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MIS Systems Thread, Extracting data from an MIS in Technical; A continuing problem that schools have is getting their data easily and reliably from their MIS. It seems to go ...
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    Extracting data from an MIS

    A continuing problem that schools have is getting their data easily and reliably from their MIS. It seems to go in easily enough but getting it out again is a different story. Schools seem to have lots of problems with using reports to reliably extract their data.
    Becta are addressing these sorts of problems through the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) which aims to provide a standardised export format in XML sent via HTTPS and requiring an Agent by recipient software to convert it back again into the data that is needed. This seems to me a bit like putting your paycheck into the bank and, when wanting to withdraw £50, finding you have to buy and program your own ATM. Does anyone have any experience of extracting data reliably from a school MIS who could comment on this problem or the extent to which SIF is likely to make it easier for schools to do their own research using their own data?

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    I personally believe the school's data should be easily accessible (eg. not just a command-line report export utility that we are restricted to at present) at no extra cost, from any MIS and at any time.

    With a lot of Network Managers and Technicians having programming experience and working with databases, MIS data is a valuable asset to have. This allows users to innovate and develop new ideas that will enhance teaching and learning, and assist admin staff with custom-made applications.

    Virtual Learning Platforms can benefit hugely from MIS data. At present, for this to happen, I am lead to believe that VLE developers (infact any third party developers) have to pay for a license to be able to write software that can interact with the SIMS database, at a cost of around £5,000. IMO, this is quite a large figure just to get hold of an SDK; which immediately locks-out small software houses and open source vendors alike. This has a knock-on effect of this license cost being passed on to the customer - the school.

    There are many threads on the forum where the question has been raised about obtaining information from MIS systems, with most coming to the same conclusion - there is no standard, simple method of getting this data without going against a license agreement or jumping through hoops.

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Mike, I don't understand why your RepDef works in 80% of SIMS schools and not in the remainder? SIMS doesn't have different data structures in different schools.

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Webman, SIMS includes IMS Enterprise as standard; a free key is available from your support unit. This web service can incrementally update a VLE with student, staff and class data.

    A third party can buy a licenced copy of SIMS for £5000. Capita does not charge third parties licence fees for reading data from SIMS.

    There are licence fees for creating routines that write back to SIMS and for that we guarantee that we will make every attempt to fix a schools data should something go wrong. We employ a team to support this activity.

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    I think that this issue is not a simple one and it would be greatly helped by feedback from experienced users who might be able to shed a light on the technicalities.
    From our visits to schools to try to help them get their data out, the main problems using RepDef reports seem to be:
    1. When choosing the file to export, the narrow display box can clip the last characters of file names - often the date. Trial and error is then needed to find the right file.
    2. The data gets 'rolled over' and often can't be found again
    3. Data exported for the correct cohort sometimes has blank fields e.g. no subjects and grades
    Re:2 We include an option in the RepDef to choose a date (prior to rollover)
    Re:3 We were told that this last problem occurs when a school didn't do its housekeeping 'Export to DMS'. We have documented this but it rarely solves the problem when exported files are blank.
    Our final option for schools when all this fails is to ask them to contact their SIMS support team. To date this last option hasn't yet resulted in a school getting its hands on the data that it put into SIMS in the first place.
    My feeling is that SIMS needs a far easier and more reliable data export option. With inspection depending more on schools analysing their own data this is going to be an obstacle on a national scale. I dont feel that SIF is going to solve the problem of allowing a school to get its base data out again, although I can see the sense of SIF for enabling linking with a Learning Platform.

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Part of me is split on this.

    I want to be able to say that performing SQL queries and scripting them to get data out into another system seems a fine idea ... apart from the fact that I have just spent 9 months building up a reporting system within Assessment Manager and I know that it is tailored for my school, and it'll be a pig to build up the required queries to get data out, even if I knew where to get it from.

    I also know that within SIMS there are good methods of getting the data into certain formats with a certain amount of analysis already done via Assessment Manager.

    I know that if I was to do the same in CMIS my answer would still be the same ... and presumably for the other major MIS too.

    Transer of data to another system is fine you getting a school to specify what data is need is a nightmare. Seriously ... some will want homeworks recording into it, some attendance (per lesson), some will only want termly predicted grades, other to include effort too ... and then you have software that marks work and has to dump it somewhere ....

    It is individual to each teacher, to each department and each school.

    Do we say that MIS providers should give everyone a complete layout of their database and complete access? Free of charge after they have spent so many years building, breaking and rebuilding it? I can understand why they hesitate.

    Yes, it is getting better ... and some issues with data come down to the school not knowing what they want or understanding what they have.

    The advent of RAISEonline and the increased use of data to hound schools has pushed this to the forefront, but there are still too few people in schools that have the knowledge and expertise to work with data in a fashion where we can say 'give the complete access' with the risk of breaking things, or misunderstanding them.

    Until there is a piece of paper giving schools serious guidance on what the minimum they are expect to record and analise we will have issues ... and the material that has gone to schools (or available via various training courses from SSAT, NCSL, ASCL, etc) tends to leave it open for schools to decide what to do.

    This results in a lot of work being done creating clever excel worksheets, or mangling into Access or a second DB, increasing the work required.

    Successful schools tend to keep it simple, failing schools go into overload ... surely there must be a middle ground?

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    At work we use CMIS, we find this a pain to get the data the way we want it easily, in my opinion we pay alot per year for this system and should be able to have analysis and the push of a button not spend hours creating own reports, i do like the idea of being able to customise things for my self but i do belive there should be atleast some ways of producing those pretty graphs and colour comparissons with ease

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Welcome Mike. If you are looking for specific help on these forums you may need to provide a bit more information. Phil's question is a good start as to why your report may work with 80% of schools and not the others - is it the way you have constructed the report or could it be the quality of the data in the schools SIMS system ?

    1. When choosing the file to export, the narrow display box can clip the last characters of file names - often the date. Trial and error is then needed to find the right file.
    >>> we found using the Third Party SDK removed all the user generated errors in exporting SIMS data - any reason why you are not using this simple tool ?

    2. The data gets 'rolled over' and often can't be found again
    >>> can you clarify and expand what you mean ?
    Re:2 We include an option in the RepDef to choose a date (prior to rollover)
    >>> by rollover do you mean year end ? e.g. you may be exporting data for a group no longer on the school roll ?
    3. Data exported for the correct cohort sometimes has blank fields e.g. no subjects and grades
    >>> do you mean all the cohort or only some ?

    Re:3 We were told that this last problem occurs when a school didn't do its housekeeping 'Export to DMS'. We have documented this but it rarely solves the problem when exported files are blank.
    >>> do you mean fields or files ?

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook
    Part of me is split on this.

    I want to be able to say that performing SQL queries and scripting them to get data out into another system seems a fine idea ... apart from the fact that I have just spent 9 months building up a reporting system within Assessment Manager and I know that it is tailored for my school, and it'll be a pig to build up the required queries to get data out, even if I knew where to get it from.

    I also know that within SIMS there are good methods of getting the data into certain formats with a certain amount of analysis already done via Assessment Manager.

    I know that if I was to do the same in CMIS my answer would still be the same ... and presumably for the other major MIS too.

    Transer of data to another system is fine you getting a school to specify what data is need is a nightmare. Seriously ... some will want homeworks recording into it, some attendance (per lesson), some will only want termly predicted grades, other to include effort too ... and then you have software that marks work and has to dump it somewhere ....

    It is individual to each teacher, to each department and each school.
    Note: I am forced into using SIMS so my experience is only based on that product.

    Sure, but at least lets have this flexibility. Most schools are interested in data reporting that means something to them, rather than end of year returns and all these other statutory requirements. SIMS does not have to (and should not attempt to) fill every niche a school wants.

    Do we say that MIS providers should give everyone a complete layout of their database and complete access? Free of charge after they have spent so many years building, breaking and rebuilding it? I can understand why they hesitate.
    Yes - who exactly owns the database?

    Lets not forget that it seems many schools are forced into using SIMS because its what everyone else seems to use, rather than its merits or reputation as a quality product.

    It is no surprise that schools want to develop their own solutions, rather than giving another few £xxxk to Capita each year for a "new feature" that should have been included from the outset or one they can create for a lot less.

    If there really has to be such tight control why not have an arrangement where schools can read or write to the database as required, if they want to, using the business objects API.

    If the school then wishes to redistribute a product it has created commercially, it can pay Capitas license fee.

    For a company that is allegedly in service to schools, it seems to be rather protective of data that it does not actually own. Without the diligent data entry by schools in the first place, there is no "SIMS database".

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Lets face it there are only a few suppliers of MIS for schools and each one will build a product that fills the statutory requirements and thioose things that the majority of schools have asked for. They all have their merits and "issues". SIMS have the bulk of the market as until recently there wasn't much in the way of competition - this is changing. Schools need to look at the competitiopn and see what suits tham best. Only thios was will all the suppliers tailor their products to what is required in the marketplace. In my experience I cannot think of a single school who have either the time/experience to develop their own apps and in the odd occaision where even a small app have been developed it cannot be supported once the author has departed ........ a big risk I would say

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Well there's the third way. Keep an eye on some up and coming open source options. School Tool & FreeMIS

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Apologies for the typos - must get my fingers to do what they are told.

    Lets face it - all MIS are a joy to work with !!!

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    very true as long as it is supportable

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    It would be good to build a small Knowledge Base to document what this community knows about this subject.
    I think it is the case that every secondary school in the land takes exam data from their MIS and then an assistant head (perhaps) processes it in Excel (over 2-3 days?) to make lists to give to subject leaders and Governors. This is a huge expenditure of energy.

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    Re: Extracting data from an MIS

    Mike - I fit your description of a school IT professional with experience of exporting data but cannot help if you can't provide answers to the very specific questions posed in my reply of April 10th.

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