In an era where education authorities internationally have an apparent fascination with big data, it is hardly surprising that data walls have become more prominent both within Australia and other countries, including New Zealand and the United States.
This article is the first in a series of five that discusses the available evidence to show the potential benefits, limitations and risks of data walls. This first article poses some key questions to support readers interested in reviewing how data walls are working or who are preparing to make a decision about installing them.
Currently, data walls are sites of contestation. A brief search of the internet will reveal two distinct camps: advocates for data walls, and those against data walls with labels such as ‘walls of shame’. The lure of data walls is clear: they appear to offer an easy way to demonstrate a form of accountability as data tracking. They also offer a means to engage teachers with the Professional Standard 5.4 (AITSL, 2011), offering a common set of material for rich conversations (Singh, Märtsin, & Glasswell, 2015). Yet data walls may present a partial and incomplete data set with limited potential to connect to broader learning goals (Koyama, 2013).
The term data walls usually refers to a public or semi-public physical artefact that visually represents student achievement and related information (eg demographic data, intervention details). A data wall may include (i) numeric or letter grade scores, (ii) visual representations of information (eg graphs, tables, student photos); and (iii) colour coded symbols to easily identify student demographic characteristics (eg gender, disability status, first language) or achievement grouping (eg red/orange/green as symbols of poor, acceptable, and high level progress or achievement). It can be anticipated that data walls will give way to digital dashboards, a move already underway in some schools.
In examining the literature, we have identified a series of questions regarding the introduction of data walls into schools. The resultant decisions are highly consequential for teachers, school leaders and students.
Links to pedagogy
• What curriculum, demographic or other details are represented on the data wall? What does this information reveal about student learning?
• How is the data used to inform pedagogy?
• What purposeful or evolving pedagogical practices are occurring in relation to data walls usage?
• Is the data displayed on the walls the subject of routine discussions with the whole staff, the whole class, with individual students or with parents?
• How are data walls used by teachers to support students to articulate their learning goals?
• How do data walls connect to the suite of other data types that teachers use in the context of the official curriculum and achievement standards?
Civic rights and privacy
• Where is the wall located? Who has access to the data wall and what are the conditions of access for teachers, school leaders, students and parents?
• What are students’ rights to privacy in terms of their data? How is data presented in a way that takes account of student’s rights? What discussions have occurred in the school regarding student’s rights to their data?
• If data walls are to be in a public space, is permission sought from teachers, parents and students?
• Monitoring psychological impact.
• What information is collected in schools regarding the impact of data walls for how they motivate or demotivate teachers and students?
• What practices does a school have in place to monitor this impact and address potential psychological risks?
These questions provide the opportunity to start the conversations about how data walls do not come with predetermined benefits or negative consequences. Their impact stems from the decisions and actions taken by school leaders, teachers, and policy personnel.
The next piece in this suite takes up the issue of research evidence and what is currently known about data walls; the actual impact of data walls on teaching, student learning and teacher-student relationships. The authors are keen to hear from readers interested in sharing their experiences of data walls.