The Effective Use of Data in Education

By Dan Han, Chief Information Security Officer, Virginia Commonwealth University

Dan Han, Chief Information Security Officer, Virginia Commonwealth University

Data is one of the most powerful tools to inform, engage, and create opportunities for students along their education journey. It shines a light on a student’s core strengths and weaknesses, thereby giving educators and parents the right information needed to drive decisions that will help improve performance. In the context of education, data is often associated with assessment scores and grades. But data is more than just test results; it also includes attendance, behavioral incident data, homework completion information, and student safety records, among other things. When these different data types are combined, one gets a clearer picture of the root cause of problems a student faces. Using this information, educators can adjust the teaching and learning process and accordingly take actions that help achieve positive results. All in all, data helps school administrators to learn where and why gaps exist in their education systems, and what strategies will close those gaps.

Evolving Role of IT in Educational Institutions

Today, information technology has given rise to various tools and applications that allow teachers to track the progress of individual students while also keeping parents up-to-date about the achievement of their child. By streamlining the evaluation and automating the different administrative processes, IT is changing the way education is managed. Besides, while also providing instant access to various educational resources, IT is enabling students to learn from anywhere and at their convenience. Computers and mobile phone applications are allowing students and teachers alike to gain easy access to any kind of data, at any time. For example, one can use a library app to download e-books, thereby eliminating the hassles of visiting the library in person and waiting for a particular book to be available.

Transformative Technologies

Being a chief information security officer, one of the most critical challenges that keep me up at night is trying to recruit and retain talent in order to deal with the evolving demands of the current education sector. And what I mean by that is, the systems we deal with today, and the amount of information available are vastly different from those of yesteryears; Hence, while it is important for IT professionals to understand the legacy systems that often runs large portions of our environment, it is absolutely imperative for IT professionals to understand the new techniques, technologies, and methodologies in which an organization can effectively manage its technology stack and deliver value through the management of information This is where predictive analytics plays a vital role. By analyzing demographic and performance data, the technology helps education institutions predict whether a student will enroll at their facility. Identifying students who are unable to keep up and helping them do better will help learning institutions improve their overall academic results. Predictive analytics has also allowed colleges to tailor their advising services better and personalize learning to enhance performance outcomes. That being said, higher graduation rates are complemented by higher employment rates, since students are trained in the right skills based on job market data. This not only helps boost the reputation of an institution but also results in a consequent rise in year-by-year enrollments. Today, several educational institutions have been able to meet their annual enrollment and revenue goals with the help of this cutting-edge technology.

"By streamlining the evaluation and automating the different administrative processes, IT is changing the way education is managed"

While these are worthwhile efforts, it is also imperative for institutions to use predictive analytics ethically. Without ethical practices, student data could be used to justify using fewer resources to recruit low-income students as their chances of enrolling are lesser than their more affluent counterparts.

Advice to Peers

Shifting from the traditional way of imparting education did take a long time. And now that this change is wide-spread, students across the globe are at the receiving end of multiple benefits that will not only strengthen their knowledge base but will also pave the way for lucrative and high-paying careers. As information security management officers, we need to understand that, along with the dynamic technology needs of each organization, the risks associated with them are also transforming. So, there are various factors that officers need to take into consideration while dealing with sensitive student data. Building a fortress by focusing on your network perimeter is no longer a viable solution, because, many of our services and functions run on the cloud with third-party service providers. Much like rest of IT, while the traditional network based defenses are still valid, we must now think of our perimeter in a different way, where identity, service, and authorization will make up this new hybrid perimeter where our security controls must reside. To that end, there needs to be a valid strategy in terms of how to address risks associated with third party services as well as these service providers.

Concurrently, the ability to collect more data and the capability to quickly extract information and knowledge from these data has led to privacy becoming a growing concern. So, it is critical to overseeing how the data is collected and used. Further, as various administrative research and academic units rely on student data to make decisions, privacy needs to be brought up to the forefront; where consent, choice, use, access, and integrity must be factored into data collection and use. When managing risks, the bottom line is that we want to be respectful of people’s data. At the same time, we also want to be able to use the data to deliver value to our faculty as well as students.

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