6 simple reasons to invest in digital data management

tower of playing cards falling

Non-educational businesses commonly have larger swathes of staff dedicated to the disciplined management of records and data. It’s rarely an option for overtaxed schools with other priorities. But it’s becoming too important to put off.

Schools are in a position to lead in this area. Student data represents a uniquely sensitive batch of data-sets. Protecting and defending this information, not to mention using it to optimally enhance student experience, is central to the modern educational mission.

Here are some simple, but critical, benefits of modernising your data management:

1) Security

While digital systems aren’t immune from risk, they’re considerably more reliable than physical document distribution, where human error is given and risk of information going rogue is high. The security provided through a fit-for-purpose data management system protects personal and organisational liabilities. That trust translates into better relationships with staff and parents.

2) Lower overheads

A modest initial investment pays for itself quickly when you add up the staff and production time involved in paper-based data management. Reduce duplication of effort and output, collect and distribute more information in less time, and no don’t pay for paper, photocopying or other unnecessary costs.

Read more: How much does paper cost your school?

3) Redundancies & fail safes

If your system for capturing, holding and retrieving data is robust with distributed access, you’ll have built in buffer if something goes awry. No single individual becomes a single point of failure if they’re not available, and electronic triggers can protect you against a range of likely (or unlikely) scenarios.

4) Productivity

Quicker and more trustworthy access to information boosts workflow productivity. Productivity has a flow on effect, opening up more opportunities to improve other common processes. Getting to the end goal speedily gets notices – staff and parents both will appreciate not waiting around to complete a task or validate that a task has been completed.

shoe slipping on banana peel

5) Permissions

Getting a smart, digital information management system in place means you can create different layers and levels of access to suit your organisational needs. This means more can get done, work can scale while still minimising risk, and you can empower your people without compromising standards or safeguards.

6) Piece of mind

At any given moment, can you isolate a piece of key information about a student, and guarantee that information is timely and accurate?  You can’t afford to answer no.

For businesses, good digital record maintenance is an opportunity. For schools, it’s that and more. It’s a chance to work smarter and get more out of information on hand. But it’s also a chance to put distance between educators and overly manual processes, and return to human-to-human conversations.

What is the cost of paper forms in schools?

Paper has served an important role in education for hundreds of years. It’s been an enabler and a multiplier. It’s been a bedrock for schools to inform and improving student outcomes – their core mission.

But paper has been a victim of its own success as an instrument of information gathering.

As it has piled up with our need to communicate, collect, analyse and store more and more data, school workloads have exponentially increased.

Our data suggests that a single child will receive at least 30 forms per year and staff complete at least 20 forms.

So what does it really cost to send home paper forms or use an ill-fitting technology solution?

When schools think of paper costs they usually only consider the costs that they can easily quantify. The truth is that’s only the beginning. These numbers mask the real problem – that educators are taking on the role of full-time administrators.

The human cost

We don’t like to admit it, but every extra piece of paper means more time away from students.

In a recent survey of our school partners, we collected a list of the most used paper forms. These are the ones that involved staff in preparing , distributing, reminding, following up, collecting, collating and in some cases entering, information. Excursion forms, sporting forms, medical forms, record updates, training forms, fundraising forms, parent meetings and more. They were plentiful and often duplicative.

In an analysis of the UK Government’s recent Workload challenge survey, John Roberts revealed that of 43 000 teachers who replied, over 56% reported the single most unnecessary and unproductive data related task was “recording, inputting and monitoring of data”.

Read more: Can automation save teaching?

teacher calling on student in class

Teaching staff in all schools are involved in the paper forms process in one form or another.

  • Preparing the form
  • Preparing the information for the form
  • Distributing the form
  • Managing the follow up and reminder process to have the forms returned
  • Collecting the form
  • Ensuring that the form is fully/correctly completed
  • Collating the information
  • Storing of the original forms

Current paper practices or administration systems that have permission form capabilities are so convoluted staff understandably are turned off them. This adds to stress and workload fatigue.

Roberts acknowledges: “School Management Information Systems (MIS) have glacially evolved since their early beginnings,” to become the source of crippling frustration and burnout.

“Their development focus on breadth has meant that a focus on the needs of the actual user has been left behind.”

Schools want to be seen working on the challenge of staff workload. But technology innovations tend to sit classroom side (where they can attract new students, funding and attention) while applying technology that reduces behind the scenes workload is lower down the agenda.

It’s understandable, given the competitive education market. But it leaves educators, administrators, parents and ultimately, students themselves, worse off.

The financial cost

Paper, printers, photocopying, scanning, labor… and in some cases, faxing!

The pipeline adds up quickly when we count the cost of paper forms. Based on conservative assumptions, modelling suggests that adding basic costs, including labor and storage, tallies up to $16.70 per student.

Digitising and automating these processes could save thousands. Here’s another conservative estimate. A school of 500 students could save up to $8000 a year through smart digitisation. For 2000 that number jumps to $30,000.

The environmental cost

tree drawn on paper

The human cost adds up quickly, in taxing time, energy and patience of educators (and parents). So does the hit to the bottom line.

Consider the impact on the environment.

While some schools are turning to recycled products or techniques to help reduce consumption, the impact on their eco-footprint is usually minimal.

And the heat is on, in the form of externally mandated ‘green’ goals in different educational jurisdictions around the world (and the reporting on those goals… on paper?)

The below figures show the cumulative impact of a school sending an average of 30 forms a year to a single student, at an average of two pages per form.

 

school paper forms eco footprint

The tide is turning

A Principal recently told me: “I now only buy products and solutions that my staff will use. I am trying to build a culture of innovation and I need the staff to believe that what I promise the technology can deliver”.

While the pressures on the sector are vast and confronting, there’s never been a better time to innovate and take the leap. To survive, schools must be smart about scaling solutions, and letting technology shoulder critical, but crunching tasks that have become fundamentally obstructive within teaching environments.

It’s never just a piece of paper.

Send Parent Slips forms to individual Students as well as Student Lists

We’re celebrating the start of a new week with a great new feature in ParentPaperwork – the ability to select individual Students for a Parent Slip as well, or instead of, the traditional Student Lists.

Ever since ParentPaperwork launched we’ve held firm to the principle that we send Slips to groups of Students, it always made sense when we thought about the ways paper forms are used in schools for group activities like excursions and field trips.

However, as more and more schools sign up for ParentPaperwork, the more ways they are finding to use the system to solve paper-based communication tasks. Over the past couple of months we’ve had schools in several countries ask us why we are so tied to Student Lists, and why can’t they just select a couple of Students and send out a form? That feedback made us reflect, and come to the conclusion there really wasn’t any reason! And so we’ve made the change.

As of today you can now send a Parent Slip, or a Broadcast, to any combination of Student Lists and/or individual Students. When you add a new Slip or Broadcast you will see the usual Student List selector, and a new field to select Students. Just start typing the name of the Student and a list of suggestions will display, click the name of the Student to add them to the recipients list.

select-students-for-slip

In all other ways the Parent Slips and Broadcasts work the same, the individual Students will be displayed on the lists of Responses and Statistics along with any Students from selected Student Lists.

You can even send a Slip or Broadcast to a single Student, there’s now no requirement to select a Student List at all.

It’s a source of pride to us that ParentPaperwork’s ongoing development is in direct response to the needs and desires of our schools – and this new feature is a great example of what happens when customers put forward ideas that resonate with other schools – because we are always listening and will always adopt great innovations that will be of benefit to the whole ParentPaperwork community.

Canadian schools seek out ParentPaperwork at Connect 2016

Canada’s largest education technology conference and trade show Connect 2016 was held the last week of April in Niagara Falls – a spectacular backdrop to a terrific conference featuring a memorable keynote speech from Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

A large group of EdTech companies exhibited at the accompanying trade show, and ParentPaperwork was proud to be one of the firms selected for the Start Up Alley, a collection of up and coming EdTech startups from Canada and beyond.

The conference included many great sessions, ranging from integrating coding into the classroom to the many ways technology can enhance learning in the classroom.

Looking to the stars

Guest of honour Chris Hadfield took the audience from his childhood dreaming of space, through to his five months as Commander of the International Space Station, including his now legendary rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Music has been a lifelong passion for Chris and he recounted what he considers the most remarkable moment in his life, playing guitar in a live simulcast in which 700,000 schools students participated.

He reflected on the powerful way music and technology combined to inspire the next generation of dreamers, explorers and innovators.

Excited about the future

ParentPaperwork in Canada
Setting up for a huge couple of days

The group of companies exhibiting in Start Up Alley along with ParentPaperwork were varied, all with a new twist or take on how technology can be applied in education.

My Effect, founded by a remarkable young woman, helps connect students with volunteering opportunities; 5-A-Day-Fitness (also at BETT in London in January) were showing their innovative fitness programs; while Riipen has a fantastic platform for linking tertiary students with businesses looking for new talent.

There was no shortage of school staff wanting to talk about ParentPaperwork, highlighting yet again how paper forms and manual administration processes are a bugbear in every school, no matter which country.

Representatives from several school boards, ranging from 5,000 to 60,000 students, also sought us out to discuss how implementing an online forms solution could have a major impact across an entire network of schools.

Niagara Falls
The spectacular Niagara Falls

Attendees made sure they walked down to Niagara Falls just a few minutes from the convention venue. Truly spectacular, the iconic sight was worth braving the chill, and a wonderful setting for an inspiring gathering of Canadian educators ready to reframe their future.