Big data has been driving revolutionary changes in education. There hardly remains an area in education not impacted by big data. You can notice the changes in the ways educational institutions are governed, course quality is managed and student participation and performance are managed. Compared to the education system in the past, the changes represent a radical shift in paradigm. Data is at the core of the revolution. Analytics is helping educational institutions to better manage course quality, student performance and behaviour and overall administration. Still, it is being asked in some quarters if such changes will improve absorption of lessons by students and encourage higher practical applications of the lessons learnt.
The education system can be understood from how its different areas worked before data was introduced.
Coaching: For the purpose of this article, coaching is defined as the methods applied to teach students. Coaching was provided both in the classroom and distance formats (and it still is). In the classroom, students would attend classes or lectures, attend practical or laboratory sessions and write tests. The defining features of the classroom coaching and, to a lesser extent, the distance education format, were the interaction and the relationship between the teacher and the student and the network of students In the distance education format, students would receive course materials sent by the educational institution, study, take periodic evaluations, and depending on the course, also attend a few classes.
Student evaluation: Students were evaluated based on their performances in the various tests. Usually, the test scores would reveal the inclinations of students towards disciplines. Teachers would pass feedback on the behavior of students although there would not be any mechanism of objectively storing feedback. Though a student’s behavior would be observed over a period of time and feedback provided, it was based purely on observation, gut feeling and other feedback.
Course materials: All students of a particular program were required to study the same syllabus and write the same tests. The course materials would be in the form of books, charts, various instruments depending on the stream, and audio and video content. Other then tests, quizzes or interactions, there was no way to find out how the students were absorbing the lessons.
Administration: Institutes would be administered pretty much based on planning, trial and error and experience. For example, the choice of extracurricular activities would be done based on votes, suggestions, experience and other factors but not data.
Education system after the introduction of big data
To understand the impact of big data on education, let us examine how the different areas have been impacted.
School administration and achievements
Schools have been able to objectively evaluate their achievements against their targets such as academic results, student discipline, teacher performance, quality of course materials, teacher-student interactions, and grievance redresses. A number of software tools, which help schools do the same, are available in the market. One such tool is Eduvant whose mission, according to its website, “is to help schools continuously improve student outcomes through intelligent daily data use.”
A mid-school in the US found that the number of students punished for indiscipline has been increasing. When the school investigated the incidents with the help of analytics, it discovered that the rise in indiscipline has coincided with a reduction in the number of school excursions such as sledding and ice skating trips. When the excursions were increased, indiscipline among students reduced. That was a real-life example of how data could solve problems in educational institutions.
It is being increasingly realized that application of data mining and analytics can help provide customized, intelligent course materials to students. Ability to absorb lessons varies across students and it is important to deliver course materials based on individual student’s aptitude and capacity. For example, while a student may be able to grasp theoretical descriptions of the laws of physics, another may need a lot of examples to understand the same. The images below show how data can help educational institutions provide an enjoyable, tailored learning experience to each student.
Reduce cheating and plagiarism
A number of tools and technologies are being offered to help educational institutions to detect, predict and prevent cheating and plagiarism in the examinations. One such tool is Proctortrack. Proctortrack installs webcams and microphones in examination halls to help identify incidents of cheating. The tool can store data on the habitual offenders and sporadic offenders and create a profile based on which, prediction patterns can be created. Educational institutions can examine the analytics and take steps. A number of experts, though, consider such tools to be excessively intrusive and unacceptable. Security researcher Jake Binstein, for example, published tips on getting around the Proctortrack system.
Unlike standard syllabus, a number of tools are now providing personalized learning experiences to students. As stated earlier in this article, learning abilities and aptitudes vary and that is what forms the basis of such tools. The tools take into account the natural aptitude, learning patterns and motivation of individual students and create tailored courseware. Such courseware is usually delivered through computers and tablets and is self-paced.
There are several case studies to prove how data has transformed how schools are run across the US.
In the Menomonee Falls School District in Milwaukee, almost every staff is obsessed with data. The cafeteria supervisor tracks data on student, teacher and parents’ preferences on food. The cleaner monitors dirt in the bathrooms.
It also appears that students are developing a special liking for data driven lessons. Alyssa Walter, a student of the Riverside Elementary School has been keeping track of her progress in the drawing class. According to Alyssa, “I like that it makes school more fun, and I like that you get to keep track of goals. Makes me feel proud of myself.”
Without a doubt, big data represents the next wave in education and it has the potential to transform education. However, one should not lose sight of the fact that amidst this data onslaught, the old-fashioned interaction between teachers and students and concepts like group learning still stands. While online learning is getting bigger, nothing still beats the effectiveness of practical applications or experiential learning. While data promises to provide a better learning experience, some experts still wonder if this will guarantee a better absorption of lessons. These experts believe that for all the knowledge delivered by the online platform, nothing beats the experience and wisdom of the classroom teacher.