Big Hopes for Big Data

| January 24, 2013

Jose Ferreira has been one of the loudest voices in support of data mining in education. That’s because his company, Knewton, is leading the way in personalized learning.

The data Knewton collects from individual students is much more revealing than the results from traditional tests and quizzes. The data can tell students exactly when and how they learn best (e.g., in the morning, before lunch, and only for spurts of 22 minutes at a time). It is almost unsettling in its predictions.

But, Jose is quick to reject any “Orwellian” notions. He says emphatically, “We are not ever marketing your data, selling your data. There’s no advertising, no product placement. Ever.” So, in other words, whatever you get out of Knewton is for your own good (presumably). In fact, each student has a learning profile that they carry throughout their learning career. Profiles highlight learners’ strengths and weaknesses and can predict which subjects might be difficult or too easy based on previous performances.

Knewton aims to address the two problems Jose sees as critical in education: personalization and access. Is data the answer? He seems to think so, and there are many who agree.

What do you think? Is there power in numbers? Leave your thoughts in the vialogue and see more reactions from participants in addition to those below.

@01:15 manav: I’d like to see how effective knowing this information actually is. Does knowing that I learn science best at 11am make a huge difference in student outcomes?

@02:29 zhou: I hold a different perspective. I believe the technology infrastructure is already ahead of the pedagogic support that is built into ed tech. What is needed badly is not better devices but better software

@04:08 xiehan: I’m a strong proponent of machine learning algorithms like the one Jose is describing, but I’d still hate to see education lose that ‘human’ element.

This article first appeared on New Learning Times on 1/24/2013