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Meeting the New Needs of Teachers: Data Use

Posted on Jul 30, 2012

One of the main draws of online learning is that teachers can make good use of the data gathered by electronic learning systems in order to better address student needs and provide a more individualized learning experience. In order for this to work out, teachers must be well-versed in data use, but a report from the U.S. Department of Education revealed that teachers may not be properly equipped to make full use of the data that could be available to them.

The report states that, “teachers’  likelihood of using data in decision making is affected by how confident they feel about their knowledge and skills in data analysis and data interpretation,” and that “teacher training programs generally have not addressed data skill and data-informed decision-making processes.” These statements make it clear that because teachers are not typically taught how to work with data, they are not liable to use data as much as they could. Consequently, one of the key benefits of online learning may be largely unavailable to a great number of teachers.

Two key areas that case studies highlighted as requiring attention were data comprehension and data interpretation. In the case of the former, teachers sometimes had trouble working with complex data displays, and in the latter, teachers were observed as needing support in order to understand summaries of larger data sets. In sum, the issue seems to largely be that, currently, teachers do not have a sufficiently strong background in statistics that would be needed to use data as online learning advocates might expect.

Addressing this problem may not be difficult, in the sense that because the problem is clearly identified, solutions seem more obvious. Teachers are clearly developing a need for instruction in data use, so it would make sense to incorporate some primers into professional development time. Additionally, teacher education programs could be altered to include a focus on statistics, so that new teachers bring something fresh to the table. Ideally, an environment could emerge in which new teachers are able to support other teachers in data use, while the more experienced teachers could advise and support new teachers in instructional techniques.

Means, B., Chen, E., DeBarger, A., & Padilla, C. (2011). Teachers Ability to Use Data to Inform Instruction: Challenges and Supports. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Retrieved from

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