Apps4VA is about engaging and linking communities – data providers with data consumers, educators with technologists, “bureaucrats” with entrepreneurs. To date, many partnerships have been formed and these partnerships are responsible for the development of more than 50 apps based on VLDS data. Pretty amazing.
Clinton Sower, winner of the Apps4VA Open Competition, understands the needs and perspectives of all of these communities. Currently a data specialist for one of Virginia’s largest school divisions, Clinton has worn all these hats - data provider, data consumer, educator, technologist, entrepreneur and “bureaucrat.” His many roles and experiences surely aided the creation of an app that appeals to parents, educators and developers.
VDOEopensource.org provides access to school performance data released from the state in PDF and Excel exports. According to Sower, “the app streamlines the data distribution pipeline at no cost to the school system.” As a web-based application, VDOEopensource.org works on phones, tablets, PCs, Macs, Linux, and most platforms that can connect to the Internet. Sower describes it as "...more of a user-friendly interface to inspire the creation of even more apps."
Sower recalls a scenario from years past where education data was reported via an enormous ream of paper. “I remember getting our SOL data from the state … My sixth grade team literally received a ream of paper. Our assignment was to match areas of need indicated in the data with modifications to our teaching methods. It was a tall order that has never gone away.” Even though reports have become more manageable, there is still a challenge to connect historical data to current data and to translate that into improvement. The VLDS, says Sower, alleviates this problem by connecting the data from the bottom-up with good timing. It puts information in a pipeline that works so teachers can do something with it.
Sower was encouraged to participate in Apps4VA, even though his app may be most powerful in smaller school divisions. He plans to continue to build on VDOEOpenSource.org, which provides many lenses on the data. A next step will include adding data elements that tell a deeper story so that the focus will be on intervention and school collaboration. Sower believes that some may see education data as golden eggs – something to restrict for a select few and not to be shared, but Virginia is shattering these myths by opening the door to innovation and providing top-down data to school divisions. The VLDS is one tool to show citizens and educators that data is not scary, that technology can be safe, and that the information it reveals can be used to plan, to evaluate and to promote growth. Most importantly, its creation will generate even more innovation.