Demonstrations offer insight to digital toolbox

August 12, 2016

Sam Unruh, a research analyst with ITD, provides some details on the Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) during series of demonstrations last week.

Sam Unruh, a research analyst with ITD, provided details on the Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) during series of demonstrations last week.

Advances in the way information is gathered and shared among researchers and the public were put on display last week by the North Dakota University System, K-12 and workforce development.

The three agencies offered a daylong series of presentations in the Bismarck State Capitol’s Pioneer Room during the special legislative session. The event – Systems Working in Unison – was planned to offer insight into the data that was available to agency researchers, to legislators, and to the public.

About 10 different demonstrations were given on analytics through the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS). The collaborative efforts of the group helped showcase how the analytical and data frameworks could benefit students through their academic careers.

Sam Unruh, research analyst with ITD, said SLDS offered a variety of benefits. One such benefit was a substantial savings of time.

“Once this was implemented there was a large increase in the amount of time we could save because of this central repository of information,” Unruh said. “A researcher used to have to spend hours looking for the information. Now, that information is all right at our fingertips.”

Data can be input into SLDS from throughout the university system, K-12 and workforce development. Unruh said that the centralized system was something that was useful to everyone, ranging from “members of the public, principals, teachers, parents, and legislators.”

“In using this data we can find out if something is working somewhere, or if it isn’t,” Unruh said, referencing initiatives that could range from those local to school districts to those that could span the higher education system. “This is public research that enables researchers to see what works, and why it works. We can see what areas show positive or negative trends.”

SLDS itself has been in place for a few years, but the SLDS Data Explorer – the tool specifically available to the public – was opened up this past April. Unruh urged people to “check it out, give it a shot and see what’s there.”

Tracy Korsmo, ITD, said both the SLDS and Dashboards systems allowed agencies to provide information to legislators that hadn’t been available before.

“By using this data they can make informed decisions they weren’t able to make before,” Korsmo said of the 360-degree information that served as historical data. He noted that it allowed for the potential for less testing, monitoring progress and measuring results. “Administrators also have information that they’d not had before.”

He said the central repository for the information had given researchers more time with the data. Where they may have spent 80 percent of their time previously looking for the data and 20 percent of their time researching it, now they could spend 20 percent of their time seeking the data out and the remainder in researching the points and trends within it.