Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Data-driven instruction

In the world of Public Relations, accountability has often been a loosely defined concept. "Hey Mr. CEO, I got your face on the cover of X magazine. That press release is being picked up by the media too - score!" Then clients started asking a pesky question: What is that publicity placement actually worth to me?

Suddenly "trust me, your campaign is doing great!" didn't cut it; the industry was pushed into operating under real accountability.

When I helped launch an Internet-based PR department at a Cleveland marketing firm, we were faced with a new question: What is a mention of a client in a blog post actually worth, in real dollars? What if that blog includes a hyperlink back to our client's website - what then is the value?

We created a metric, the first of its kind in the nation, to measure the value of online PR placements. The purpose was two-fold: We could share actual value with clients, but we could also meet as a team and carefully analyze our PR campaigns ... turning on a dime and pushing off in a new direction if that's what the data suggested. The use of metrics is now often the difference between floundering campaigns and those employing responsive, successful tactics.

What are the parallels to education?

Again the disclaimer: I'm new to education. I've had a lot of schooling and a rich student-teaching experience but I won't have my own classroom until fall. But the parallels between business and teaching appear strong.

What if testing were frequent, the results transparent, and quick action teams were in place to analyze data and act upon it?

I've seen assessment used primarily to validate what's been done - versus what should be done next. At Walsh we had the concept of metacognition drilled into us - thinking about one's own thinking. We learned to analyze how we can improve our lessons, and do better when covering that material or concept again. We weren't pushed to change what we are going to do next. The next day - the following week. Lesson plans aren't written in concrete slabs, and the great teachers I've seen thinkfast on their feet.

I concede all this testing is time taken away from teaching. But I still think short, frequent assessments for the purpose of driving instruction, are an idea whose time has come.

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