Yale professors join forces to grade college COVID dashboards
When Yale’s Howard Forman started rating colleges’ online COVID dashboards on Twitter this past September, he imagined it would remain a personal, ad-hoc exercise. Forman, a professor at the School of Public Health and School of Management, often uses the social media platform to challenge people and institutions.
But when colleague Cary Gross, professor of medicine, read one of Forman’s tweets, he saw the potential for something much bigger.
“He took it from a little exercise to a methodological one,” said Forman, professor of radiology, public health (health policy), economics and management.
Together they created “We Rate COVID Dashboards,” a website that evaluates the online dashboards of over 290 U.S. colleges and universities and counting in response to the pandemic. Their system awards points based on dashboard readability, frequency of updates, separation of student and staff data, inclusion of city and county data, and information about the number of students in quarantine, among other factors.
As colleges and universities everywhere respond to the threat of COVID-19, faculty, students, staff, and families need clear and accessible information about how their institutions are monitoring the spread of the virus, the results of testing programs, and clear information about how the virus is affecting the community, the professors noted.
The grades of the colleges’ efforts can range from an F (for schools with no dashboard) to an A++, although no school has yet achieved that top grade. But several come close. An A+ rating has been given to Wagner College, Tulane University, The Ohio State University, and George Mason University, each of which ranked favorably for their readability and presentation of data. (Yale’s COVID dashboard received an A.)
The professors mentioned that the dashboard created by Ohio State is a perfect example of a college getting it right: with charts showing daily cases and hospital capacity in the state; student testing broken down by 7-day average and cumulative numbers in separate charts; isolation and quarantine beds available and occupied; and even data around availability of personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning efforts.
When the first launched the website in September, only 5 of the initial 100 schools under scrutiny received a grade of A, and 11 received a grade of A−minus. Now, in addition to the four universities with an A+ rating, 30 others have an A rating, and 33 have earned an A-minus.
Colleges and universities are aware of the rating system, and some have made improvements to their dashboards in order to earn more points, the professors said. “Over 20 schools have reached out, notifying us that they have modified their dashboards and wanting to be reevaluated,” Gross said.
In a recent Insights column in JAMA Network, Forman and Gross addressed the seriousness of the challenge facing universities; as of Oct. 1, colleges reported more than 130,000 COVID cases across more than 1,300 schools, and yet there were few clear guidelines around reporting. Despite the importance of informing students, employees, parents, and community members about transmission rates, the professors noted, there are no state or local mandates requiring universities to report their COVID-19 information, and no national guidance from the American Association of Universities or other organizations. We Rate COVID Dashboards aims to fill that gap, they said.
“Our goal is for everybody to have an A++,” Forman said, adding that “we are judging based on transparency, and we want all schools to elevate their transparency.”