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Forsyth County Schools technology department leaders recently had the opportunity to present their new analytics dashboard to the state Board of Education after earning a Bronze IMS Global Learning Impact Award for 2021.
Chief Technology and Information Officer Mike Evans said his department at FCS has looked at creating their own analytics dashboard for several years after finding that none on the current market could be easily customized for the district.
He and his team began developing the dashboard, which gathers data already collected by the school system and congregates it into one, easy-to-read online report, about two years ago. But since then, Director of Technology Services Tim Fleming and Networks Operations Coordinator Curt Godwin have taken it one step further.
“When we first started, I thought it was building a dashboard,” Fleming said. “Have something people can go to, and they would be amazed. I found out quickly, the dashboard is nice, but no one has time to go to it. No one has time to click through and sort through the data. So I really believe, after talking with Evans, Teaching and Learning and our counselors, the best thing we can do is make it easy for them to find information.”
That is when, in collaboration with Microsoft, they created the Academic Virtual Assistant, or AVA.
AVA works in the same ways that other known virtual assistants such as Siri or Alexa do, pulling from data that already exists to make information easily accessible to users. Fleming said he believes, however, that this may be the first time a similar program has been created for use in educational settings.
Right now, AVA can collect information to send to teachers or counselors that may be helpful for them. For example, school counselors could ask AVA to send them an email each morning with an updated list of students who have more than five absences. That information, updated daily, can show counselors which students they need to help and how they can help them.
From that email, counselors can click on a student’s name, and it takes them to a daily report showing their name, grade level, GPA and another new measure — their graduation prediction score.
Fleming and Godwin were able to create this score by giving AVA student data from the past 10 years and teaching it what credits students needed to graduate. By going through this data, the machine was able to learn which factors contributed to whether students graduated.
Using that old data, AVA was able to predict whether the students graduated with a 97% success rate.
“Then we taught it to look through all of our current students,” Fleming said. “And it does this nightly. Look through every kid using what you’ve already learned through the machine learning, but also knowing what classes they need and if they’re passing or failing and make a prediction on whether they’ll graduate or not.”
Through this tool, counselors can get a better idea of who they need to help academically, especially looking at seniors who should be on track to graduate in the next school year. The idea for this tool is to bring the district’s graduation rate up to 100%.
AVA is also a chatbot that can interact with students. For example, Fleming said AVA could ask students if they want to see if they are on track for graduation or if they would like to make an appointment with their counselor, and if they do, AVA can set up that appointment for them.
Going forward, Fleming and Godwin both said AVA could be used and developed for so much more in areas throughout the school district.
“Whatever question [students or staff] have, if given enough time to pull all the pieces together, you could ask AVA any question that had to with our data,” Fleming said. “I know it sounds a little Star Trek-y, but it’s using artificial intelligence. It’s the stuff we already have.”
Evans, Fleming and Godwin presented the new dashboard to the Forsyth County Board of Education at its last work session. During that presentation, Evans said their team and Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden have received many requests from state and local boards across the region to present more about the dashboard at virtual assistant.
After presenting at the Georgia Board of Education and winning a Bronze IMS Global Learning Impact Award, Bearden said they plan to share their ideas with any other board interested in implementing their own dashboard.
For more information, visit the district’s website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.