Susan Winslow

The Evolving Role of Data in Student Education

Blog Post created by Susan Winslow Employee on Oct 13, 2016

Data plays a major role in the science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) subjects. Whether students are collecting information on a science project or analyzing trends on their stats homework, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data is vital for every student to know and understand. In fact, according to this Forbes article, “The Hiring Scale is 73 for jobs that require Big Data skills with 13 candidates per job opening as of November 16, 2015.” The demand for data jobs is on the rise and a STEM education can help students develop the skills they need to capitalize on this trend.

But this isn’t the only way in which data impacts STEM classrooms. As our world becomes increasingly digital, data is being used to improve every facet of education. Twenty years ago, getting text alerts about student performance via an app on our smartphones was too alien of a concept to even fathom. Today, we have the ability to check in via mobile on overall class analytics and can monitor where and when individuals are struggling or need intervention—in real time. This is essential when it comes to the intense nature of learning new subjects, where correct assessment and tailored remediation can mean the difference between failing and succeeding. The big data influence on education has new insights into learning and complexity.

Improving STEM education with Big Data

Our society’s current capability to capture massive amounts of information—in both our everyday lives and academia—is overwhelming. The collection, analysis, storing, and communication of all this information amounts to what we refer to as Big Data—or data so massive and complex that we can’t process it by traditional data processing means.

In the education field, schools amass information on everything from day-to-day attendance to student’s performance on standardized tests. This information compiles into national averages, where we’re able to study trends and make educated predictions.

In higher education, professors can use Big Data to see if attendance is slipping; if students have stopped logging into online assignments; and, in some cases, even pull up a heat map of students’ current involvement in homework assignments. There are cases where college campuses use data to track when students visit the student center or library and offer incentives based on this information.

Insight into these Big Data trends can change everything from how institutions offer financial assistance, to how we measure curriculum success.  

How Small Data might be the next big thing in education

While Big Data is important to pushing education forward, it turns out that it might be only one piece of the puzzle. Big Data equals big picture and when we only look at the big picture, we fail to see the individual (and often more interesting) reasons behind the results.

According to our STEM Summit 4.0 presenter Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, “These [big] data sets…often don’t spark insight about teaching and learning in classrooms; they are based on analytics and statistics, not on emotions and relationships that drive learning in schools. They also report outputs and outcomes, not the impacts of learning on the lives and minds of learners.”

Overall, Big Data fails to report on some of the insights and emotions behind the results. A professor may be able to look at test results and see that 90% of their students passed the final exam, but did they retain that information? Do their students feel that the information they learned will help them succeed in the real world? This type of Small Data analysis is as important to the evolution of education as Big Data is.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to data and STEM education, both Big and Small Data have their place in any successful classroom. Educators should have access to overall, big-picture trends, but they should also have the flexibility to make choices based on their own personal insight into their classrooms. By analyzing both Big and Small Data, you can ensure your students are learning to the best of their ability.

We’ll be hosting a deeper dive into the power of data at our upcoming STEM Summit 4.0, where we have a stellar lineup of presenters.  

In the meantime, please join the conversation on our STEM Summit 4.0 community site and get the data discussion started!