Thursday, September 16, 2010

Data and I'm not talking about Star Trek

Yup. Love d-a-t-a. Because behind the numbers are real students, real teachers, and real skills. I can tell all the nice stories I want, but without data they are just interesting anecdotes. With data and statistics I can turn my nice story into a compelling and dynamic statement of fact. Big difference.

And it is so easy to do!

Google Docs has a form option that allows you to create an embeddable form to collect information. I have forms for monthly circulation stats, patron visits, media lab usage and inter-library loans. They live on our staff wiki and responsibility for entering data is shared by our staff. The form I spend the most time with is the curriculum form, which is where I log all the lessons taught, subject area, skills and standards addressed. We check our stats across data points a few times each year to see how we are doing compared to previous years, and discuss whether we need to course adjust.

Behind every number is a student. Our opportunities to deliver critical information and media literacy skills to students are precious and can't be squandered. If I am doing my job well, I'll interact with a typical freshmen student multiple times across at least three disciplines (typically a combination of English, Social Studies, Foreign Language and sometimes Science). By checking the data gathered by my Google form I can see if I am missing departments or teachers and follow up, offer to visit the classroom or suggest a collaboration later in the term.

Sometimes I joke that I could be teaching kids how to play the kazoo and nobody would ever know. In truth, I suspect some teacher-librarians are doing the equivalent of playing the kazoo, which means doing nothing. Mostly because they can. I am not required to supply the data that I use in School Committee presentations and that go into my annual report. I do it because this is how I teach my school administration and parent community about the important instruction that takes place in the learning commons. I do it because it keeps me focused on instruction and student achievement. I do it because it requires me to continue to innovate and try new things. I do it because it is my professional obligation.

This is my form for this year. I have included a view only link so you can take a look at the data points I will be tracking. Click here for the view only of my form for last year. When you go there, click "Form" on the toolbar, and then "Show summary of responses" on the sub-menu. There it is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

This quick intro to Google Forms (2 minutes) provides an excellent overview of the power and flexibility of this tool. The first minute is geared toward business usage, but this certainly has applications for the business of libraries. The second minute is when it gets more into the overview.

If you aren't comfortable with Google, Zotero is another (free) well reviewed platform for data collection and management.

Already gathering data? Share your practice with your colleagues and state organizations. Not collecting data? Make this the year you jump off the proverbial dock and try it out.

Photo Credit:
I love data
20 Nov 2008

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