Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Inspired, not Driven

Data is BIG nowadays.  With so much information coming to us so much more easily than ever, we can make a million more connections than before. Daily. Educational institutions are dating big data with all the hope of a first date; we are scrutinizing data concerning how our students learn, how our teachers teach, who are learners are, how our messaging works, and oh so much more.  We have shifted our reflections and reporting to be focused on data, which in turn has led us to more data. Along the way we have incrementally become much more inclusive and embracing of those Number People, who used to seem so quiet and esoteric, turned to only at the last minute when a grant was being written. (Still the case. But no longer just then.)

The IR department of many an institution is being suddenly recognized as the most exciting and important department on any given campus, giving them in turn an increase in self-confidence and motivation.  Our own IR team has started Data Summits for faculty and staff, built data glossaries and directories, and started fantastic newsletter in the past year.  So much information to analyze and learn from. Slowly, it has spread across campus to even people like myself, as I cautiously attend data summits - Please don't ask me a numbers question! - and get to know our IR staff, who, it turns out do not bite. The past couple of years has been like a giant ah-hah moment for people like myself, who tend to form ideas, opinions, and construct whole programs, courses, and departmental initiatives based on gut feelings formed from experience, lots of reading and thinking, and a willingness to take risks.  Like rouge detectives, we follow our hunches. 

It is exciting when those hunches coincide with the data. But nowadays we are seeing how data can also lead the way, not just verify and document what we are doing. "Data-driven" (or "data-informed") decisions are thought of as the best approach to making any decision now, large or small.  Data-driven, evidence-based decision-making is how every decision is made. While I see the reasoning there, I feel that "data-driven" somehow take the human side out of our decisions.  These decisions are still about people, and people are complex and sometimes unpredictably idiosyncratic, not to mention dynamic. I want to preserve and honor that. 

Inspired by Data

Words are important, and help define our perspectives. (I wrote a related post on terminology:  The Problem with Problem-Based Learning, where I asked that PBL, Problem-Based Learning, be viewed as SBL, Solutions-Based Learning.) What I need data for is to inspire me.  As an educator, I want to find new directions for teaching and learning, find new ways to connect with students, and new ways to engage faculty. I want to be data-inspired, not data driven. I want a phrase that compels me to imagine.   I want to create and be inspired by data, not be driven by it. Driven feels tireless and exhausting.  Inspired feels motivating and fascinating, full of possibilities. Let's move forward with data-inspired mindsets that embrace a little messiness and allow us to take risks. Sometimes -  even data shows -  those are the best kinds of decisions. 


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