Education Opinion

Chat Wrap-Up: Knowledge Management

May 23, 2006 6 min read
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Education Week sponsors regular online chats on its Web site, edweek.org. On May 10, readers participated in the second in a series of chats on the recently published Technology Counts 2006: The Information Edge: Using Data to Accelerate Achievement.

A full transcript of “Knowledge Management in Education” is avaliable.

Answering readers’ questions were Lisa Petrides, the president of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, based in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and Education Week Associate Editor David Hoff, who was a senior writer for Technology Counts 2006. Below are excerpts from the discussion.

Question: What is your definition of “knowledge management,” and how do you propose that it be used in the education setting?

Petrides: It is a human-centered, organizationwide approach to knowledge sharing and learning. This requires a conscious integration of people, processes, and technology brought together for the purpose of collecting, sharing, and using data and information—the goal of which is to build organizational capacity for continuous improvement. So in that sense, it is really an approach or methodology. It’s not something you can buy off a shelf, nor is it a way to control information within your organization. Ultimately, it is about translating what an organization knows into how it acts. There are many educators who are already doing pieces of what I would call knowledge management, but might not necessarily be doing them in a concerted effort. They focus on building information systems, providing technology training, improving school culture, and so on. Where the real benefit of knowledge management comes into play is bringing the pieces together in a larger framework. We hear a lot today, for example, about everything’s needing to be “data driven.” But what does that really mean? The organizational processes and policies in place can be used to either enhance or inhibit the sharing of information and knowledge. Do you know how data flow throughout your organization? Who has access? Is knowledge being created and information shared cross-functionally, or in isolated silos? These are some of the questions knowledge management clarifies for the education sector, with the end purpose being improved student achievement and increased organizational effectiveness.

Question: With the influx of data available for analyzing student performance, whom do you see at the school level as being the person responsible for gathering and analysis? Do you foresee a new direction for the education professional?

Hoff: On the school level, the principal will be the first person who learns how to use these data tools. Once the tools are commonly available, teachers will need start using them as well. I think the new direction will require all educators to become computer-savvy. Just as software has changed the way tax accountants do their jobs, teachers will need to learn how to use these tools to figure out how to change student performance. The first step will be learning the basics of how to use these tools. From there, educators at all levels will need to get further training to get the maximum value out of them.

Question: Many of the teachers I work with rarely use data to inform instruction, or they think that doing so is too much work. How does one go about creating an environment in which individuals want to look at and use data?

Petrides: Most teachers are trying to figure out how to do more with less. So any new task or activity is seen as an additional burden on their time. This means that there needs to be a strong motivation for teachers to engage with data. Successful data coaches have told us that there is a “tipping point” when it comes to convincing teachers to use data to examine the impact of their own teaching practices. The process of understanding why a lesson worked and how to repeat, for example, is extremely validating. People are more likely to understand evidence that shows where they could be more effective in their work if they are themselves a part of the process of inquiry. They need to “own” the process and the data. It is at that point that they begin to better understand and appreciate what their strengths as teachers are and what they still need to learn. So creating the conditions for this to happen is paramount.

Question: My research tells me that high school grade point average is the best predictor of a student’s success in higher education. That said, why do standardized tests continue to fail to adequately describe students’ performance in school?

Hoff: Your question goes to the heart of the matter: What is the best indicator of what a student has learned? Critics say standardized tests give only a shallow glimpse of what students know; the students’ work is the best indicator of what they have learned. Supporters of standardized tests say they are an important data point to assure policymakers that students are learning something; without the test data, no one knows for sure if a student who receives a passing grade actually knows the material—or was just given a grade to pass him along to the next grade. When designing technology tools to assist teachers with instruction, policymakers will be challenged to include data from both standardized tests and coursework. With that, teachers would have access to everything they need to know to help students.

Question: Why do some teachers and school principals not feel the need to use technology?

Petrides: I’m not sure if it is that they don’t feel the need, as much as that they might not see the practical implication of technology for them in their own practice. We’ve come to realize over the past 20 or 30 years that technology alone isn’t going to improve teaching practice. Yet early on, the mavericks of technology use, in their eagerness to implement and leverage technology programs, often sidestepped the issue of how technology would produce the changes desired, particularly those related to improved student learning. Only now are these bridges beginning to be crossed, with a lot of excellent work being done by organizations studying technology use and it’s impact on learning. One thing we’ve seen over and over again with schools is that it has been easier to raise money for hardware and software than for the education and training necessary to support and sustain it. And it is only through an emphasis on that training that we can hope for teachers and principals to have a better understanding of how technology can be leveraged to help them do what they do more successfully.

Question: Is there a rule of thumb as to how many hours in, say, a 40-hour work week should be devoted to developing technology skills?

Hoff: I don’t know of a rule of thumb, per se. But the Gainesville, Ga., school district, for one, recognizes that it takes significant amounts of time in preparing its teachers to use technology. Even after several years of effort, the district still has monthly meetings at which teachers discuss what the data tell them about student achievement.

Question: Is there a “best practices” database for science education, or K-12 education in general?

Petrides: There are, in fact, several sites that are collecting best practices and innovations in both science education and K-12 education in general. It’s important to note, however, that while there is much to learn from best practices, the context and applicability can vary greatly from one situation to the next. So a static, best-practices database isn’t as effective as creating online venues in which dynamic conversations can take place. These could be as simple as providing a place where people are able to make comments on and review items in a best-practices database. It’s also important to remember that we have much to learn from our mistakes. I like the analogy of how the household product most of us have under our sinks, WD-40, was developed. The WD in its name comes from being a product that deals with water displacement, but its creators didn’t get it right until the 40th try.

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: Knowledge Management


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