Big Data. Small Data. Big Decisions for Schools!

We already know that the average person alive today processes and is exposed to more information in one day than a person living in the 16th century did in their entire lifetime. One day in our lives passes by without the realisation that the data generated by humans is more than 70 times all the information in the US Library of Congress. This is everyday, 24/7/365 and it’s multiplying exponentially! This is Big Data; data too big we are often told to be of any real use in education beyond the possibility of corridors and staff rooms covered in graphs of various colours purporting to show us ‘something’.

The tiny clues that can hold the key for every student.

Misconceptions, misperceptions, misunderstandings and misuse threatens to pervade. Furtive glances, a bit of misdirected finger pointing and then decision-making paralysis sets in! The potentially invaluable becomes threatening and we soon tread past without a sideways look.

How do we productively use data in our schools then? Probably a better understanding will help.

  • Ignoring Big Data in education will come at a cost. In business, information is power and why should education be any different?
  • Big Data is not really about data, but about what we do with it. What decisions do we make because of this evidence gathering? What strategies do we decide upon as a school? And how do we make changes because of the patterns and trends that we observe right down to the individual student level? There is undoubtedly a distinctly human face to this and context is everything.
  • Big Data is not really about quantity anymore. It is no longer a blunt instrument. It is rapidly evolving into specifics, becoming concise but with the ability to provide volume. This will allow thinking in schools to have lean and focused outcomes. Interrogated it can provide us with valuable insights. Big Data shows us clearly already that children learn to speak earlier and younger, not through repetition but by learning words in context. The evidence is there, invaluable, indisputable, groundbreaking and amazingly useful in education.

When we move from the trends and correlations that Big Data gives us we encounter the ‘notion’ of Small Data. We move from understanding perhaps how an age group learns to how an individual learns. We work to understand that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation and move to drilling down to the ‘why.’ We ask deep questions as teachers, we debate the next steps, and from having a Big Data understanding we move towards a bespoke Small Data collection – the tiny clues that can hold the key for every student.

It is this analysis and use of technology that will be a factor in driving our school improvement. It will be personalised, invaluably useful evidence-based education. It’s then no longer about the big and the small really, because they go quite nicely together thank you!


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, jannekestaaks.

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