
How do you hope to grow as a professional this year? If you haven’t yet identified a work-related resolution, you could try thinking in terms of the ways you want, or need, to change in response to shifting circumstances around you. Since the world is constantly evolving, it’s important to adapt and keep abreast of new trends and technologies.
Also keep in mind that not all resolutions have to be related to completing discrete tasks or learning specific skills (though they can be, of course). For example, consider Maya Angelou’s advice: “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.” Whatever you do, however, don’t remain the same in the face of the rapid transformations our world is experiencing.
The majority of what we do at QIP involves ensuring that education data are as accurate, available, and useful as possible. Therefore, in 2018 we will be thinking about how we can improve data operations, quality, accessibility, and use. We will also be seeking to improve our professional capabilities to support these goals—for example, by focusing on being effective teammates, learning new technological skills, and showing leadership and initiative at work.
Here’s to both continuing to improve education data and developing ourselves professionally this year—sound and reasonable resolutions for 2018. At QIP, we’re proud of what we do because improving education data directly impacts the quality of education . . . and education, more than any other field, sows seeds that can change our world for the better. We wish to all a wonderful 2018 that’s filled with positive growth and exciting transformations.
[Source of quotation: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/28/maya-angelou-in-fifteen-quotes]