A Case Study in the Importance of Data Integrity

Data integrity is really, really important.  No, I mean *really* important.  It’s tedious, boring, and unsexy – but how we tag, label, sort and publish information is critical.

Eye of Sauron

It’s more important than before because the good news is that it’s being used more than ever (instead of wasting away in moldering file cabinets).  The open architecture of so much of the Web 2.0 platforms means that we can mash data in new ways for new ends.  The bad news, though, is if the data isn’t sound – it can lead to problems.

Case in Point: my friend and colleague Donna Kragt in Grand Rapids Community College’s Institutional Research & Planning Department just informed me that I helped uncover a state-wide problem in how colleges in Michigan report data to the Federal Government.

If the Internet is Middle Earth, I try to be the equivalent of the Eye of Sauron for GRCC [ask your geek friends].

I discovered that “Braintrack College & University Directory” (a 3rd party student-oriented website) was incorrectly informing students that GRCC offers degrees in Public Relations Management.  I found out that they had scraped the data for GRCC’s profile from a federal database.  They also scraped a variety of other data from other locations, like our Student Life offerings and enrollment numbers.

One’s first instinct might be to get upset with Braintrack for repurposing this data – but that’s  misguided.  It’s actually good that other entities like Braintrack are doing so; it ultimately helps put GRCC in touch with more students (they’re a third party so their reporting on GRCC has more credibility than our advertising efforts, plus they may format the data in a more user-friendly way for prospective students, and they may even do their own promotional campaigns – all of which benefit us).

Related to data integrity is a story that was just published in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Marc Perry (“College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities”) about a study showing that most college web content can’t be viewed by people with visual impairments.  This is important not only for ADA compliance, but because computers (like those that power search engines) are very similar to people with visual impairments: they rely on text to be able to experience the world – and making a site more ADA-complaint also allows search engines and social networking platforms to more easily index the site.  On a positive note – Blackboard (the course management tool used by GRCC) was just lauded for its handicap-accessibility.

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