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Big Data Means Big Decisions for Education

  • May 31, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

This is the first article in a multi-part series that will explore data in the classroom.

Data drives finance, communications, healthcare, e-commerce, sports, and media—to name just a few industries. In education, the promise of the data-driven, “smart” classroom is transformative— potentially, a “man on the moon” leap. From streamlining time-intensive tasks and generating critical insights to raising student performance and generating benchmarks for educators, schools, and districts, data could fuel tremendous efficiencies and innovation for the world of academics.

Still, there are valid concerns and obstacles, which for many are preventing progress. Some are worried that leveraging big data might just be yet another step in the “automation of learning”— a move toward looking at students through the lens of ones and zeroes, rather than as individuals. Also, the role of the teacher, already in a state of rapid evolution through adoption of other classroom technologies, would, in a data-driven classroom, require even greater adaptations.

Yet, standing still too long might be the worst choice. As education ponders these perspectives, the world continues to change—and, in the case of data-driven for-profit education models, compete.

Here are the keys to understanding the conversation around the data-driven classroom.

Data-driven teaching and learning.
Data-driven teaching and learning isn’t about automating a naturally intricate and complex process. More so, it’s about using data to make more sound decisions in regards to teaching and learning processes. What can be done better? Where are there gaps? Formative insights can be found through analytics—whether they are student-based insights or curriculum-based insights.

There’s no telling what, specifically, teachers might uncover when mining data for insights—but whatever it is, it’s sure to be valuable. Determining what to measure can prove tricky, but the results are often worth the trouble.

Benefits and goals.

Smarter decisions. Intuition is great, but data to back intuition is even better. Big and small data can lead to more sound decisions being made in the classroom—ranging from what subjects need review, to which technologies work best, to how classroom progress is comparing to schools’ overarching goals and objectives.

Closing student achievement gaps. Data can help teachers better understand the range of knowledge in their classrooms. From there, teachers are able to focus efforts on bringing struggling students up to speed so that the classroom can continue to move forward without anyone falling behind.

Data sharing and aggregation. The more data is pulled together, the more schools and districts can define key trends and areas of strengths and weaknesses. Data does not hold all the answers, but it can be helpful in determining where leaders should be looking. Why are school A’s students failing to master Social Studies, while school B’s students are excelling? Predictive data especially can be used to mark red flags and spot patterns and trends.

Individualized learning. If used strategically, data can result in helping teachers shift from one to many instruction to one to one instruction. Using collected data, teachers can have a better informed view of what each student’s strengths and weaknesses are. Plus, data in hand leads to opportunities for content customization through tie-ins to digital textbooks or possibly other digital devices in the classroom.

Grading the teacher and the district. Keeping teachers and districts accountable for lessons learned is an essential aspect of ensuring overall success. Data can help to prove progress, as well as benchmark strengths and weaknesses so that continual improvement is made.

Keeping up with for-profits. As more and more for-profits elbow their way into the education space, teachers are tasked with keeping up. Data can help them to do more with less, battling feelings such as those from Michael Godsey, an English teacher based in San Luis Obispo, California:

“I measured myself against these websites and Internet companies. It seems clear that they already have a distinct advantage over me as an individual teacher. They have more resources, more money, an entire staff of professionals, and they get to concentrate on producing their specialized content, while the teacher is—almost by default—inherently encouraged to transform into a facilitator.”

Obstacles and concerns.

Of course, the benefits of data use are met with obstacles and concerns. As districts, schools, and teachers face a sea of startups, selecting and tailoring an effective platform can be challenging. Plus, even once the right platform is selected, that decision needs to be backed by sufficient investment and successful implementation.When talking about the collection of student data, privacy worries also become relevant. Data needs to be secure, with a close eye kept on who has access, what it’s being used for, and what measures are in place to ensure student safety.

Logistics aside, using data also raises some concerns about the ways of the classroom. Will using too much data shift the role of teachers? The “human” factor is essential to learning—interactions make the experience more thought-provoking, and thus richer. Also, could too much emphasis on quantitative vs. qualitative put teachers at risk for making snap judgements? All of those concerns are valid, and can be counteracted by using data in conjunction with other non-numerical observations.

The factors surrounding big data’s role in education require thoughtful consideration and ultimately, big decisions. Despite the wide range of factors to consider, one thing seems clear: The question of moving toward the data-driven, “smart” classroom is not one of if, but how and when.

View Lenovo Education’s The Journey to the Data-Driven Classroom infographic here.

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Reference Articles:

1. “The Future of Big Data and Analytics in K-12 Education” Education Week. January 11 201 6.
2. “The classroom will learn you” IBM Research.
3. “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher” The Atlantic. March 25 2015.
4. “5 Digital Platforms Leading the Future of Ed-Tech” McGraw Hill Education. March 23 2015.
5. “Infographic: Classroom data myths” Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. July 10 2012.