My name is Felix Blumhardt and I am a Lead Evaluator at The Evaluation Group, an independent evaluation firm in Columbia, SC. My colleague, Michael Pesant, and I have had the pleasure of working with a Teacher Quality Partnership Project over the last year and one of the challenges that we have come across has been streamlining data collection across several school districts. The most important take away from this process has been ensuring that we communicate clearly with the people from whom we ask to provide data. Here are some tips that have helped us ensure that the data collection process goes smoothly:
Hot Tip: Customize your collection process. We developed a Data Collection Workbook that was distributed to each district. The collection tool is an excel file that has been formatted to look like a workbook. We removed gridlines and left only directions, tables, and graphs. Each worksheet clearly enumerates objectives, variables, and operational definitions. Cells that need to be filled in are highlighted; all others are locked. Once the data contact person from the district inputs the data into the highlighted cells, he/she is able to see the data instantly charted and graphed. Where applicable, conditional cells indicate whether or not objectives have been met. Because this workbook will be used from year to year (the project is five years) the districts will be able to track their own progress.
Hot Tip: Preset tables, charts, and graphs. Prior to data collection, we set up the workbook with directions, project objectives, tables, charts, and graphs. When all of the districts submitted their completed workbooks, we transferred that data into an overall project workbook. We instantly had all the tables, charts, and graphs needed for our reports. Because we linked our workbook in Excel to our reports in Word, our tables and graphs in our reports were updated. This makes for easy reporting in subsequent years.
Hot Tip: Communicate clearly. Because this Tip-a-Day is focused on communication, I would be remiss if I did not emphasize the need for continued verbal communication throughout the data collection process. We sent the initial draft of the workbook to all of the districts for feedback so that we could make sure that it was not too cumbersome and was clear to them. It’s important to assess your partners’ technological capabilities and make sure your tool is compatible. In our case, this involved making sure our workbook could run on all versions of Microsoft Excel. Once we finalized the Data Collection workbook, we held a meeting about the process and reviewed the workbook with the districts. This meeting was essential to the success of the collection process using the Workbook.
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