Most people associate Big Data with private businesses looking to better track consumer behavior, scientists trying to understand the underpinnings of the universe or political campaigns finding the votes they need to win an election.
However, data analysts continue to find new uses for the mammoth amounts of information now available. These days, that also includes Big Data in education.
Education analytics, as we’ll refer to it here, is a growing field that school administrators are hoping to leverage for improved student success. That includes identifying those in need earlier and also helping colleges and universities better support their students (and, ultimately, the financial health of the schools, as well).
Making the Most of Education Analytics
There are various ways to use Big Data in education, some more ambitious than others.
Currently, schools use data collected from students to identify trends. For example, the Hattiesburg Public School District in Mississippi uses data from students who score low on assessments or miss a lot of school, allowing them to intervene sooner to improve the student’s performance.
In Spokane, Washington, the school district improved graduation rates by 8% in three years by using various data sets to determine patterns in students who typically drop out of high school. Again, administrators were able to intervene early and help more students graduate.
A similar “early warning system” also has been built by the Alabama Department of Education using test performances and other data points.
The use of education analytics can also better prepare students for college. Administrators can use data from past classes to see the trends that led to success in college and attempt to put more students on that path.
Universities already use analytics in recruiting students. They analyze test scores and other data points to determine which students have the best chance to stay in school and graduate with a degree.
But some go much further. One California company, Altschool, advocates a larger plunge into data analytics. The company backs ideas such as using cameras to track student behavior as well as microphones to pick up every word students say – perhaps even infrared cameras to detect what students touch throughout the day.
The basic idea is that the more data collected, the better researchers can understand the connection between certain types of behavior and certain types of educational outcomes.
Like so many other industries that have embraced data, the issue hindering a wholesale plunge into the use of education analytics is privacy. According to a report from the National Academy of Education, many parents have voiced concerns about how student data will be collected and used.
This has led to the creation of three federal laws that address privacy and educational data. Some states also are working on privacy laws of their own. In all, 36 states have passed 85 new education policies pertaining to educational analytics.
Many parents may continue to balk at allowing data to be collected on their children, particularly at the level proposed in strategies such as the one from Altschool. But if data analytics can help improve student scores as expected, their view of data may soon change.