Big data: the new buzzword

| June 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

What is ‘big data’? Says veteran reviewer for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani:1 “Google does it. Amazon does it. Walmart does it. And, [the] United States government does it. Does what? Uses ‘big data’ analysis of the swelling flood of data that is being generated and stored about virtually every aspect of our lives to identify patterns of behaviour and make correlations and predictive assessments.”

Big data is changing the world as we speak. It is “a catch-phrase used to describe a massive volume of both structured and unstructured data that is so large that it’s difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques. In most enterprise scenarios the data is too big or it moves too fast or it exceeds current processing capacity.”2

No more secrets

Matt Levinson, blogger for, says that big data mining will have profound implications for schooling in the 21st century and beyond.3 Announcing the ‘age of personalisation’, he cites Google, which recently announced the imminent arrival of its new voice feature that will allow you – and others – to schedule your life.4

The search engine will utilise detailed algorithms to aggregate everything there is to know about you. Big data will allow companies to personalise every consumer experience possible, says Levinson, reporting that for movie site Netflix5 “every waking moment is devoted to giving the viewer what he or she wants and expects”. Some doctors are already using big data diagnostic tools in general family practice in the US as well. Big data in education is a response to pressure, says Levinson, from corporations, administrators, government and parents on schools to use more adapt to using technology and to make meaning from testing data.

Big data: education’s answer? U.S. News and World Report commentator Doug Guthrie opines: “Big data in the online learning space will give institutions the predictive tools they need to improve learning outcomes for individual students. By designing a curriculum that collects data at every step of the student learning process, universities can address student needs with customised modules, assignments, feedback and learning trees in the curriculum that will promote better and richer learning.”6

Levinson’s in good company when he suggests that the term ‘best practice’ will take on new meaning thanks to big data. “Imagine if a teacher could input ‘symptoms’ about students to then receive immediate feedback on the best approach to take for a particular student, drawing on all of the data available about that student, from learning inventories and standardised test scores to the community in which he or she resides… one of the challenges of working with students is that schools only get part of the picture, as students live a large after-school life in a variety of settings including team sports, music and jobs.” Technology to deal with big data is already being used in some US classrooms. On, technology journalist Anya Kamenetz7 reports: “Open Curriculum8 is a place where teachers can upload their stuff from anywhere and create, edit and share open material in the browser.”

Activate Instruction9 describes itself as “a free online tool that gives… students an enriched, personalised learning experience through playlists created and shared by teachers nationwide” and Gooru,10 says Jordan Shapiro, “captures usage data, social signals and learning outcomes, which are used to develop user profiles, inform recommendation algorithms, and provide teachers with tools to deliver personalised learning to their students.”11

1. See: Kakutani, M. (2013) “Watched by the web: surveillance is reborn. ‘Big Data,’ by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier.” Available at:
2. See, for example:
3. Levinson, M. (2013) “Personalized learning, big data and schools.” Available at:
4. See, for example: Kelly, H. (2013) “Now you can ask Google more about … you.” Available at:
5. See: Vanderbilt, T. (2013) “The science behind the Netflix algorithms that decide what you’ll watch next.” Available at:
6. See: Guthrie, D. (2013) “The coming big data education revolution.” Available at:
7. See: Kamenetz, A. (2013) “New school: two apps that let teachers remix lessons like DJs.” Available at:
8. See:
9. See:
10. See:
11. See: Shapiro, J. (2013) “This guy left Google to put the power of big data into small classrooms.” Available at:

Category: e-Education, Winter 2014

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