DataViz builds easy-to-use education data analytics tools on Google Cloud and Data Studio

An ed tech company helps K-12 schools put their data to use.

As the latest technologies are integrated into the classroom, they generate lots of data about how students learn and behave. But this information is often siloed in different databases and are extremely difficult for non-specialists to access. The educators at InnovateEDU, a non-profit dedicated to advancing technological innovation in schools, understand that teachers don’t always have the time or technical expertise to analyze this growing data pool for insights they can actually use in the classroom.

“Our end game is getting reports into teachers’ and students’ hands. So we are trying to remove the friction on how they get there. We want to democratize access while simultaneously improving data security and privacy controls.”

Marcos Alcozer, Project Director, DataViz

Helping educators draw insights from data

So they worked with Data Whiz, a community of developers, educators, and data scientists, to produce DataViz Starter Pack, which helps schools draw on a range of educational data sources and generate customized reports with Data Studio, Google’s free data visualization tool. The Starter Pack comes with everything schools need to conduct their own data analysis in all key areas of student outcomes: academics, assessment, attendance, demographics, and discipline. Marcos Alcozer, Project Director for DataViz, says, “our end game is getting reports into teachers’ and students’ hands. So we are trying to remove the friction on how they get there. We want to democratize access while simultaneously improving data security and privacy controls.”

In their pilot year DataViz serves eighteen K-12 school districts, most of which enroll under three thousand students. While other data analytics vendors lock schools into their proprietary formats and charge fees per user, DataViz uses open data standards. DataViz offers either a managed service where they build data infrastructure in the district’s Google Cloud environment or a free community license so schools can set one up for themselves. Drawing on data sources ranging from Summit Learning to NWEA MAP to Canvas LMS, the Starter Pack makes it easy for educators to generate and analyze their own reports on student progress so they can respond quickly to trends and adjust for better outcomes.

Making it easier for schools to get started

To help schools take full advantage of their data, InnovateEDU recently developed Landing Zone, which allows schools to collect their siloed, disparate data from their various ed tech vendors and organize it into one place. This includes the Ed-Fi Operational Data Store (ODS), a highly normalized database that uses the Ed-Fi data standard, an open data standard created by a community of educators, technologists, and school leaders. Alcozer explains that “Landing Zone implements an Ed-Fi ODS and data processing pipelines in a district’s Google Cloud environment, ensuring that data stays with the district. DataViz Starter Pack utilizes a data mart in BigQuery built from the ODS to help district data analysts in growing their skills as well as allowing them to build dashboard in Data Studio to support their team.” Patrick Yoho, Lead Software Developer for Landing Zone, says, “everything runs in Google Cloud. We're using lots of different Google products in order to do that, which has sped up our development time. Also, schools are already typically Google customers because they use G Suite for Education, which is free, so that decreases the barrier to entry. There’s a great benefit in being able to easily move data from BigQuery into Google Sheets using the built-in data connector because a lot of teachers and staff already consume their data through Google Sheets.”

The Starter Pack also offers a library of commonly used reports, from student performance to behavior, as well as a community of practice to support building the capacity of Starter Pack and Landing Zone districts. It guides teachers through a progression of exercises toward a customizable report in Data Studio, all without needing any advanced data science training. Yoho says that with DataViz, schools “don't need to go out and hire a software engineer. You can work with us. And based on economies of scale, we can provide those services at a much lower cost than hiring someone.” Alcozer adds that “our solution is scalable. We want every district to have their own ODS in their own cloud, and all of their data to live there.” By creating a separate ODS for each district, Landing Zone ensures that data remain private and secure.

“Landing Zone implements an Ed-Fi ODS and data processing pipelines in a district’s Google Cloud environment, ensuring that data stays within the district's control. DataViz Starter Pack utilizes a data mart in BigQuery built from the ODS to help district data analysts in growing their skills as well as allowing them to build dashboards in Google Data Studio to support their team.”

Patrick Yoho, Lead Software Developer, Landing Zone

Driving change with DataViz

Distinctive Schools, a Chicago-based nonprofit that manages eight public charter schools, adopted DataViz Starter Pack and Landing Zone to advance their mission of personalized learning. By combining internal teacher-created Google Sheets with external datasets like NWEA MAP in BigQuery, teachers and staff can make decisions about the curriculum based on their students’ most recent performance and behaviors. Anthony Claypool, their Director of Data and Assessment, says, “working in multiple Student Information Systems environments across two regions, the efficiencies provided by Landing Zone are game changing. The community of DataViz Starter Pack is also a huge boon for our organization.” Partners at other schools agree. At Valor Collegiate’s public charter schools in South Nashville, Data and Software Manager Brittany Johnk says that “Landing Zone and DataViz Starter Pack have allowed us to access live and accurate data in a way that is user-friendly and easy to manage. This way, we can spend more time analyzing and less time exporting our data! This community has pushed Valor to rethink some of our data reporting systems, and we are grateful for the collaborative nature in which we can share best practices from schools all over the country.”

Empowering even more schools and districts

The team at DataViz expects to add fifteen more school districts in the spring of 2020 and they’re excited about the next steps in their collaborations. Some schools want help with data visualization; others want help cleaning up their data, then find that process uncovers new questions and answers about student behavior. Alcozer says, “once the data’s there, what does it look like? What support or resources do schools need? We want to serve small districts with analysts who wear many hats. We're here to say, ‘it's okay. We have you. Just come to us.’ We have this community and we use Data Studio that you already have in your G Suite domain. That's what we're trying to be.” Yoho sums up their broader mission: “we know that there’s a socioeconomic achievement gap for students. But there's also a data gap and a talent gap in a lot of school districts. DataViz and Landing Zone are trying to provide the data infrastructure to reduce that data gap and address the talent gap too by helping to provide training and support for people in all school districts.”

To learn more and get started with DataViz Starter Pack and Landing Zone at your school, visit their website here.

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