This is how we do Data: Collect, Unravel, Summarize!

At this time of year, FLATE stops to review, tally, analyze and aggregate our collected data from the
previous calendar year. We look for new comparative data sets of other organizations as an indicator of how “we are doing” in specific activities, or groups of activities related to FLATE’s outreach, curriculum reform and professional development efforts. We look for ways to refine our data collection by identifying unclear survey questions, or gaps in information we retrieve from various surveys. Here’s “how we do it” and how it all comes together.

We start a good review and scrub off raw data that has been collected and recorded.  Although we regularly review data and trends during the year to prepare for our year-end summaries, we take a final look to be sure all the data we use is “good data”.  Once this somewhat tedious stage is complete, the treasure hunt for “hidden data nuggets” begins. 

Many times we are just looking for summary data that we have to report and trends, hopefully positive trends, in the impact of our activities, resources, and events. Beyond just reporting, this kind of information tells us if we are still reaching the same kinds of participants and same numbers of stakeholders for different kinds of events, resources and activities. Reviewing this information carefully helps us target specific “missed” audiences in the coming year at various events.

After we complete reviewing, cleaning, organizing and summarizing our annual reporting data, we continue to probe and assess what else we can learn from it. In various stages of data review and summarizing, we often find ourselves asking: “I wonder if .. ?” ; “how could I know if this is connected to that?” or “wouldn't it be great if we also could know …”.  These are questions we revisit by bringing data together from different sources, looking at the data from different perspectives, etc. The exercise becomes a game of puzzling together different results, trying to reveal more impact.

We move from the observations “wows,” “oh my’s”, and “ah-ha’s!” to filtering which of the ideas, or questions will give us the most “bang for our buck,” as well as help us better answer the questions that NSF and our valued stakeholders ask. The cycle of continuous improvement underlies this whole process. How can we do what we do better by being more strategic in our activities, events and resources; can we ask better survey questions that will reveal more and better information; can we totally change our approach to get more impactful data?

As 2014 begins, we are starting some new strategies to dig a bit deeper into our data.  Therefore, the data we collect will be changing slightly. It will change enough to provide more impactful information (we hope), but not so much that we loose the connection to our historic data and trends. Changing some of the basic assumptions of our work requires us to rephrase some questions and to ask new ones. Stay tuned to see how we do during the coming year. 

Enjoy the great stories in the February edition of the FLATE Focus where we focus on a brand new series spotlighting new ET faculty, and highlight reflections from a current ET faculty as she prepared for the Professional Engineering exam. We also bring you a story about an NSF ATE project that is poised to bolster STEM and Problem-based learning in rural communities of Kentucky and Tennessee, and discuss outreach to high school students this spring to stimulate interest in STEM/manufacturing. Answer to last month’s sTEm puzzle is here; be sure to tally your answers and get up to speed on the year’s first energy workshop for educators and industry professionals.