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A September Brookings report on governing studies exposes data mining tools that could change the way students learn. These computer modules increase knowledge retention by enhancing traditional study methods.
“Big Data for Education: Data Mining, Data Analytics, and Web Dashboards” — written by Darrel West, the director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings — shows examples of how real-time data makes a substantial difference in the classroom.
The executive summary paints a thought-provoking portrait of a student, Richard, who reads a story online while a computer calculates how long he takes to master what he’s read. He answers questions after each reading assignment, and the computer provides feedback on his responses and directs him to websites where he finds answers to what he doesn’t know.
West offered a specific example of real-time data mining in action. The Connected Chemistry software allows students to interact with chemical reaction simulations and tests them. Teachers analyze the activities to gauge student comprehension, including math skills.
“So-called ‘big data’ make it possible to mine learning information for insights regarding student performance and learning approaches,” he wrote. “Rather than rely on periodic test performance, instructors can analyze what students know and what techniques are most effective for each pupil. By focusing on data analytics, teachers can study learning in far more nuanced ways.”
Computer-based tools also help teachers determine which teaching styles to adopt. McGraw-Hill’s Acuity Diagnostic Assessment tool, for example, offers testing modules that allow teachers to gauge students’ learning styles and awareness of material. Consequently, teachers can tailor future teaching styles to fit students’ needs.
These tools, though, are exceptions and not the norm, and policy and institutional barriers impede their expansion.
“Too much of contemporary education focuses on education inputs, not outputs,” West wrote. “Schools are measured on seat-time, faculty-student ratios, library size, and dollars spent on educating students.”
In his opinion, teachers should be involved in the big data discussion so they can become aware of its power and advocate for its spread.
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