Matt Frey is a data guy. As Executive Director of Instructional Technology at Plano ISD in Texas, he often slips into his district’s sea of digital usage data to understand student engagement, direct budget planning, find power users and more. But sometimes, he’ll dig around without specific goals or questions in mind, exploring until the numbers fall into a pattern or tell a story about his district’s digital successes—and dilemmas.
“It’s important and appropriate to go into data looking for answers to specific questions. But I find it’s sometimes just as valuable to go in there without an agenda or specific context, just reserve time to poke about in your data and let it speak to you,” explains Frey.
Frey’s tool of choice for exploring usage data in his district is ClassLink Analytics, a feature included in ClassLink’s Single Sign-On platform. The data pinpoints usage and engagement with any application or resource accessed through ClassLink’s LaunchPad at the district, school, grade, class or even individual student level. Frey and his team can see how often students log in to an app, how much time they spend in the app and even the time of day they logged in. That data helps his team make informed decisions around subscription renewals and professional development, quickly detect technical issues and more.
EdSurge caught up with Frey to learn how he uses data to support his district. He shared his thoughts on the big-picture impact of analytics and gave us a sneak peek at the eye-opening new analytics tool that he says has uncovered some misconceptions in his district.
EdSurge: What prompted you to begin using ClassLink Analytics?
Frey: I was initially drawn to Analytics simply to monitor the adoption rate of ClassLink’s Single Sign-On portal at Plano. Having introduced ClassLink in another district years before, I was confident that we would see a similar adoption rate here. Still, we were eager for some analytics to support that hunch. It was immensely gratifying when the data quickly justified the investment in time and money.
Now, we use the data in so many different ways. Take student engagement, for example. We use the analytics in ClassLink’s Teacher Console to look at the applications students use. Which applications are they accessing today? How much time are they spending on those apps? Then, we combine that with other data. Did they turn in an assignment or do an exit ticket? Ultimately, all of that data combined helps the teacher perceive whether or not a student was engaged.
How has your approach to using analytics changed over time?
Our analytical focus has shifted from checking general logins and application launches to determine adoption to more discrete observations around specific tools and usage trends in particular schools.
For example, the average benchmark for daily district logins to ClassLink is 55,000. I look at that data several times a day because now logins are my canary in a coal mine. If they are too high or too low, it tells me something’s going on, and then I start digging for the cause. Maybe it’s an outage or something else, but I can catch problems early with that data.
There are also several times a year where, in my position, you have to give a state of (the technology) union. As I prepare for those opportunities, I’ll spend time exploring analytics around the 10 most popular applications for staff and those for students. I distinguish between elementary, middle and high school and look for trends around what’s popular in one versus the other.
I’ll also drill down into that data and identify power users. I then use those findings as an opportunity to give a teacher a shout-out or ask them to lead professional learning.
How do you use analytics to support purchasing decisions?
Typically I start building budgets for the next school year in January and February. During that time, I’ll look at usage data to inform subscription renewal decisions. I’ve used the analytics data to inform purchasing decisions around products with freemium-based pricing strategies.
For example, our analytics show that we already had high adoption rates for the free version of a digital portfolio platform. Investing in the additional features made sense. We already knew we had great adoption, so we weren’t going to leave value on the table. By investing, we brought lots more tools to teachers.
You’ve made some surprising discoveries with ClassLink’s new tool, Analytics+. Tell us about those.
Yes, it’s been eye-opening. The data from Analytics+ is different because it’s domain-level. In other words, ClassLink Analytics tells us about resources and apps launched from within ClassLink’s LaunchPad. At the same time, Analytics+ gives us data on any apps or resources accessed on school-owned devices, whether accessed from within LaunchPad or not.
It’s demonstrated to me that I’ve been living with some misconceptions. For example, we mainly use Zoom and Google Meet as our video conferencing platforms. But I’ve been saying forever that Zoom is the more popular tool in our district by a quantifiable mile. We have about 250,000 Zoom launches compared to 50,000 Google Meet launches over the same period.
However, when you look at domain-level analytics through Analytics+, you see a different picture. It’s much closer than I thought. Google Meet now appears to be equally popular among our two primary video conferencing tools. Students don’t launch Meet through ClassLink’s LaunchPad like they do with Zoom. Instead, they launch the application from within Google Classroom, which previously wouldn’t have registered in the application launch metrics.
We were missing that perspective completely before Analytics+ came online. With this tool, I will be revising some of the stories that I’ve been telling for two years.
The data invariably helps us tell our story better. This data is like a big mirror that reflects our true digital self without filters or special effects. It shows the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s there really to tell you the truth. I use it, so I know the truth—not just what I think is true.