School develops business intelligence based on Microsoft platform to forecast learning and behavioural outcomes and intervene early with tailored teaching for students.
“Overall, the integration, analysis and reporting service offerings from Microsoft have given us infinite reporting flexibility.”
Scott Carpenter, Project Development Manager, John Paul College,
John Paul College (JPC) has always maintained the latest Microsoft technologies to help provide its students with an easier transition into university, vocational education and training, or the workforce. JPC’s technology partner, WARDY ITSolutions, showed the school how it could develop an effective and affordable business intelligence solution built on the Microsoft platform, rather than deploy an expensive specialised BI tool. The new bespoke BI solution at JPC leverages the school’s existing Microsoft investments to provide greater insights about student and teacher performance.
Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 R2 gave JPC the ability to integrate its systems. Previously, the College’s information was reported in each system differently. Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2’s integration capability means JPC can now create a timely, accurate and consistent view of its data. The analysis capability allows JPC to query its information or make self-directed inquiries to extract more meaning from the data it holds. After four years of analysing the data flowing through the organisation and capturing that of value, JPC now has an affordable and integrated system that allows teachers and administrators to easily interpret relevant information, and make it accessible when decisions need to be made.
Like most large organisations, John Paul College had to deal with a number of heterogeneous systems from previous IT decisions. These systems created duplicated processes, inconsistent data and multiple views of the school’s information. JPC identified opportunities to clear this confusion and help the College generate better information, while saving time, effort, and money.
Scott Carpenter, Project Development Manager at JPC, says the school has for many years had a vision of what it wanted to deliver.
“We wanted to bring together the many dimensions of a student’s learning experience – measuring internal and external academic elements; tracking pastoral care and behavioural issues; and monitoring the other influences that may manifest themselves as behavioural change in and out of the classroom,” says Carpenter.
“We had made some progress towards delivering many of these components, but we discovered that the individual parts were creating a drain on resources. This generated operational versus strategic solution delivery decisions, and in many instances the operational side won. We needed a way to make better use of our information.”
Carpenter says JPC had a gap in its reporting functionality. A custom solution would allow the school to capture potentially rich floating data, and add to its reporting ability with the resources that were available.
JPC, its technology partner WARDY IT Solutions and Microsoft worked together to develop a business intelligence solution based on the Microsoft platform. The solution helps aggregate data from multiple sources, reporting systems and applications so the school can predict learning outcomes for students and intervene early with tailored teaching methods to address individual student needs.
The solution is a master data repository that contains information about students, their results, behavioural traits, learning styles and many other individual attributes. JPC and WARDY IT Solutions built intelligence into this repository to cut through the data and provide insights and reports about future student performance, which teachers can access through the familiar application of Microsoft Excel.
Familiar, easy-to-use tools
By leveraging its existing investments in Microsoft technologies, John Paul College gives teachers and administrators real-time, comprehensive, and trustworthy insights into their students through applications they already use every day. These familiar tools, combined with IT oversight and performance, is helping JPC to get more from its IT investments while improving the school’s organisational effectiveness.
Carpenter says the support of JPC’s teachers and administrators, and being aware of what they need, is critical to making the school’s system successful.
“We needed a solution that could be handed to teachers with minimal or no training,” he says. “The fact the reporting solution came with a web-interface in SharePoint 2010 or Excel, or a combination of the two, meant we had a system our teachers could use immediately, and also grow with.
“Our tool of choice is Excel. This allows teachers to use experience they already have to click on fields and add this or remove that and mine the data to create the report they want.
“With involvement and support of operational staff, great things are possible.”
Better IT efficiency and scalability
The Microsoft platform changes the economics of business intelligence by allowing schools to leverage their existing investments, rather than deploy specialist BI offerings from companies such as Oracle, SAP or IBM.
WARDY IT Solutions was able to help JPC create a solution using familiar Microsoft business productivity tools. This lead to early and widespread adoption of the new system among the College’s teachers and administrators, while also reducing the burden on the school’s small IT department.
With Microsoft BI, JPC has been able to cut costs and reduce complexity by extending the reach of its existing technology. Since Microsoft® Excel®, Microsoft SQL Server® 2008 R2 and Microsoft SharePoint® 2010 are integrated and interoperable, JPC has been able to rely on IT resources and skills it already had to create a solution faster and with a lower total cost of ownership.
“Microsoft pricing for education makes technologies accessible,” says Carpenter. “This solution came at minimal cost, but it also allowed us to leverage our existing internal IT skills.
“From the moment I discovered Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 and these wonderful things called integration, reporting and analysis services, to the point where we could demonstrate a working model to the College’s Senior Administration, it was less than four months including data corrections.
“I love the fact I didn’t have to write a single line of code. I made the complexity where I wanted it to be. That is a big bonus with this solution. After reviewing the existing skills, I designed the solution around what we already knew, and the way forward was ours to decide.”
The new business intelligence system at JPC will also grow with the school. It has a responsibility to run certain tests for education authorities and these tests often change. JPC needs to be able to accommodate such changes and provide information about students to education authorities in the correct format.
“One of the big advantages of our solution is that it can grow dynamically in whatever way the school needs,” says Carpenter.
“For example, at the moment, our reports don’t include the fact that a student is doing an apprenticeship. Our apprenticeships have grown substantially this year so this will become another element of interest we will have to include.”
The system is currently available to the school’s Heads of Learning and will be extended to all financial and operational staff. Although the solution started as an academic analysis tool, JPC has the option to combine multiple data repositories into one space. Eventually, the entire organisation will be using the system on a regular basis.
“This could mean anything from recording information about the job students are doing, or reporting how changes in the classroom have resulted in performance improvements,” says Carpenter.
“Different departments work at different speeds and they have different requirements. So they have decided to embrace it at different times.”
More informed decision-making
Carpenter says anyone can make decisions based on gut feel. But when such decisions can be supported by facts, teachers and educators can be more confident about their decisions.
“A teacher knows which students are performing poorly and which ones are doing well.” Carpenter says. “We can pull together many dimensions to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of a student. That picture is part of a bigger puzzle. How a student behaves in class may reflect how they respond to a particular teacher’s style.
“We can recognise these behavioural patterns and identify the triggers for better learning. For example, some students don’t respond well to direct teacher pressure. Others are auditory learners. Getting this right for each student can have huge positive impacts on their performance over time.
“We have been entering this type of information into our systems for five years and we needed to bring it all together to create the full picture. This also helps teachers when they come into a new environment. They have some idea of what they are facing.”
Also, as new teaching potentials come about, JPC needs to be able to look at how it performs from term to term and compare results, especially if it has changed its approach to a certain subject or to a certain group of students. This is how the school gauges if changes make a positive difference to performance.
Better educational outcomes
The new system at JPC has improved outcomes for many students across the school by harnessing vast amounts of information and instilling it with more meaning and relevance. For example, the data analysis in the business intelligence solution can identify kinetic learners – students who learn by doing – so they can be grouped together to maximise their learning potential.
Teachers can also use the system to track the impact of their programmes and, where necessary, make modifications to improve outcomes for students. The system can generate reports that review the performance of teachers and identify those who need additional training, or those who are excelling in their roles.
JPC has a multi-tiered approach to student behavioural management. There are a myriad of events across this spectrum – academic, sporting, extra-curricular and personal matters.
“We not only want to identify students whose performance has dropped, but we also want to know why,” says Carpenter. “We do regular audits, conduct interviews with parents, and talk to teachers. We also look at how many siblings a student has, what activities they’re involved in outside of school and their absenteeism – these are all indicators that feed into our decision support and how we can help our students be their best.”
JPC students do many tests throughout their school life to gauge their predisposition to particular learning styles, what environments they learn best in, or how they react to motivation or mentoring. Carpenter says this is not only informative for parents, but it also helps students with their career choices.
“By being able to provide better information to our staff, we know more about the key learning outcomes for our students,” says Carpenter.
“Our new system has also given us an enhanced reporting mechanism for staff performance.”
One of the initial reasons JPC started down this path was to be able to continually track and assess students. This would allow reporting for teachers, administrators, education authorities and parents in a context that is more meaningful. Some of the challenges concerned these continual requests for reports.
“When you add functionality to a system and start using it, a report invariably ensues,” says Carpenter. “We had so many niche areas of great data, but the reports we were getting requests for involved grabbing data from one part of this system, another part of another system, and from yet another part of a third system. The complexity of what we were putting together meant we were spending all our time doing reports.
“Now, we put all the information we receive requests for in one place, and we have structured our data warehouse in a way that means all the information someone could require is also in one place. This allows teachers and administrators to use experience they already have to drill through the information to create the report they want.
“We are getting very positive feedback from teachers. Having generated a performance report about a student in one particular subject, they can generate a report for the same student in another subject.
“Overall, the integration, analysis and reporting service offerings from Microsoft have given us infinite reporting flexibility.”
John Paul College has set up its new system to also be able to generate student performance reports for various education agencies, such as the Federal census, the Queensland Studies Authority, and the Queensland Department of Education and Training.
Microsoft Product that was featured
Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 R2
Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 R2 includes built-in reporting, analysis and integration services, and Microsoft® PowerPivot for Excel 2010. By licensing Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 R2, Microsoft® SharePoint® 2010 (Enterprise) and Microsoft Office 2010, customers automatically own all the components of Microsoft Business Intelligence. Microsoft® SharePoint® 2010 Enterprise Edition includes Microsoft® SharePoint® PerformancePoint® Services for dashboarding, scorecarding and analytic capabilities; and Microsoft® Office 2010 includes Microsoft Excel® 2010 – the number-one BI interface in the industry and a ubiquitous data-consumption tool. Microsoft Business Intelligence extends the reach of existing investments in the Microsoft productivity platform, data infrastructure and collaboration tools. By integrating the strengths of these scalable products on a single platform customers can make informed business decisions.