Friday, February 09, 2007

Ersatz Data Warehousing for Schools with Python: Part 1, Background

When I left my position Feinstein High School technology coordinator (and that position ceased to exist), the school was ready to try implementing digital portfolios to augment and eventually replace the paper portfolios that are central to the school's work. In Providence, digital portfolios are something that teachers have been hearing about for about a decade, in part because of the work of David Niguidula as part of his work locally over the years at Brown, the Coalition of Essential Schools and his current company, Richer Picture. So when I left, I encouraged them to hire David, which they did, and apparently he now has a contract with the whole district, although I don't really keep up with the politics so that might be wrong.

Anyhow, in the subsequent years, FHS has incrementally incorporated the Richer Picture digital portfolio system. This is a slow process, as digital portfolios require every element of your technical infrastructure to work well before the portfolios will really thrive. In the meantime, I've continued to take responsibility for the school's standards-based evaluations, which have been put together over the years using either a hacked alpha version of SchoolTool or the lowest common denominator of IT, spreadsheets.

The problem with these expediencies is that the schools data remains not so much locked in silos as sitting in randomly scattered piles. This causes me and FHS's principal, KC Perry great consternation at the end of every semester; it is not what we envisioned when we started the school five years ago. However, it is also a difficult trap for me to escape, because I inevitably am sucked off into long internal debates about the "right" way to solve the problem, and why SchoolTool isn't quite ready for the task, but will be real soon now.

However, this is the first year that KC has pushed teachers to start entering their assessments directly into the the portfolio system, and at the end of the fall semester, I needed to be able to extract those assessments from the portfolio database. The Richer Picture digital portfolio now runs on PHP & MySQL, and the web application supports downloading a complete export of the database, so I decided that the most practical way to actually make some progress in integrating and analyzing old and new data going forward was to develop some tools that would work with the portfolio database.

Thus ends part 1...

1 comment:

tellio said...

Have you seen Hans Rosling's TED talk? It is an inspiring example of what can be done when one visualizes data. A creative triumph. Check it out here for some instant inspiration: