Diving into the Data: How Data Analysis Can Help Faculty Work Smarter and More Efficiently

As nursing educators, we value scientific principles that underlie the use of evidence in nursing practice. Students are introduced to evidenced-based practice and using the best evidence to make nursing practice decisions. Additionally, we continue to build the science and integrate evidence-based practice into teaching professional nursing. Educators no longer rely on personal experience or judgements, but now use evidence, data, and research in making fact-based decisions (Abbott, 2014).

Long gone are the days of the static, block curriculum that was unchanged for years, with pure lecture as a mode for preparing students. Improving teaching strategies and changing curriculum should now be considered as an ongoing continuous quality improvement process. In today's healthcare arena, change in professional nursing practice and education is the norm, and faculty need to continually update knowledge regarding nursing practice, advances in nursing education, and technology. It can be exhausting just thinking about keeping up! Change is necessary as we seek to improve student performance, stay on top of the changing healthcare environment, and keep up with advances in education.

I've worked with many schools and find that there is little time to devote to mining education data (from faculty-generated exams, standardized exams at end of program, standardized exams used in course work, other student assessments, etc.). There are so many responsibilities associated with a faculty role, that analyzing education may not take priority. Faculty often tell me that they don't have time to do an in-depth analysis, and this can mean passing up a wealth of data that could be harvested and used to make informed decisions. Using data to make the best use of faculty time in making the right change decisions can be invaluable. Investing time in data analysis, in the long run, helps faculty make better decisions — what if we didn't use clinical data to make decisions about improving patient care? Think of the process of using evidence to improve patient care! Fortunately, with technology, this data mining has become easier and can provide a wealth of insights.

HESI testing data can help faculty not only determine weak content areas for a cohort on a specific exam, as well as individual student weaknesses on that particular test, but also build a trend report that can help faculty identify trends in data over time. For example, in an Exit Exam, faculty might note that Maternity or Basic Nursing Skills content areas have a low mean score for one group of students, but trending exam data over multiple Exit Exams might reveal that this is not an ongoing concern. Instead, the trending data demonstrates that Management of Care (Client Needs) is consistently low, so this might be a content area of importance for faculty to address. Using this trending approach, faculty can trend specialty exams such as Medical Surgical exams, and identify areas of concern, as well. I recommend trending Exit Exams over time as a starting point to attempt to identify areas of possible concern with students over time at the end of a program.

Using evidence, such as standardized exam data along with other data sources, can help faculty work smarter and more efficiently. Consider developing an ongoing continuous quality improvement plan that uses data to prioritize change and then evaluates the change with a fresh look at new data to analyze effectiveness.

Hidden Curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The Glossary of Education Reform. Retrieved from

Cheryl L. Mee,

Assessment and Testing Consultant

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