Educational data keeps changing, your dashboards need to keep up

So, you built a dashboard for school data. You’re not done.

When I first spoke with one of my principals about setting up a system to organize and analyze our social emotional data, I wasn’t exactly sure how to do it, but I knew there was a better way.  I wanted to create a system where teachers could access it simultaneously and analyze the information how they want and when they want.  Also, we needed a way so that anyone who needed access to the information could get access. The data needed to be dynamic and up to date.  

A dashboard seemed to be the best solution for this.

I was given access to some data that was in a google doc.  I took this information and tried to make some sense of it.  Through a lot of manual input, I was able to build a template for data collection.  I used this to hash out the first dashboard.  After sharing this with the principal and getting the green light, I proceeded to refine the dashboard for use by teachers.

There were a few things I needed to do first though.

The workflow that I ended up coming up with was collecting data in a spreadsheet through a google form.  Teachers are very familiar with google forms and filling them out.  This seemed to be low hanging fruit for getting going.

Before sending out the form and publishing it, I wanted to make sure the form was set up the best way possible.  I worked with the ES administrative team, ES counselors, and ES teachers to find out what data important to collect and how to collect it.

Version 1 of the dashboard was pretty good

In the first version, teachers were happy to be able to have the information searchable and all in one place.  I embedded the resources created by the counseling team right into the dashboard.  That way, teachers didn’t need to go hunting for files and docs in Google Drive. 

dashboard navigation

Put teachers’ feedback to use

Another request from teachers and counselors was to be able to fill out a form entry about a student while still looking at previous data recorded.  We can do that.  

It took up a bit of real estate on the screen, however, I was able to push the information already entered to the left.  I then embedded the Google Form right into the same page in the dashboard on the right.  This gave teachers access to previous data while entering new data.  

Demographic information and dropdown list for student selection was at the top of the page. Having the form embedded was just what the teachers wanted and easy to use.

Student Overview version 1.0

Finally, I had another page with an overview of a group of students.  This could be a class overview or a small PLC overview.  The user could select a homeroom teacher, or multiple homeroom teachers to see how many students have been brought up.  

They could also see some simple information such as the frequency of reporting students, which standards seemed to come up the most often, and the most commonly used interventions.

Photos on each page made it easier for teachers that didn’t know certain students to have a connection.  This way, when they saw a student in the hall, they were able to identify students and build relationships.  In a school with nearly 2000 kids in the elementary school, this helped in making a big school feel small.

You can test out a sample version of the dashboard here.

Make it easy for users to find what they need

Although our first version of the dashboard was great, I knew there was room for improvement.  Based on feedback from administration and counselors, I decided to build a “homepage” of sorts.

This provided quick and easy access to the different information in the report.  Each button can be clicked to take a user directly to that page in the report. Descriptions with text based information also made it easier to understand the use for each page.

SEL Dashboard Overview
data studio page navigation

With a recent update to Data Studio and page navigation, I was able to redesign our navigation menu.  Instead of having every page go across the top and be visible, I was able to create sub menus.  This made the feel of the report easier to the user because it was more like a website with similar navigation tools.

Give teachers what they need when they need it.

Because I was pulling in information from Google Forms, I could automatically take advantage of the Time Stamp data.  By request of administration, I created a data filter to only show information from the current quarter.  

Of course, the date range could be changed at any time, however, administrators felt this made it easier to quickly scroll through the entries and see if there were any items that needed attention.

Most of the charts I used did not change.  The layout was adjusted a bit to bring in more detailed information while looking at a group of students.

SEL Dashboard 2.0

Two changes that made all the difference

One of the biggest issues that came up with our dashboards for social emotional learning was around data privacy.  In order to create a system where only the appropriate people could access the information, I needed to build out a dashboard for each grade level in the elementary school.  That meant creating and maintaining six dashboards.  

This was quite a task in itself, especially when something wasn’t working correctly, or when a change needed to be made. I couldn’t just do it for one dashboard, I had to do it for all six.  This was extremely time consuming.  I knew there was a way to set up our system so that I could build in Single Sign-On (SSO) security. 

Protect Data with Single Sign-On for Multiple Users

Now, Data Studio does already allow a feature called Filter by Email.  This allows a user to sign into the dashboard and see only the rows of data attached to their email address.  However, there is a flaw with this.  Most student data needs to be seen by more than one person.  Of course, the classroom teacher needs to see it, but also the counselor, learning support, principal, and anyone else working with that student.  Filter by Email just wouldn’t cut it.

After doing some research and testing, I was finally able to figure out how to create a structure that allowed for multiple email addresses to be associated with a single row of data.  I created a walkthrough video that talks more about it.

Now, with this setup, I could create a single dashboard with all the data. One link for everyone.  When a teacher or principal signed in, it would filter the data to only that person.  I was nervous at first.  What if it didn’t work? What if a person was able to see data that wasn’t associated with them?  Luckily, the system was tested and it has been successful.  It is also incredibly easy to update email addresses through a matrix I set up in a spreadsheet. 

This is great, but I can’t update anything

Another point of frustration by teachers and counselors was the fact that they were unable to edit any of the information in Data Studio once it was entered on the form.  Sometimes, I found that teachers might have made a mistake or left out a piece of information.  Using a Google Doc would have made it very easy to go back and retype missing or incorrect information.

However, one of the limitations of Data Studio is the ability to edit the data live.  Through a bit of trial and error, and some help from a few data nerd friends, I was able to add in a hyperlink to the detailed table information for the form entries.

Using Apps Script, I built in an Edit Form URL that would be automatically generated once the submit button was clicked.  Then, I added this field into the table in Data Studio and created a hyperlink. 

Data Studio Edit URL

Now, a teacher or counselor could easily click on the link and edit the pre-filled Google Form.  Once they updated the information, that row of data would reflect the update. This was probably the single most important update to the dashboard so far.  

Teachers and counselors now felt as though the process was running much smoother than when we first started. I know we will continue to look for ways to make the dashboard better and more effective for our teachers.  We have come leaps and bounds and I am very pleased with our current progress.  As I continue to get feedback from teachers, I look forward to the next, even better version, of this dashboard.

You can check out a sample of the updated dashboard here.

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