Chapter 4 – Too Much Data?

Chapter 4 – Too Much Data

A slight change of plan – the end of my last posting promised an article about induction to be written by autumn 2016, it’s now February 2017 and induction is a dim and distant memory.  Hence in this article I’ll continue to write about data, but focus on the amount of data which colleges tend to hold.

When considering the question of how much data colleges hold, my experience is that the answer to this question is very frequently ‘Too much!’  The last few years have seen vast leaps in the affordability of data storage, increasing procurement of new systems and widening of the IT/data function in colleges – and this has brought with it an exponential rise in the amount of data which colleges hold.  This can of course be an important driving force for improvement.  But with this opportunity there also comes a danger that data will start be created at too great a pace and without the appropriate level of forethought and planning which is required for coherence and clarity.

Many colleges which I visit acknowledge that they probably hold too much data and that a ‘spring clean’ would be a useful activity.  There are however a few reasons why this might not happen.  The scale of the task must not be underestimated, plus there is always the fear of removing something which might prove useful in future (‘data hoarding’?)  This last point can of course be mitigated by intelligent archiving.  Furthermore, as this almost always falls into the ‘important but not urgent’ category, it’s a task which is often considered desirable but not carried out due to competing demands on the time that it would take.

At times like this I like to go back to the central reason why we work in colleges, regardless of our specific role.  Whatever we do, we should be able to say how our job contributes to one or more of the following:

  • Making the college a safe and inspiring place to study or work.
  • Ensuring the college curriculum stays relevant and viable.
  • Delivering a high standard of teaching, learning and assessment.
  • Helping students make the right choices about what they study.
  • Enabling students to make progress on their course(s).
  • Identifying when and why students are not making good progress.
  • Helping students to overcome any barriers to progress.
  • Improving the life and career prospects of our students.

I’m sure that you might want to edit this list and/or add your own items to it, and I hope that you will – the point is to have a list of what you consider to be relevant and important to the quality of the college experience.

Returning to data, it’s interesting to apply this same test to our IT systems and the data which they contain.  Having first of course taken into account statutory obligations of data protection and other legislation, why not ask the same question? – take a system or a set of data, and ask how it contributes to the achievement of the things on that same list.

And if you can’t demonstrate that it does, then maybe it’s time that it was removed?

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