Will Education Capitalize on Big Data?

Many educators are weary of using big data in the classroom. I can see why and empathize with many educators. Looking at the bigger picture, there are many decisions that need to be made about the fundamental use of big data by social and cultural researchers. Six provocations for Big Data, by Boyd and Crawford, examines quantitative data by addressing six challenges that will impact future decisions:

  1. Automating Research changes the definition of knowledge
  2. Claims to objectivity and accuracy are misleading
  3. Bigger data are not always better data
  4. Not all data are equivalent
  5. Just because it is accessible doesn’t make it ethical
  6. Limited access to Big Data creates new digital divide

I want to focus on point #5 and #6 regarding ethical issues and the new digital divide. For one, children cannot give consent and two, not all populations have access to Big Data. To further explain accessibility, read the article “13% of Americans don’t use the internet. Who are they?” released by Pew Center Research on September 7th, 2016 by Anderson and Perrin.

We need to question the assumptions and methodologies associated with Big Data in Education. These larger numbers can demonstrate a larger trend but in return, it erases small stories. Common metrics, as described in The Reader-to-Leader Framework, only captures how much activity students are contributing towards the platform or application, meaning how many comments, posts, or progress done for an assignment. This only tells the educator a really small piece of the pie. Big Data cannot capture student’s personality, learning style, what the student has learned or their understanding of a concept. This can open up a whole new can of worms about standardized testing versus project-based learning. I strongly believe that both the macro and micro picture is needed in order to tell the whole story.

Big Data + Small Stories = Whole Story

I’ll leave you off with a video that Dr. Kristin Gorski presented, “Big Data in Education: The Next Revolution” where Kenneth Cuckier, the guru of Big Data in education, believes that education can be customized to individual needs using Big Data.

“The fact is, we need to save our kids from the educational system that was built for a different era, the industrialized, mechanistic, one size fits all assembly line era. We can now tailor it just as we have with apps, Amazon recommendations, and Google searches that are tailored to our interests. We need education that is tailored to our needs and the best way that we learn.” – Kenneth Cuckier

 In the end, can the world of education truly benefit from Big Data?


One thought on “Will Education Capitalize on Big Data?

  1. Thanks, Andrea. I really like the way you tie the recent course material together in this post.

    I also wanted to share a “small story” about some other “small stories.” A couple years back a conference I planned hosted a keynote speaker from a new media education company. This company has a lot of users, a lot of YouTube views, a lot of app downloads. It would have been easy for the founder to have gotten up on the podium and shared a bunch of user data. We all would have been impressed and wished that we could have built a cool company like this with “big” metrics.

    Instead, she got up and said, “I don’t really know what these numbers mean. I’m more interested in the stories.” She then spend the next few minutes sharing user anecdotes—quotes from actual people the company had actually reached out to and asked for feedback from.

    And everyone in the room said, “Oh, well I can do that. We don’t have many users, but we have enough that we could reach out to some and ask them for their stories.”

    It was really empowering. And of course then she spoke a bit about how, as you say, “Big Data + Small Stories = Whole Story” (or at least “Wholer Stories”). In other words, the small stories helped interpret the big data and chart a path forward for the company.

    Anyway, it left an impression, and I really wanted to share. Thanks again!


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