10 Ways Big Data is Changing K-12 Education

You may have heard the term “big data” in reference to companies like Netflix, Google or Facebook. It’s the collection of all those little data points about your choices and decision making process that allows companies to know exactly what movie you’re in the mood for when you plop down on your couch with a bowl of popcorn after a long day. Recently, big data has also made a foray into the educational realm. Whether through information gathered through standardized testing or the use of adaptive learning systems, big data is well on its way to completely transforming K-12 education.

Here are 10 ways Big Data is changing K-12 education:

1. Different pace of learning
One of the main challenges that educators currently face is adapting their instruction so it accommodates many different students who learn at different paces. The tools used to collect data, like intelligent adaptive learning systems, are designed to shift the pace of instruction depending on the prior knowledge, abilities and interests of each student. Teachers, in turn, can use this data to inform their pace of instruction going forward.

2. Sharing information
When students change schools or move across state lines, it has often been a challenge for their new teachers to get a firm grasp of what they have covered and which content areas may need more attention. The Common Core standards make data interchangeable across schools and districts.

3. Pinpoint problem areas
A unique feature of big data is that it allows teachers and administrators to pinpoint academic problem areas in students as they learn rather than after they take the test. For example, if a student is working through an adaptive learning program and the data collected reveals that he or she needs more help understanding the fundamental concepts behind fractions, teachers or the adaptive learning system can set aside time to work individually with that student to address and overcome the problem.

4. Need for analysts
Of course, the collection of all of this data isn’t helpful for anyone if it just sits there – school districts are beginning to need analysts to interpret it all. Disparate data sets must be linked so that decision makers in a school district can view, sort and analyze the information to develop both long- and short-term plans for improving education. School districts may also need to set up workshops to show teachers how they can use all of this data effectively.

5. Different means of educational advancement
Traditionally, readiness for educational advancement has been determined more by age than whether or not the student was ready to learn more challenging material. Gifted students may be advanced, but they often stay in the same class as their peers because information about what they know can only be collected sporadically. Big data allows teachers and administrators to get a continuous sense of where students are falling academically, and whether or not they are ready to advance.

6. Smooth transitions
The collection of data is not only allowing for smoother transition between schools, but also grade levels. Access to information databases about what exactly students know could prove quite useful to school districts that are in the process of implementing the Common Core State Standards. Because the CCSS are changing academic requirements, some students find that they’ve inadvertently missed learning something important because it was shifted to the grade below. Data can pinpoint this problem so it can be addressed.

7. Personalized activities
Personalized learning has become a much-heralded approach to education, and big data is helping teachers tailor activities to individual learners. Technology, in particular, is playing a central role. Tech-savvy students can use computer games and adaptive learning programs to complete educational activities that are interactive and take their skill level into account.

8. Using analytics
One significant change that schools are seeing is the increasing use of analytics to inform their approaches. For example, big data can be analyzed to create plans to improve academic results, decrease dropout rates and influence the day-to-day decision making of administrators and teachers.

9. Engage parents and students
It’s extremely important for parents to be involved in their children’s education, and big data is providing a means of engaging both parents and students. If at parent/teacher conferences, educators can pinpoint exactly where a child is excelling and where more work is needed, and can provide data to back up those claims, parents will have a clearer understanding of what they can do to help their children succeed in school.

10. Customized instruction
Perhaps most exciting for teachers and students alike is the ability for customized instruction that big data provides. This differs greatly from the approach to education in the past, when teachers would deliver one lesson and expect all students to understand, even if they learned in very different ways.
Is your school using big data? What changes are you seeing?