Source: Unsplash | Shridar Gupta
Big data has gotten a lot of hype in the last few years. Improved data infrastructures, along with cheaper access to them, has made data collection, usage and storage more feasible for a lot more organizations. No longer is big data restricted to the “big boys,” the Googles and GEs of the for-profit world. Now, even small companies and non-profits are utilizing big data to facilitate better business, service and management decisions. Here’s just a few ways big data is influencing the education sector:
A lot of educational research has depended on the direct observation of students and teachers within a classroom setting. Additional data is often self-reported, with interpretation of various points influenced by individual biases and experiences. Neither is very time-effective. Monitoring student behaviors in real-time via software applications helps officiate better student outcomes by replacing some of these human-led research techniques with automated ones less prone to error. Tracking how long each student takes to answer a test question or how often each participates in a classroom discussion can provide educators with the impartial data points necessary to develop curricula that more accurately approach students’ learning styles.
It’s always hard to infer causation. However, it becomes easier the more data a researcher has on hand. Big data can provide schools with access to information that is both multi-dimensional, as well as spans decades rather than just a few years, making it less challenging for them to correlate or even corroborate a cause with an effect. Via big data, schools can track individual student performance as each enters the workforce and then beyond. If major trends emerge, such as journalism students having difficulty finding entry level jobs, then options for increasing student preparedness can be discussed.
Big data analytics can also help guide schools with their resource allocations. Information regarding digital usage of certain resources and tools (such as the number of students using an electronic journal or the time spent on school-issued iPads) can highlight the services and devices that are being utilized the most, allowing schools to determine whether their budgets might be better spent elsewhere.
Of course, big data isn’t infallible. To get reliable results, schools must ensure that they are mining data that is true and timely. It’s not unlike using any other sort of data. When you learn how to do market research, for instance, you learn to critically evaluate your sources and make decisions based only on the information that is both accurate and relevant. So, too, must educators learn to use big data. It should never be assumed that just because big data exists, it should or could always be used.