We Sweat the Small Stuff…So You Can Focus on Data Driven Instruction
Oct 12, 2012
Staff Spotlight: EdInsight Partner
Toby Basalla is Director of Technology for OnHand Schools (OHS). In addition to overseeing software development for the company, he also employs the 30,000-foot view on its work as one its co-founders. We recently sat down with Toby to learn more about how it all got started and to get his unique perspective on how to make the EdInsight Instructional Management System work for your school district.
How did OHS get started?
It originated out of some consulting work I was involved in with Pittsburgh Public Schools. What began as a request to build traditional data systems grew into a much larger project. While I was working there, NCLB was voted in—so you can imagine that “data warehousing and education” was a hot topic, and it really changed the landscape of education and how student testing data would be used. Also, the Internet was really taking off and the idea of putting everything online was catching momentum. It was an exciting time. But I noticed there were not a lot of good products on the market yet. Data warehouses existed, but they were not intuitive at all. We knew that our teachers needed access to lots of data, but also needed a system that they were able to use, that wouldn’t end up being a barrier to their work. So we developed our own.
Naturally, once we had undertaken this task and developed such a user-friendly system, my soon-to-be partners and I asked the question: If it was so needed here, is there a market for this technology throughout the state, even the country? Indeed, other school districts saw what we were doing, and wanted to get in on it. So eventually we started the company to dedicate all our time to this work and now we’re proud to be in school districts as close as North Hills, and as far away as Florida.
What makes the EdInsight System unique in your opinion?
First of all, it’s our strong focus on making everything easy and intuitive and much less complicated for the people who use the system. We’re all about taking the burden off users, who usually do not have technical backgrounds, nor the time to learn complicated new software. Our system is sophisticated and complex, but what our users see is streamlined and intuitive.
Second, our system features automated data consolidation for data driven instruction. We knew from experience that having to pull together data from many different sources is a particular pain point for school district staff, so we began the design of our new software to go above and beyond what other systems were doing. Since we built the infrastructure for automated data consolidation from the beginning, we can be more nimble in developing new tools to meet our clients’ needs. For example, we recently launched the 4Sight Item Analysis, a highly detailed report that allows teachers to see individual classroom performance at the student level. Ours is the only system anywhere that has this tool.
If someone were new to the world of educational student data analysis, what EdInsight product would you recommend they start with? And then, how can they make the project successful in their school district?
Definitely start with the EdInsight Data Window. We chose the term “window” to highlight the fact that it allows your teachers and staff to view the most current and useful information they need to address the most pressing needs of their students. The term “data warehouse” conjures up images of dusty storage facilities filled with boxes hiding obscure information. Our Data Window tool is not like that; it’s very dynamic.
It’s important to have at least one person in leadership within the district who will really champion the project, helping everyone embrace the technology. A person who is passionate about student improvement and helping their teachers succeed. We’ve found that having a strong leader pave the way is a key to success for our client districts.
So what’s new and exciting at OHS right now?
We’re excited about the rollout of our new Local Assessments Builder tool. It allows teachers to build your own assessment, using multi-format exam questions, administer the tests, and see immediate results—all right online and integrated with the EdInsight System. It’s pretty great. Create a test online and then take the test online is very important in the K-12 data driven instruction environment.
We’re also pumped to have fully entered the mobile arena, with a Teacher Evaluation Software App for iPad. The app is easily customizable and all the data you collect flows right into your Data Window. Some of our districts even use it to capture images of great teaching moments on the spot, to share with their teams.
We are also exploring the changes that the new Common Core standards will bring into the realm of assessment, and we are working to develop new tools to deal with subject area tests such as the Pennsylvania Keystone Exams.
What do you like most about your work?
I really enjoy seeing the software used well out in the field—sometimes in unexpected places. For example, I was at a conference in Hershey, PA the other day. During one of the workshops, I happened to sit behind a woman who whipped out her iPad and began to review some classroom assessment data. I could tell she was using our EdInsight program. It was great to see our software used by a real teacher in the real world.