Much of the data collected and stored in your assortment of databases and data warehouses is worthless. If that data had physical presence, and could be heaped up in piles instead of neatly organized in columns and rows, we’d have data mountains as far as the eye could see. Attempting to mine those mountains for gems of information would be a dirty, difficult job, fraught with frustration and potential disappointment. (Fool’s gold anyone?) Unfortunately, mining through the orderly tables in your databases and warehouses can be equally maddening. Searching for the gems amongst the tons and tons of waste rock leads to few eureka moments.
And that’s when you may have to turn to “salting” the mine. For those who’ve lived their lives bereft of mining terminology, salting a mine is a process involving artificially adding minerals or gems to a mine to make it seem more valuable and desirable. Fortunately, “salting” your data mine is perfectly legal, and highly beneficial. What’s more is that salting your data mine by adding data that you know will be of value can actually enhance the value of your other data as well.
Recently, I was introduced to a district that had discovered the benefit of this concept. This district educates many of the children of a local military installation. In fact, a considerable percentage of its students are from military families, and this has had a significant impact on the culture of the district. District administrators have discovered that tracking data related to the military status of their parents has made much of their other data more valuable.
Using a simple feature in the student information system, data flags can be attached to any students with a parent or parents in the military, and even more importantly, students with a parent or parents who have been deployed. This data is displayed throughout the SIS, so that administrators, clerks, nurses, counselors, and even teachers are aware of the status of the parents of their students. Being alerted to the deployment of a child’s parent has enabled teachers and counselors to more closely monitor the impact this has on the students, and identify any children who are having difficulty dealing with a parent being overseas and possibly in danger. Additionally, this data can be used to examine correlations between parental deployment status and student attendance, behavior, and achievement.
In this example, the conscious decision to track additional data brings value to existing data, and enables the district to better serve its students and their families. A majority of the data we track from day to day is required for tracking enrollment, attendance, classroom performance, and ultimately, for reporting to state and federal entities. Sometimes, adding a pinch of non-required data can bring out the flavor in the data that’s just wasting away in the mine.