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Data Command Force


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    Big Data and Immediate Feedback: Be Careful of What You Wish For
    by Susan Ohanian

    I want to know how many children Darrel M. West has taught to read.

    Darrell M. West

    Vice President and Director, Governance Studies
    Founding Director, Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings

    author Digital Schools: How Technology Can Transform Education

    Here is the beginning of West's Brookings paper Big Data for Education: Data Mining, Data Analytics, and Web Dashboards, Sept. 2012

    Imagine this scenario: twelve-year-old Susan took a course designed to improve her reading skills. She read short stories and the teacher would give her and her fellow students a written test every other week measuring vocabulary and reading comprehension. A few days later, Susan's instructor graded the paper and returned her exam. The test showed that she did well on vocabulary, but needed to work on retaining key concepts.

    In the future, her younger brother Richard is likely to learn reading through a computerized software program. As he goes through each story, the computer will collect data on how long it takes him to master the material. After each assignment, a quiz will pop up on his screen and ask questions concerning vocabulary and reading comprehension. As he answers each item, Richard will get instant feedback showing whether his answer is correct and how his performance compares to classmates and students across the country. For items that are difficult, the computer will send him links to websites that explain words and concepts in greater detail. At the end of the session, his teacher will receive an automated readout on Richard and the other students in the class summarizing their reading time, vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension, and use of supplemental electronic resources.

    In comparing these two learning environments, it is apparent that current school evaluations suffer from several limitations. Many of the typical pedagogies provide little immediate feedback to students, require teachers to spend hours grading routine assignments, aren't very proactive about showing students how to improve comprehension, and fail to take advantage of digital resources that can improve the learning process. This is unfortunate because data-driven approaches make it possible to study learning in real-time and offer systematic feedback to students and teachers.

    In this report, I examine the potential for
    improved research, evaluation, and accountability through data mining, data analytics, and web dashboards. So-called "big data" make it possible to mine learning information for insights regarding student performance and learning approaches.[1] Rather than rely on periodic test performance, instructors can analyze what students know and what techniques are most effective for each pupil. By focusing on data analytics, teachers can study learning in far more nuanced ways.[2] Online tools enable evaluation of a much
    wider range of student actions, such as how long they devote to readings, where they get electronic resources, and how quickly they master key concepts.

    [1] James Manyika, Michael Chui, Brad Brown, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Charles Roxburgh, and Angela Byers, "Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity," McKinsey Global Institute, May, 2011.

    [2] Felix Castro, Alfredo Vellido, Angela Nebot, and Francisco Mugica, "Applying Data Mining Techniques to e-Learning Problems," Studies in Computational Intelligence, Volume 62, 2007, pp. 183-221.
    Darrell M. West starts off his book) quoting John Dewey: "if we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." Indeed. You have to know something about how children learn to read to know that West is showing how Big Data is used to deliver the very worst aspects of past reading instruction.

    I'd guess that 90% of the technology traveling under the name of Big Data won't offer badly needed education innovation. Instead, it will insure that all instruction will be standardized: All teachers doing the same thing. . . preparing for endless Common Core testing. Thus, Big Data is more like Big Basal than Big Innovation or Big Idea.

    For a look at why corporations are so excited by Big Data, take a look at this brief list of what some of them are up to:
  • Datapalooza at the U. S. Department of Education
  • Pearson is the largest trustee of student data.--Jonathan Harber, CEO K-12 Technology Group
  • Big Data Pearson Labs
  • Pearson: Big Data:Principles and best practices of scalable realtime data systems
  • Big Data McGraw-Hill Webinars for Teachers and Educators
  • Big data The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity
  • Robust Data Gives Us The Roadmap to Reform--Arne Duncan
  • The IBM Pure Data System for Analytics
  • Big Data Solutions
  • Expanding broadband in every school will mean that students will benefit from higher standards and the assessments that go with them, along with a new generation of learning technologies--Arne Duncan
  • News Corp Joel Klein Outlines Plans for Amplify Education Unit Klein outlined a $17 billion K-12 market targeted by Amplify. "Schools want this."

  • Schools want this.


    Prediction: Immediate feedback may well prove to be the most destructive element in 21st Century Education innovation.

    — Susan Ohanian
    October 30, 2013

    Index of Data Command Force

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