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There's a lot of talk these days about going paperless, but when it comes to data collection for special educators, the jury is still out. Some teachers have said using digital forms and mobile devices have been game-changers, while others find that collecting data on paper during the school day works best for them.

So which is better?

Data Collection: Digital or Paper?

The answer is – it depends.

I know, I know, but it's true! You can always learn more and try different things to see what works best for you. In this blogpost, I'm sharing my experience when it comes to both methods of data collection.

Digital Data Collection Methods

There are a few things to keep in mind if you're considering going digital with your data collection on electronic devices. First, digital tools can be a major distraction in the classroom, so make sure you have a plan to minimize disruptions. Digital forms can sometimes be tricky to use, so make sure you test them out before using them with students. You also have to consider how strong your internet connection is if using a digital platform and the wide variety of different mobile applications you can use. When using paper, you don’t have to worry as much about data entry errors since you are writing.

While they may have a few drawbacks, digital forms also have amazing benefits. You can easily share them with other staff members and they are easy to organize into visual graph displays to communicate results. Additionally, using digital forms ensures that my data is always backed up and accessible from anywhere in real time. Data analysis is also fast and easy to do electronically.

Paper Forms of Data Collection

Traditional paper-based methods include data binders, checklists, and other tracking spreadsheets. Sometimes the comfort level of being able to see the entire tracking sheet at one time is worth it when you're dealing with large volumes of data. Another benefit to using a paper survey or form is the omission of potentially distracting technology, especially when it can be a huge reinforcer (and not the positive kind) to a student you're working with.

The downside of using traditional methods of paper processes for data collections includes flipping through to find the correct data form (which usually resulted in grabbing a sticky note or back of a worksheet). And of course – I don't even want to say it – you could misplace a paper copy right when you need it the most!

Both a paper-based and digital format are a great way to collect data and can be used by multiple data collectors.

So which one format did I end up using?

It's probably no suprise, but I used a bit of both! I've found that using paper data tracking (like paper-based surveys) during the school day for initial data collection and then organizing/analyzing/sharing the collected data using digital tools (like Google Forms) works best for me. This allows me to quickly and easily collect data while I'm working with students (paper), and then I can organize and analyze it later when I have more time (digital).

One thing we can all agree on is that special education teachers collect massive amounts of data. When it comes to best practices, keep in mind that data quality is important no matter what data collection method you use – digital or paper. You also have to find the right tool for collecting accurate data that works for YOU.

Still not sure about choosing paper or digital and not sure if you'll make the right choice?

The good news is that you don’t have to! Take the first step and check out this bundle of digital AND paper data tracking sheets:

Let me know which data “team” you're on!

Hi there.

I'm Jennifer!

I’m Jennifer and I was a special educator in the elementary school setting over the past decade. I entered the classroom every day dedicated to making learning inclusive AND engaging.

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