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Teachers turn to data analysis to help students

By Kristen Nicole January 28, 2015

Educators are increasingly turning to data to create targeted learning plans and help students excel on an individual level, according to Apple Inc.’s Vice President for Education John Couch. In some cases, colleges are using Big Data to predict which students will do well before accepting them. Wichita State University is one such institution putting IBM analytics tools to work in its admissions department, also predicting the success rate of incoming students.

But IBM isn’t the only company seeing opportunity for Big Data in the education sector. Data visualization software provider Jaspersoft Corp., acquired by TIBCO Software in 2014, is also helping teachers and administrators become more effective in their positions as educators.

“Currently, we see a growing challenge in schools for standards and how teachers should build lessons to meet standards,” said Raj Chary, vice president of Technology/Architecture at Triumph Learning, LLC. “Schools are challenged in measuring skills so when the time comes for a student to test or move to the next grade, they’re able to do so successfully.”

To help educators with this process, Triumph Learning built Get Waggle, which launched in July 2014. Built from the ground up for grades 3-8, the platform supports Common Core subjects, including math and English language arts, and provides teachers an interactive platform to plan lessons that meet required standards.

Waggle provides reporting that includes real-time snapshot data, allowing instructors to pinpoint student strengths and weaknesses. It also allows them to focus on key metrics, including proficiency, grit, and pacing levels.

The platform also gives students a differentiated learning experience, according to Chary. “With Get Waggle, if students are working on assignments, the teacher will know if they’re struggling or excelling. So if a teacher sees students struggling, they can group them and give them additional material. They can cater to a single student or a group of students by looking at the data.”

Chary recently talked with SiliconANGLE Senior Managing Editor Kristen Nicole about how teachers are using data analytics to tailor instruction more effectively, and working with students to maximize learning on an individual or group level.

Teachers don’t need to be data scientists

Q: Where does the data come in?

Chary: There’s a lot of data privacy regarding sharing across schools. We have a very focused view of what teachers see. We’re very strict about that. So when we look at servicing data, the admin can see what’s happening at the district/school level. At the teacher level, they see the classroom. On the student side, they’re generating data.

We want that data to be truly actionable. We hear a lot about Big Data and visualization, and we want to take it to the next level. We want to tell a story with the data. For example, here are 10 students really struggling with this concept, so you can take action. The teacher can extend the due date or provide more materials. And it all takes place right in the interface. They don’t have to be a data scientist to understand what the data means.

Q: What’s happened in the past few years that teachers don’t have to be data scientist?

Chary: Tools have been very limited in being able to do one thing or another. A new module may be interactive, but it’s not collecting data. Another may collect data, but it doesn’t work with this other platform. Schools are adding more and more platforms to see how and if things are helping. We see this all the time — the schools have so many apps that they can’t get a view of what’s actually happening. With Get Waggle, we wanted to change all that. You don’t have to log into 10 different sites, educators can more effectively focus on measuring student progress.

Turning data into a business

Q: How does Triumph measure its efforts regarding data literacy and market adoption?

Chary: We’re using the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study to support our progress and determine if there are things we need to address. We’re also seeing where teachers think students are “smart,” but when they begin to use interactive software, they can see how much they’re actually struggling to reach the end goal. So, teachers end up adjusting their curriculum because they initially set goals thinking students knew more. Now, they can realign their goals and make changes accordingly.

Q: How data be turned into a business within the education sector?

Chary: The biggest opportunities are in actionable data. We hear a lot about visualization, but there’s not enough effort to make it actionable. Jaspersoft gave us an opportunity to make that actionable data seamless within Get Waggle.

Things now are rigid, but once you can interact with the app, there’s so much cool stuff you can do. We’ve barely scratched the surface. We started out making it interactive for students, but we’re excited to see where it could go.

There’s a lot of potential to make a difference in the education field. Get Waggle is an example on making students prepared for next grades. At the end of the day, we want students to thoroughly understand concepts and apply them readily.

Q: Is there any way to measure teacher skills/success?

Chary: The software allows school admins to get a view of classrooms, grades, teachers, students, and subjects. They can see how a teacher’s activity has occurred and which grade or discipline needs additional support