Big Data and Educational Technology

Guest post by Owen Lawlor, Hadoop/MPP Data Science, Social and Strategic Technology Advisor, Victory Productions.

When we look back at 2013 and the seismic shifts in education taking place we identify that there will be not one but 3 major trend confluences taking place transforming EdTech: (1) big data (2) the consumerization of IT and (3) the democratization of data.

Seemingly in the past 12 months, you could not visit an airport newsstand, tech news site or blog that has been untouched by the headlines, hype and hyperbole surrounding Big data and its seemingly magical powers to transform all our lives.
Now there is: Big data in Healthcare, big data in Social Systems, big data in Science, big data in Traffic Systems and big data in City Planning Management. In fact, there IS a lot of hype surrounding big data, but is this just where we are the technology adoption cycle or is it really something more?

Gartner Group recently estimated big data spending over the next 5 years to equal nearly a quarter TRILLION dollars. Clearly some very serious commercial and industrial applications are seeing immediate and rewarding returns on investment within big data. Data also is growing exponentially driven by all the new unstructured social, video, logging and sensor data. We now create more data in 2 DAYS than was created from the dawn of civilization up until 2003! Entire industries are now converging with that data like never before and by 2020 most consumers will expect and even demand that big data inform nearly everything they consume and do.

The opportunities to capitalize on this data are also growing. But what about education? Does big data have any application in EdTech? Having personally led and participated in multiple big data projects for close to five years now, ranging from creating solutions like intelligent multi-dimensional search systems, social system analytics, dynamic big data visualization, corporate virtual systems integration and various government programs, the answer resoundingly is “YES”!

The next generation of apps will have big data embedded within them as consumers increasingly expect and demand customization for their specific usage and individualized needs. Think beyond “Siri” here. There not only is a place for big data in education, it may actually be one of the most interesting and socially valuable big data applications of all, and possibly even an essential step to make it feasible to meet the new Common Core requirements.

When we do look back on 2012 and the seismic shifts taking place in EdTech the single most exciting capability in our estimation is that integrating big data analytics and capabilities to create a more efficient, more focused and more meaningful learning space for all education system stakeholders.

On its own, big data is certainly an exciting opportunity to be seized upon. When it is combined with the advent of the consumerization of technology via mobile and tablet computing growth exploding and bringing with it interesting evidentiary improvements in student outcomes through increasingly numerous studies, the opportunities to leverage what that data can do for us expand geometrically. The opportunity to have portable technology that ties in with big data back-ends provides a dramatically synergistic potential combination.

Now with the consolidation of textbooks into iPad iBooks, tablet and portable devices and the commensurate cost savings drivers associated to help push district and state spending downwards, vast new opportunities in this new digital form factor to provide rich media, interactivity and embedded assessment that the digital natives expect. All served up to them in with specificity and relevance. A customized learning experience is now available.

Content can now interact with the learner, providing both a more interesting, meaningful and targeted experience as well as providing useful automated and scaffolded intervention. Sequence and timing data can provide useful logging trails that can provide recommendation engines with the data logs that can be analyzed to provide more targeted and real-time intervention to engage and improve student outcomes.

As good as some of these systems might become, the “final mile” is the critical democratization of that data to the teachers and students themselves. Being able to provide platforms that enable teachers inside the classroom to focus their intervention efforts and to be able to visualize and respond in intuitive, clear and actionable ways where their teaching could be most actionable and effective. To provide important views and response paths to this performance data to teachers on students who may be requiring intervention, in specific areas in real-time, aligned with learning standards can help them dramatically save them time and provide help to those who need it most, at the optimal time they need it. It can help identify when students are bored, and help provide adaptive paths to engage and challenge them. It can potentially identify when a teacher may want to look at how they are teaching and relate that methodology for their given desired outcome, all framed within the new national standards.

Pushing actionable relevant data down to the end users in a form that is understandable, actionable and pedagogically sound when they need it is truly revolutionary. At the end of the day the confluence of the three very powerful technology drivers in our lifetimes that, while on their own are quite impressive, but when converged provide the singular opportunity to dramatically improve learning outcomes in very clear and distinct ways.

We see the potential of these technologies applied to the very real problems of improving STEM learning, learning customization and national competitiveness on the very near term horizon. Being able to use data to predict and improve student outcomes may indeed even be one of the most powerful opportunities for the education system to help regain global competitiveness, drive job growth and help balance the skills deficit.

Feel free to email me with your thoughts!