October 29, 2015 by

Mythbusters: How Can We Use Data to Shift Mindsets?

By Kristen Swanson, Educational Leadership author

Swanson Mythbusters 300x300Data, used carefully, can be the ultimate mythbuster. My colleagues and I explore this idea in “Eliminating the Blame Game” in the November 2015 issue of Educational Leadership.

We often think of data as a vehicle to uncover new, surprising ideas. And while that often happens, data also has another important function. It can give us evidence about things we already know (or think we already know). Over time, learning organizations develop myths. It’s common for people to cling to these myths without questioning them. Phrases like “it’s always been that way” or “of course it is” reverberate across our schools each day.

In our article, we share the story of two amazing technology directors who reshaped an instructional technology program—a Bring Your Own Device effort—in their district by using data to bust myths and shift mindsets.

Using formative data, they reduced glitches, increased access to technology, and made people happier. They did all this by gathering evidence from stakeholders to question assumptions and to help people understand what truly mattered.

Here are a few of the myths our technology directors busted—some of which we explain further in our article:

  • We can’t provide students with devices that require the Internet because many of our students don’t have Wi-Fi access at home. (They did.)
  • Our students have digital devices at home, but they’re careless about remembering to bring them to school. (Students weren’t bringing them because they shared devices with other family members).
  • Our parents don’t understand digital citizenship. (They did.)
  • Our teachers aren’t interested in learning new technology. (Teachers’ beliefs about the power of technology were universal.)

After collecting the data to challenge misperceptions, the team was able to have new conversations, do different work, and solve existing problems.

What data have you used to bust myths about teaching and learning at your organization? What effects did it have on the ways kids learned?


Kristen Swanson is senior director of the Research Institute at BrightBytes in San Francisco. She coauthored “Eliminating the Blame Game” in the November issue of Educational Leadership with Gayle Allen and Rob Mancabelli. Contact Swanson at KristenNicoleSwanson@gmail.com or connect with her on Twitter @kristenswanson.