Filed under: News | Technology News


What's So Bad About Big Data In Little Classrooms?

Feb 25 2014, 7:51am CST | by

12 Updates
What's So Bad About Big Data In Little Classrooms?

YouTube Videos Tweets Comments

Full Story

What's So Bad About Big Data In Little Classrooms?

When I was a kid we used to have ‘book fairs’ at school. Once or twice a year, a room in the school would be transformed into a bookstore. Folding tables were covered in paperbacks. I remember glossy biographies of celebrities, movie novelizations, and TV show themed graphic novels.

Kids loved shopping. Regular books, recommended by our teachers, perfectly suited to our reading levels, were so much shinier and more exciting than the well-worn books in the library. Other than the awkward socio-economic realities it forced us to face–some kids had basically a blank check from their parents on book fair days–it was awesome.

I assume that in exchange for hosting the publishers, the school got a kick back. Some percentage of each sale likely went to the operating budget and kids were exposed to more ‘literacy.’ It sounds like a great deal. Everybody wins. But those were different times: back before the internet, long before we lost trust in corporate ethics, and words like “data-mining” were not even in our vernacular.

These old-school book sales weren’t the only thing that occupied my mind as I sat next to Joel Klein and Jim Steyer at The Student Privacy Zone Summit in Washington, DC. I also thought about other third party vendors with revenue models that historically gave them front line access to parents and students because of creative contracts that they had negotiated with schools. Consider those photos my mother bought for all my relatives on picture day. Consider the plethora of companies that manufacture yearbooks, class rings, and letter jackets.

Of course, we live in a different world now. At The Student Privacy Zone Summit, hosted by Common Sense Media and The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained that “personal data in education should be used only for educational purposes, not to sell snacks or video games.”Senator Edward J. Markey said it is our job to “ensure we animate tech with the human values we’ve inherited.”

I couldn’t help but think about the slippery slope we’re sledding on when we start making value judgments about products that are allowed into our school districts because they’re “educational” and the one’s that are not. The line between for-profit snack chips and for-profit publishing seems rather arbitrary to me.

That particular arbitrary line is one of the tight ropes that edtech walks. It is a tension between two big fears we have about implementing innovative edtech in all of our nation’s schools. One fear resides in some misguided fantasy about the purity of our current system–the idea that we don’t currently have and certainly don’t want–companies selling to our kids while they’re at school. The other is a fear of big data and the Orwellian police state.

What’s especially interesting about edtech is that it conflates these two fears into a jumbled narrative. Put simply, we worry that the data mined by the corporate oligarchy might be used as targeted advertising that’s delivered in such a way that it becomes indistinguishable from class instruction. Think of the school scene in Pixar’s optimistic dystopian movie Wall-E, where box retailers control everything and school children learn that “B is for Buy ’n’ Large, your very best friend.”

To see that this particular fear is not irrational, you need to understand just how much data is being collected.

Ordinarily, the term “student data” brings transcripts, grades, and attendance records to mind. But increasingly, Common Sense Media explains, “through online platforms, mobile applications, and cloud computing, schools and edtech providers collect massive amounts of sensitive information about students.”

Bus scheduling data provides addresses, athletics data provides shoe size, after school activity data provides a list of hobbies. When you cross reference data about all the students in a particular school you can interpolate who a particular student’s friends are likely to be. Add the books they bought at the book fair and their digital class pictures and you’ve got a ton of information that Common Sense Media believes “needs to be kept out of the hands of non-educational, commercial interests and other third parties.”

But is that really what scares us? After all, do those third parties really need that data? They already get metadata from our children’s Netflix queues. They can see purchase histories on Amazon. They can mine the spreadsheets, presentations, and essays students create through cloud based office apps. And social profiling can be taken to a whole new level thanks to public accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp, and Google. Do school records really provide so much more? I doubt it. So what scares us?

Some people are afraid that the goal is to create the school-day equivalent of check-out line candy bars merchandised at kids’ eye level. It may sound paranoid. But it’s a logical deduction to be made in an age when companies that primarily sell advertising (Google, NewsCorp) are implementing one-to-one student-to-device ratios in the name of ‘digital literacy’ and better content delivery.

No wonder a bunch of politicians, industry folks, and lobbyists got together at the The Student Privacy Zone Summit to talk about how we need to do something to make sure kids’ data is restricted to educational use only.

The thing is, we all agree with the idea of protecting kids, but the definition of educational use can be fuzzy. After all, reliance on data is increasingly making it possible to bring mind-blowing adaptive learning technologies to more diverse populations. Personalized learning is dependent upon collecting and assessing data in order to contextualize learning in a way that makes it more efficient and more precise.

Imagine how much more engaged a student would be if the word problems in their math workbooks were based on statistics from the ball game they streamed on the tablet last night? Imagine if school work included considering how a 20% off coupon would impact the final cost of an item put in an online shopping cart last night but never actually purchased. Imagine if essay prompts could be personalized to such a degree that they take into consideration the books and movies that individuals have been watching. Imagine if your history textbook could automatically adjust in such a way that it takes into account your nationality and teaches specifically how your ancestors played a part in world history.

I know that sounds scary to some people. But consider what it would do for knowledge retention. This is precisely the kind of thing that good teachers have always done in their classrooms. They collect data.

In my classroom at Temple University, I start each semester by finding out who the individual students in my classroom are: what are their majors, where are they from, what do they care about? Those goofy ice breakers are not just about creating a learning community, they also allow me to tailor my instruction to the people in the room. I adapt and personalize throughout the semester using the things I learn in personal essays, the jokes students tell in class, every tidbit of personal information they provide.

What frightens me most about big data legislation is that from the standpoint of advocacy we over regulate. I worry that, in the name of protecting people, we will recreate the same two classes of education that already exist: the elite who buy private education, the others who get public education for free.

Those who can afford to circumvent privacy legislation so that their children can reap the benefits of data driven education get shockingly precise adaptive technologies. Those who can’t afford it…well they get what they’ve always had: lowest common denominator content and testing that’s not personalized and doesn’t take cultural and socioeconomic differences into account.  Either way, the corporations will continue to target advertising wherever they’re allowed.

At the The Student Privacy Zone Summit, Arne Duncan said, “Privacy rules may well be the seat belts of this generation.” And that may be true. We’re at very interesting time in history. The Orwellian police state has already arrived and it is not all bad. We now see the benefits and the atrocities.

Big data is kind of like an overbearing mother. In some ways it can embrace and nurture us. In other ways it can restrain and constrict us. Being watched can be both comforting and imprisoning.

Of course, this has always been the question for educators, the tension of our craft. Is it our job to mold people into good citizens that abide by collective social conventions? Or to free individuals so they can think for themselves?

Jordan Shapiro is author of  FREEPLAY: A Video Game Guide to Maximum Euphoric Bliss. For information on his upcoming books and events click here.

Source: Forbes


You Might Also Like


Sponsored Update

Update: 12




Update: 11

IBM Smarter PlanetVoice: Five Ways Companies Can Compete Using Big Data and Analytics

Source: Business Balla

By Inhi Cho Suh, Vice President of Big Data, IBM Big data is just that–big–and it’s getting bigger. According to the research firm IDC, the worldwide big data technology a ...
Source: Business Balla   Full article at: Business Balla 15 hours ago, 8:51am CDT

More From the Web

Update: 10

IBM Smarter PlanetVoice: Five Ways Companies Can Compete Using Big Data and Analytics

Source: Forbes

By Inhi Cho Suh, Vice President of Big Data, IBM Big data is just that--big--and it's getting bigger. According to the research firm IDC, the worldwide big data technology and services market will grow at a 27 percent compounded annual rate, to exceed $32 billion by 2017. However, it's not o ...
Source: Forbes   Full article at: Forbes 15 hours ago, 8:22am CDT

Update: 8

Fujitsu develops 40Gb/s data search software


Jazz In The Gardens - Press Conference
Fujitsu has developed a new software technology that can perform data searches as fast as 40Gb/s –– an important step forward in managing an ever-increasing volume of information.The Fujitsu technology can perform high-speed capture, accumulation and searches at super-fast speeds, thanks to a combination of servers for scalable disk capacity and parallel-input performance, with a stream-analysis unit for sequential processing.As data packets are captured, they are automatically sorted b ...
Source:   Full article at: 16 hours ago, 7:50am CDT

Update: 7

BI Summit Roundup: Big Data Confusion Reigns

Source: Gartner Inc.

Alibaba To Kick Off IPO In U.S.
The Gartner BI Summits are an ideal venue to connect with vendors and end users not just in BI, but also the general Big Data space. Last week in Las Vegas I led two great roundtable discussions on the the Big Data Ecosystem. Interest was high: I was supposed to have a total of 28 attendees, but had 43. End users were happy to sit on the floor just to be part of the discussion. The roundtables were also a great opportunity to collect some data. Cl ...
Source: Gartner Inc.   Full article at: Gartner Inc. 3 days ago, 12:23pm CDT

Update: 6

Your Big Data Is Worthless if You Don’t Bring It Into the Real World

Source: Wired

Dow Falls As Technology Sector Stocks Tumble
If the big-data evangelists of Silicon Valley really want to “understand the world” they need to capture both its (big) quantities and ...
Source: Wired  Full article at: Wired 3 days ago, 5:48am CDT

Update: 5

Apigee Develops Its "Big Data Analytics" Story

Source: Forbes

With Marc Andreesen's oft-quoted truism that "software is eating the world", comes a parallel truism within the technology industry - Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), the glue that tie together discrete applications, data sources and services, are increasingly a critical part of the new te ...
Source: Forbes   Full article at: Forbes 4 days ago, 8:00am CDT

Update: 4

Improving Outcomes with Big Data at Innovation Enterprise’s Big Data & Analytics for Healthcare Summit this May

Source: PRWeb

Labor And Production Cooperatives Congress
As Big Data & Analytics technology continues to revolutionize the healthcare industry, there is a need to truly understand and use these innovations to their full potential. Big Data & Analytics pioneers will gather in Philadelphia for the Big Data & Analytics in Healthcare Summit this May, for two days of presentations, open discussion & countless networking opportunities.(PRWeb April 08 ...
Source: PRWeb   Full article at: PRWeb 6 days ago, 8:17pm CDT

Update: 3

Big Data and Financial & Healthcare Companies With Gray Matter Analytics

Source: Forbes

Labor And Production Cooperatives Congress
Recently, I shared my Big Data and Analytics conversation with Bob Picciano of IBM. As Bob shared, IBM has been investing in and focusing on for a while now and Big Data will have a number of effects on a number of industries. Taking a step back, ...
Source: Forbes   Full article at: Forbes 6 days ago, 10:52am CDT

Update: 2

Big, fast, weird data


Dow Falls As Technology Sector Stocks Tumble
The "Big Data" research that continues to dominate IT agendas has traditionally focused on making sense of the growing volumes of computer data. Yet in recent years, the volume question has given way to the other V's ...
Source:   Full article at: 6 days ago, 8:51am CDT

Update: 1

Data deluge


Data has never had such prominence in the course of human development as it does now. The new digital lifestyle is creating and generating unprecedented volumes of data that is streaming through a labyrinth of digital networks that connect every touch point of human life. An astonishing 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being generated every day. While much has been written about the power of big data in helping businesses in sectors su ...
Source:   Full article at: Apr 7 2014, 11:45am CDT

Shopping Deals


<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.




blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Office Online goes to the Chrome Web Store
Office Online goes to the Chrome Web Store
Microsoft's push into cloud and mobile computing has been very evident since Satya Nadella took the role as the company's CEO.Just a few months after introducing Office Online at, and launching Office for...
NCAA: Michigan State G Gary Harris Declares for 2014 NBA Draft
NCAA: Michigan State G Gary Harris Declares for 2014 NBA Draft
Michigan State Spartans guard Gary Harris is foregoing his final two years of eligibility to declare for the 2014 NBA Draft.
Windows Phone 8.1 suprisingly supports Apple&#039;s Passbook app
Windows Phone 8.1 suprisingly supports Apple's Passbook app
Microsoft's promising Windows Phone 8.1 OS is now available to download. So far, the reviews have been impressive. But one unannounced feature caught the eye of The Verge's Tom Warren.According to Warren, Windows Phone...
Google grabs drone company Titan Aerospace
Google grabs drone company Titan Aerospace
Google definitely knows how to spend its money. First, there was Boston Dynamics. A month later, it was Nest. And today, it's the New Mexico-based drone company Titan Aerospace.

The Hottest Photos of Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2013