Sharing Data Effectively

2015-03-14_OhNoLogo22-mark3One of the challenges we assessment-ites have is what data to share and how to share it. When sharing data, you want it to be both interesting and appropriate to the intended audience. For data to have impact, it must be interesting. But not all data should be shared. Because I don’t have a better word for it, I’ll call that the “appropriateness” of the data. If the data is detrimental to your mission, it may not be appropriate to share.

It all starts with your intended audience. Is the audience your director? the dean? students? Once you have the intended audience, it’s helpful to visualize with the table below:

InterestingAppropriateChartI created this chart from the perspective of the students; if your audience is the math department, Dr. A’s calculus class becomes more appropriate. Similarly, if I’m the intended audience, how many bagels am I eating each week? The idea is for all of your reported data to fall in the upper-right quadrant.

And now, more on the appropriateness of the data…. 

At our last advisor meeting in the fall term, we discussed a new tool available to our students. This tool, integrated into the registration system, gives students information about the courses for which they might enroll. The system tells them what past students often took after this class and the degrees they sought. It even shows them the grade distribution of the class over the past few years. I had the requisite student affairs knee jerk reaction: but do we want students to see grade data? Will they then avoid the “hard” classes and lean toward the “easy” ones? I put quotes around “hard” and “easy” because, you know, there are no easy or hard classes — every student’s experience is different.

After learning about the student interface, we were introduced to the staff interface. What we see has MUCH more information. The system allows us to drill down and look at specific groups of students (sophomores, engineering students only, underrepresented groups, etc.). It’s a powerful tool I found myself lost in for about 45 minutes that afternoon. It’s the Netflix of work; once opened, who knows how long you’ll be in there.

My thoughts bounced around like a ping pong ball in a box of mouse traps. From Students should not be able to see this! They’ll simply take the easier courses! To Students should have access to EVERYTHING! They need to learn to make data driven decisions! Then I started to settle down.

It’s good for us to share information with our students — especially information that interests them. They’ll make a ton of decisions in their lifetime and need to navigate the information that’s out there. Sure, some of them will choose the high average GPA classes, but would they have been better served if we stuck to the usual “Nope. I can’t give you any guidance on this. You need to surf the thousand-course course guide and find a class that interests you.“?

But some data shouldn’t be widely available. If you’re trying to increase the number of women in your institution’s math major, it might be counter productive to allow undeclared students to see “Oh, this major is 90% men. I don’t know if that’s a place I want to be.” It seems to me that kind of information sustains the imbalances we already have and are trying to mitigate.

To conclude…

It’s easy to get pulled into the “oh, can we add a question on ______ in the survey?” cycle. If you’re not careful, you end up with an oversized excel spreadsheet and a bored audience. When you feel the survey creep happening, get back to the questions of: Who is this for? Is this interesting to them? Is it appropriate for them?

Now go youtube other videos of ping pong balls and mousetraps.

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