Posted by: elightkeeper | April 6, 2010

Educational records and technology

A good deal of my work throughout the school year consists of managing instructional loads for teachers and ensuring students are seamlessly enrolled for instruction with proper educational records. Several hundred new students may web-register on any given day across numerous subject areas and each one is automatically assigned to an appropriate class with a virtual teacher. Immediacy is the order of the day in the online world.

Behind the virtual classroom, information management is paramount. Spreadsheets of every possible description are everywhere, coordinating data from multiple information systems that do not speak to each other, but are necessary in order to  register, track, coordinate and report on every single student. There is an industry in information management behind every large virtual school and it has to be a good one if a school is to handle growth while coloring within the regulatory lines. When dealing with thousands of students, the details can make or break you.

I am very weary of data right now. It is particularly fond of playing hide and seek when I am approaching deadlines or program audits. I want it to sit quietly and not run circles around my desk. Some days, like today, I must stay with it after school to tend to its bad behavior.  But it really isn’t fair to blame data for acting up. More often than not, it is program design and user errors that lead to information problems.

We are still in an era where the systems we use do not accomplish all we need, and our ability to use them effectively is compromised by increasingly complex accountability processes.  The information cart can go off careening off the tracks with just one person or one technical aspect being out of a procedural loop.

Sometimes I long for simplicity. I imagine being responsible for a small program of twenty-five students. If that was my assignment, I’d have everyone write student information on clipboards and hang them on the office wall. They would be like those doctors’ charts that dangle off the end of hospital beds, containing all the vital life-saving (and paridoxically, illegible)  information needed to properly care for patients.   Twenty-five clipboards might be the most effective tool for the job.  My school registers in the neighborhood of 8,000 students per year. That’s more clipboards than Carter has pills, so we must depend on technology to manage student information.

Technology is exhilarating when it works.  Most of the time it gets the job done with incredible speed and precision. But since multiple systems are needed in online and distance learning,  numerous workarounds have to be created along the way.  It may be old school, but I like my data in the right place, at the right time, and sitting in neat little rows where I can keep track of it until the bell rings.  Students, on the other hand, well, they can be anywhere.

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