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How big data can change the way college students learn

Tracking the way students use online course materials could change the way professors teach, says Kenneth Cukier. Credit: Creative Commons Tracking the way students use online course materials could change the way professors teach, says Kenneth Cukier.
Credit: Creative Commons

You don’t have to search hard to find negative articles about the impact “big data” is having on our lives.

Two authors are working to change that. In their new e-book “Learning with Big Data: The Future of Education,” Oxford University’s Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and The Economist‘s Kenneth Cukier look at the positive impact data can have on education.

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Valuable data includes observing whether or not a student rewatches an online lecture, how long it takes to read a posted article, or whether or not they rewind or fast-forward through a video.

The pair argue that by examining the way students interact with online materials, professors can individualize their lessons for each student.

“Let’s say you get a B-minus in a class,” says Cukier. “But the teacher sees that you watched the lecture three times. That’s different from a student who gets a C but watched the lecture once or not at all.”

“And then let’s say the teacher discovers that you tend to look at the material only once, but you do really well,” he continues. “That means you are a really quick study and that they can accelerate you.”

Cukier also says studying big data would be particularly useful to students with learning disabilities or conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder.

“With kids with short attention spans, we can monitor when their attention starts to lag,” Cukier notes. “And then, sort of like what Hollywood does to keep a viewers attention, we can add things to help bring the student back.”

Of course, many people reading this are probably thinking that the idea that their professor can see how they prepare for class seems very Big Brother. Do we really want our schools to know that much about us?

The authors acknowledge that many students and teachers may need time to get used to the idea.

“It’s true that it can seem a little bit creepy,” admits Cukier.

“But all tech, in a way, is a little bit creepy. When Caller ID first emerged, people were outraged that anyone could see their phone number. Our values have changed over time.”

Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.

 
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