Analyzing Student Data

By Wylie Wong Print this article Print

School districts and universities are giving top grades to data warehousing and BI tools, virtualization, green IT and cloud computing.

Analyzing Student Data

With approximately 16,700 students, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), in Rochester, N.Y., started using data warehousing nearly two years ago to better analyze its student data in order to improve retention and graduation rates and build reports faster. “We realized that we had huge volumes of data, but we were not doing a good job of leveraging that information,” says Kevin Dudarchik, manager of data management services.

In the past, RIT’s Institutional Research office provided paper reports on student enrollment. But when administrators in various departments wanted to drill down into specific data, they had to request the information from Institutional Research, which sent them paper reports. To manipulate the data in those reports, the administrators had to rekey the information into their Excel spreadsheets.

Now, with the data warehouse, the administrations “are empowered to drill down and create their own ad hoc reports and then do analyses,” says Kim Sowers, director of application development.

RIT used Informatica software to build its data warehouse, and chose Oracle Business Intelligence Discoverer as its query, reporting and analysis tool. The university is also using Informatica’s integration software to tie different software systems together.

For example, the IT staff recently built a student housing application and study-abroad application. In the past, data from the mainframe-based student information system would have been updated to the student applications only once a day through FTP. Today, with the software connecting the mainframe to the new applications, the student information is updated hourly.

With 15GB of data, RIT’s data warehouse is still in its infancy, but the university has a steering committee that is brainstorming ideas for future data warehousing reports. “People have begun to see what this technology can do, and their wish list is growing rapidly,” Dudarchik says.

Giving Educators Access

In Palm Beach County, Fla., the school district standardized on IBM’s Cognos business intelligence tool and IBM’s DB2 Universal Database, which houses the district’s 143GB data warehouse. The data warehouse extracts information from multiple data sources daily, including the student-information system, which includes schedules, grades, academic history and a history of disciplinary action. It also collects information from the state, including state assessment test scores.

The data warehouse, built in 2003, was first deployed to administrators; then, in 2007, the district’s 12,000 teachers were given access. When educators log in to the BI system, they have access to 400 reports. They can compare data between schools within the district and also compare the entire district with other districts, Conley says.

The Palm Beach County district has been expanding the warehouse to include data from the human resources and transportation departments, and is looking to include textbooks and facilities information. With HR data, the district can run reports to determine whether students perform better when their teachers have more advanced college degrees, according to applications development manager Michael Via.

If a school bus is running late, staffers in the transportation department can run a query to determine which students are on the bus. The resulting report provides the students’ names and their parents’ phone numbers, so the staff can alert the parents that the bus is late, he says.

The district recently upgraded to the latest version of Cognos 8, which produces reports much faster because it runs queries sequentially rather than in parallel mode. As for ROI, the best evidence of the data warehouse’s positive impact is that Palm Beach County is the only urban district in Florida to receive an “A” grade for five straight years on state assessment scores, graduation rates, absenteeism and drop-out rates.

“With this data, the entire process of learning is accessible, enabling us to make improvements,” Conley says.

This article was originally published on 2010-06-28
Wylie Wong is a freelance writer for Baseline magazine.
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