How Big Data is Transforming Education

Published Jun-18-18

Drawing big data insights to personalize education and improve grades and graduation rates.

Education Sector, United States

The Story:

How Big Data is Transforming Education Leveraging large amounts of data has been eagerly embraced by multiple industries. From agriculture and healthcare to retail and banking, gleaning insights from data is making a tremendous impact, helping organizations to save money, increase productivity, develop new products, learn more about their customers and create improvements. And the education sector is no exception.

Education systems produce a lot of data about students and institutions. This includes information about students' attendance, their socioeconomic status and how well they’re doing as well as material about a school's courses and instruction times. Increasingly, vendors are going into schools and universities to sell apps, educational tools and software solutions. Through these student movements on campus can be tracked. This is less about big brother and more about helping individuals.

The data reveals when students log onto their online portals and where they are on campus. Teachers can also track and analyze the performance of students and use the data to predict how well or not they will perform. This enables them to easily pinpoint underperforming students and give them the customized help they need. Following are a few examples of where data is making inroads in the education sector.

Personalized Learning

AltSchool is a cluster of technology-empowered one-room schools in California that is collecting loads of data on its students such as how they learn with the aim of personalizing the education experience. Nearly everything is done on a computer and the data produced helps teachers to track a student's progress more quantitatively, on a daily basis. Classrooms are kitted out with custom-built cameras and microphones and everything that goes on inside them is recorded so that teachers can review student performance.

Boosting School Attendance

In 2016 an analysis of federal data by researchers revealed that six million children in the US were chronically absent from school, half of whom were enrolled at four percent of the nation’s school districts. In Michigan, 7,000 of the 17,000 children were missing ten percent of their classes. These findings led to a year-long effort by educators and authorities to raise attendance levels, however, they failed. So the state's education board decided to release the data to the community so everyone could see just how bad the situation had become. This prompted parents, grandparents, shop owners and other concerned citizens to rally round to prevent children from skipping class. Consequently, attendance levels rose.

Improving Graduation Rates

In an effort to boost student retention and graduation rates Georgia State University brought in software vendor the Education Advisory Board. The company spent time on the campus to develop a system that could track thousands of decisions students make each day and predict the likelihood of their academic success. The model was calibrated with 10 years' worth of data on every student, grade and course.

It is capable of checking around 800 variables and detects those students heading for academic trouble. In such instances, an email or text is automatically sent to the student and their lecturer/advisor asking them to meet. In its first year of operation, the system was responsible for 50,000 such meetings and the results were immediate with fewer students dropping out and improved graduation rates.

Big Data Opportunities and Challenges

Big data is ripe with opportunities but it’s not without its challenges. Among them are privacy and security, expense, coping with the sheer volume of data, asking the right questions to dig for meaningful insights and being mindful that many factors influence learning.

Technology is transforming education and big data is a part of this revolution. Providing we can understand what it is telling us it can lead to improved instruction, lower dropout rates and better grades.

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