As universities face 2021 with optimism, robust data visions and collaborative working can help them achieve their objectives.
2020 has been a rollercoaster for education, and as we move into 2021, there is still a lack of certainty around what restrictions might look like - and what impact they will have on teaching and learning.
One thing that has become more apparent this year is the importance of data in supporting both student and staff experiences. However, sometimes making wish lists for the future is the easy part; what is often harder is figuring out that vision and the steps required to get there.
Using data for decision-making is a journey, and knowing both where you are in the present, and the direction you have come from, is an important part of the planning process. In the past, universities have been able to rely on historical data sets to compare against current data and observe trends. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the sector in ways we’ve never seen before, and therefore historical data is not relevant to the current circumstances. This means that journey-planning needs to start from scratch, and so having clean data and a robust strategy in place will be essential as the higher education (HE) sector continues to emerge.
Breaking out of the silo
Data, and its uses and implications, have had increasing amounts of mainstream media coverage in recent years. From social media collecting personal data, to revelations about intelligent assistants in the home, conversations about data are becoming more common. But understanding how to create and implement a data strategy can be complicated, and institutions can benefit from sharing ideas and best practice.
There is an assumption that everybody understands the ins and outs of data, but despite pockets of extensive knowledge throughout the HE sector, not everyone is a data expert – nor should they have to be.
Most people know how data factors into their specific role - within a silo - but implementing an organisation-wide data strategy means breaking out of these siloes and coming together with peers to discuss how to ensure interoperability between systems and processes. A single source of truth is essential when using data to inform strategy and vision, and it’s important to ensure that that source is readily and securely available to relevant areas of the organisation.
Data provides a foundation on which to build a narrative. Being able to decipher a human-led story can help universities understand more about the uncertainty they are facing, and the human impact. They can also use this narrative to identify ways in which they can ready themselves and move forward. Preparing for uncertainty may sound like an oxymoron, but developing flexibility and agility within an organisation will allow for swifter action when things change.
Considering an ethical framework, GDPR requirements, data cleanliness and other aspects of a robust data foundation will help to ensure that an organisation’s view of data is as clear as possible, and that any subsequent decision-making is as accurate as it can be.
What is certain is uncertainty. But if data is used in the right way, and if organisations work together to understand how HE can best utilise the skills and tools at its disposal, there is an exciting future ahead.
For further discussion about the use of data in education and research, book your place at Data Matters, running online from 26-27 January 2021.