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Big Data and Education: Help or Harm?

use of big data in education
Lori Jones

The Internet population is growing very fast. Apparently, by 2017, the online community already reached 3.7 billion, and the numbers are still growing:

big data in education

The progression of online population growth 2012-2017 (Domo)

All these people produce tons and tons of data, passing over this information to other Internet users. Reportedly, we produce over 2.5 quintillion data on average every day.

The bigger half of this data belongs to the most active Internet users, among which are school and college students. Looking for, processing, and working with the information online, they leave digital breadcrumbs that become a part of big data, collected every day. This data, as a consequence, impacts education, changing it, and bringing both advantages and disadvantages.

However, before we get into the good and the bad, let’s clarify what big data is.

Defining Big Data: What It Is and What It’s Not

Among a variety of definitions, the most accurate one is shared by Oracle:

“Big data contains a great variety of information that arrives in increasing volumes and velocity.”

Thus, big data is more voluminous, than traditional data, and includes both processed and raw data.

Why ‘big’?

Commonly, this data is too large and too complex to be processed by traditional software. Besides, such amounts of information bring many opportunities for analysis, allowing you to take a glance at a specific concept from many different perspectives.

It is traditionally considered (and suggested by Oracle in the article, mentioned above) that big data is described by three main concepts: volume, velocity, and variety. However, these three concepts do not adequately describe the phenomenon of big data without the fourth and fifth components, which are variability and veracity.

Here’s how all these components contribute to big data:

big data and education

  • Volume: big data is collected from millions of different resources. The data that comes is usually of low density and unstructured. The volume of big data differs from the consumer: for someone, it may be tens of terabytes, and for someone else, it’s tens of petabytes.
  • Velocity: this aspect describes the pace of data coming in and getting exchanged or shared. The speed of big data is usually measured in real time.
  • Variety: big data is represented by different types, including raw, unstructured, structured, and verified data. Some of these types require further evaluation and analysis, while others are ready to use.
  • Veracity: moving further from the primary three Vs. of the big data, there is veracity, which is the aspect that identifies the credibility of the incoming data. Veracity means concentrating on removing bias, inconsistencies, flaws, and, more importantly, the duplication that brings no value (especially in education, where originality is a primary requirement).
  • Variability: this aspect describes the variety and consistency of ways through which big data is received. Data comes in periodic peaks. It may be seasonal and triggered by a specific phenomenon online.

Now that we gave the big data an in-depth look let’s talk more about its impact on education and the benefits and harms that it brings along.

Big Data and Education: Benefits

Big data has brought significant changes to many aspects of education. According to a study, published by the Publications Office of the European Union, the most significant change brought by the big data to education, is the ability to monitor educational systems.

Here are some examples of how it works:

  • Students create tons of data daily, and this data comes from different resources. For instance, some instructors incorporate Social Network Adapting Pedagogical Practice (SNAPP) into the teaching process, studying students’ blogs, and measuring how much they are interested in a specific course. This system also measures how well a certain instructor performs at teaching a course.
  • Measuring mistakes have become more comfortable with the introduction of Netlogo, which is a system that tracks clicks and measuring how many mistakes each student makes in a test and how much it took the students to perform each task.
  • One of the most significant achievements of the impact of big data on education is the creation of Learning Management Systems. It allows the instructors to create assignments and tests using the information that is already online using automation.

Al these implementations are the benefits of the influence of big data on the education system. These systems generate tons of big data themselves, keeping all parties of the educational process regularly updated.

education big data

The feature of automation, brought by these big-data-based systems, has itself resulted in many other benefits, like:

  • Credible grading
  • More dynamic grading programs
  • Improved student performance
  • Better learning experience.

The massive volumes of data bring much value for both educators and students.

The Dark Side of Big Data

Indeed, big data can bring solve many issues that educators struggled with a few decades ago. However, is it harmless? Not quite. Let’s take a look at the dark side of the big data and its possible negative impact on education to evaluate some of the biggest risks.

  • Low Internet use competencies. It has been talked for a while that students should be taught digital literacy at schools. It was reported that several countries around the world, including a few European countries, have adopted digital literacy as a part of their educational strategy. Students lack essential competencies that would allow them to use big data for their benefit
  • Hard-to-process data. Partly as the result of low digital literacy and partly due to its immense volume, big data is tough to process. The system of education still lacks proper software to manage so much data. Thus, both educators and students have a hard time getting the benefits they could get from big data
  • Faulty systems. Because of the lack of proper software, it is harder to determine flaws, inconsistencies, and, most importantly, duplication, avoiding which is so essential for education.

The biggest issue, however, is ethical, and it deals with the misuse of personal information. For instance, the error in using the SNAPP system, mentioned above, can result in the massive leakage of personal data.

Due to the lack of proper treatment and protection, personal information stored in data centers and used for analytical purposes in education still can be misused. With the risks of data theft increasing, this issue undoubtedly remains to be solved.

The Verdict

While having obvious benefits for the education system, big data still has many drawbacks, linked to the lack of technology to process it and put it to use. These disadvantages, though, bring a lot of data themselves that can be learned from.

The analysis of big data depends on many factors, like transparency, value to both the learner and the educator, expense, and openness. Taking these features into consideration, when working with big data in education will allow you to benefit from this data to the maximum extent.

As a verdict, the influence of big data and its use in education is still the subject of research. However, with further development, big data analysis can be effectively put to use and bring even more benefits for students and educators.

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