There is a lot of value in studying other industries outside higher education to gain perspective on issues we face as well as how we may adapt practices and technologies for our use. In the midst of rising student debt, claims of administrative bloat, call for higher accountability, and questions about the value of higher education, it seems there are more discussions about assessment within student affairs to improve quality of services and to provide evidence of our contribution to student success. A key component in assessment is obviously data and the ability to aggregate them from different data sources and perform analysis for different purposes. The fact that information systems even within the same campus do not communicate with each other leads to siloed data. As it relates to assessment, this issue of systems inability to communicate and exchange data, leads to less than accurate analysis and evaluation. In addition, the quality of service provided to students and other customers suffer. As one who oversees our campus suite of student health and counseling information systems, I see some parallels between higher education and the medical care industry when it comes to the challenges related to data.

One concept I came across from reading a book called Connected Health: How Mobile Phones, Cloud and Big Data Will Reinvent Healthcare by Jody Ranck is “data liquidity” which the author describes as “the ability to move data from one part of the health system to another”.  Another definition offered by this article is “more ways and more choices for patients to own their computable health data thus enabling patients to use their data to get help and advice.” Conceptually, data should be able to move freely from health providers and accessible by patients themselves.

The idea that students/learners should own their own data and be portable across institutions is a topic I discussed in this blog post “Common Learning Portfolio Markup Language (CLPML) – A Proposal.” One of the major challenges to this concept I proposed is the lack of a common standard in how data can be shared across student information systems both in terms of data format and interfaces (how different systems communicate). What I do know is that there is an interface standard that exists in the medical industry called HL7 used for clinical applications to communicate. Furthermore, older legacy systems designed to be stand-alone require modifications/enhancements to be able to interface with other systems. These enhancement projects may require significant financial and human resources.

For “data liquidity” to improve, other obstacles beyond technology must be overcome. Data privacy rules and policies exist to protect student data but a times, it seems so convenient for some to use the same rules and policies as inappropriate reasons not to share data, even to students themselves, who do have the right to view their own data. Furthermore, some existing data policies do need to be revised to reflect current needs and to reflect technological advances including cloud and mobile computing. In addition, designs of information systems must be designed from the perspective of the customers. It’s too convenient to design systems without consulting with those we serve leading to silos instead of integrated set of student information systems and services.

It will be interesting to follow how the medical care industry will address the lack of data liquidity and how solutions they arrive at within their industry can be adapted for higher education.