Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Bigfoot Of Big Data - Educational Myth vs. Reality

Source: Dell Family Foundation
Two mysteries surround the use of "Big Data" in education: 1) how statistics will affect teachers, and 2) how information will affect students. Businesses and particularly tech aggregators have been collecting consumer data for years. School districts and government agencies are now beginning to realize the potential in tapping libraries of student stats.

We've written several times about the fate of education in the era of big data. One organization quickly establishing itself as the vanguard of prudence in weighing educational data is the Dell Family Foundation. The Foundation has produced responsible research and clear graphics about the myths versus the realities of schools' numbers.

Some of the fiercest fables about educational data center on the perceived "newness" and "absolutism" of collected stats. As the Dell Family Foundation stresses, student test scores do not equal perfect data. Input comes from many sources, to inform teaching and to empower educators, parents, and children to make wise choices. Today's data problems stem from research being sequestered, denied to certain constituencies. It is released only to buttress political points and support test-based outcomes, rather than achievement-based solutions.

Source: Dell Family Foundation
Source: Dell Family Foundation
An interesting point by the Dell Family Foundation is how enlightened data can enhance teacher creativity. In fact, "data-driven insights encourage innovative approaches to teaching." By analyzing student strengths and weaknesses, educators can better know each pupil and can design unique strategies to inspire each child. This model of imaginative data is a far cry from the NCLB stencil that ranks children and schools solely on numerical scores, divorced from context and nuance.

The following articles offer informed debate about educational findings:

Source: Visual News
As companies and schools dash headlong into the data maelstrom, they are often unsure of what to grab and where to focus. A steady approach to data mining comes via a Numerate Choir post, called "Data Science Is The Old New Thing." Writer Mike Greenfield gives four profiles of information operators, from the simplest to the richest: "Null Set," "Collect Only," "Data Economics," and "Data Hacking." If schools are to push back effectively against districts and governments that want to alchemize test scores, they need to embrace their treasure troves and become data hackers themselves, differentiating facts just as they differentiate instruction.

Then, as schools grow comfortable with their Excel spreadsheets, the crucial question for students becomes, "What Skills Are Essential For Big Data?" In considering how our children might fare in their Brobdingnagian century, James Kobielus, Senior Program Director of Big Data Analytics at IBM's warehousing blog, gathered an expert panel of industry insiders to lay out the critical proficiencies for math, science, and technology. His work couples neatly with Frank Catalano's at Mind/Shift, who recently probed the question of "How Will Student Data Be Used?" James Locus at Hortonworks similarly scrutinized the differences between traditional and emerging educational analytics.

All of these informed voices agree that the verdict is still out on the future of school stats. Steve Schoettler, Founder and CEO of Junyo, echoes this uncertainty in his eye-opening talk about "Learning Analytics" at the Strata Conference 2012. He explains the importance of using data to provide individualized feedback and the confusion over how to access fertile data. This understated clip gives food for thought as we approach the daunting data buffet:



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