Data walls:

Privacy, psychological safety, and workload

This article is the third in a series in Newsmonth on the use of data walls in schools. While we recognise the advocacy for data walls, we also recognise a growing body of work that raises privacy, ethical, and legal rights issues associated with certain implementation practices. This article focuses on three emergent issues: student privacy, psychological safety, and workload.

Student privacy

One aspect of increasing interest in the implementation and use of data walls is the guidelines for, and legislation around, student privacy. Studies of data wall practices have raised concerns about how data is presented and who has access to the data (eg Carter, 2014; Marsh et al., 2016; Spina, 2017). The public nature of data walls is a key difference between this practice and other forms of data mapping (eg data folders, data placemats).

When data walls are displayed in public spaces such as hallways and classrooms, privacy is difficult to guarantee. Teachers in Spina’s (2017) study admitted that even when de-identified, most students were able to use their knowledge of their classmates to guess accurately whose icon was whose. With privacy recognised as a fundamental right of students (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, article 16), there needs to be deep consideration of the potential risks with the use of data walls, and plans for how the risks can be mitigated. In light of growing concerns about data sharing, ethics and legal accountabilities, we can only expect that the interest in access to data and student privacy will increase.

Psychological safety

Studies have identified that teachers may experience strong, negative emotional reactions to data wall usage, particularly if teachers perceive the results as a direct reflection on their practice and themselves as ‘teacher’ (Renshaw et al., 2013; Singh, Märtsin, & Glasswell, 2015). Data wall discussions that focused on comparison and competition (eg publicly pointing out teachers with high and low student growth rates during meetings) were more likely to create staff discomfort. While studies have yet to explore thoroughly students’ actual perspectives on data walls, several studies including those from Australia, New Zealand and the United States, have encouraged readers to consider the potential negative consequences data wall usage may have on student self esteem and self efficacy, particularly for low performing students (Jimerson et al., 2016; Kiro et al., 2016; Spina, 2017; Thrupp & White, 2013).

Workload concerns

The workload associated with creating, maintaining, and using data walls requires investigation to determine the cost/benefit ratio (Parkinson & Stooke, 2012; Spina, 2017). As no study has yet investigated the economics of data walls, it remains unclear how many administrator, teacher, and teacher aide hours are currently being spent creating and updating data walls, or in meetings to discuss the data. This becomes an issue if the time spent on preparing and regularly updating the walls outweighs the benefits, and distracts from the goal to implement the discussed pedagogical interventions.


Concern about the ethical, privacy, and legal issues related to the use of data walls is yet to be fully considered within research, and legally tested. The use of digital dashboards could be researched to establish the extent to which they may address the identified issues. Importantly, the introduction and maintenance of data walls remain consequential decisions for a school community. In this article we have identified some important, but often overlooked aspects in the implementation and use of data walls. Readers are directed to NM#4 where we introduced a series of questions that could be used to guide the introduction and use of data walls in schools.

In addition to monitoring effectiveness within their own schools, we strongly encourage school leaders and teachers to become involved in formally researching data walls in their schools. Contact Dr Elizabeth Heck, Administrative Officer for the Schools Data Network Project (SDN) in the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education ( if you are interested in joining our network.


Carter, M. (2014). A multiple case study of NAPLAN numeracy testing of Year 9 students in three Queensland secondary schools. PhD, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

Jimerson, J. B., Cho, V., & Wayman, J. C. (2016). Student-involved data use: Teacher practices and considerations for professional learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 60(Supplement C), 413-424. doi:

Kiro, C., Hynds, A., Eaton, J., Irving, E., Wilson, A., Bendikson, L., . . . Rangi, M. (2016). The Starpath Project: Starpath phase 2 final summative evaluation report. Auckland: University of Auckland.

Marsh, J. A., Farrell, C. C., & Bertrand, M. (2016). Trickle-down accountability: How middle school teachers engage students in data use. Educational Policy, 30(2), 243–280. doi:10.1177/0895904814531653

Parkinson, H. C., & Stooke, R. K. (2012). Other duties as assigned: The hidden work of reading and writing assessments in two primary classrooms. Language and Literacy, 14(1), 59-77. doi:

Renshaw, P., Baroutsis, A., van Kraayenoord, C., Goos, M., & Dole, S. (2013). Teachers using classroom data well: Identifying key features of effective practices. Brisbane: University of Queensland.

Singh, P., Märtsin, M., & Glasswell, K. (2015). Dilemmatic spaces: High-stakes testing and the possibilities of collaborative knowledge work to generate learning innovations. Teachers and Teaching, 21(4), 379-399.

Spina, N. (2017). The quantification of education and the reorganisation of teachers’ work: An institutional ethnography. PhD, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

Thrupp, M., & White, M. (2013). Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project Final Report: National Standards and the Damage Done. Hamilton: The New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa (NZEI).

United Nations. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved April 08, 2018 from

Lenore Adie, Claire Wyatt-Smith, Lois Harris, Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, Australian Catholic University