Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rise of “Big Data” and Data Scientists

Last evening I "attended" my first ever on-line class in a virtual classroom (via Elluminate). I have been working in the education field since 1989 and I am surprised with myself that I had not done this before. I have checked out samples and some archived material, but never the real deal - a live session.

George Siemens.
Photo from
The course I am taking part in is an "Introduction to Learning and Knowledge Analytics". This course is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) which is being delivered by the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute, Athabasca University. The excellent George Siemens is the main Facilitator behind the course. Last evening's on-line session had about 60 people from all over the world, and it was fun to see people's comments and questions from places like Brazil, UK, and Canada. I had to join in this session from home as it was being run at 8.00pm Irish time. 

Ryan S.J.D. Baker.
Photo from
Last evening's speaker was Ryan Baker, who is Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Learning Sciences in the Department of Social Science and Policy Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. One of Ryan's current areas of research is in the field of Educational Data Mining which  is "concerned with developing methods for exploring the unique types of data that come from educational settings, and using those methods to better understand students, and the settings which they learn in" (from The class asks the questions: How does big data impact education? What roles do data scientists and practitioners play in corporates, K-12 schools, and higher education? The part of Ryan's talk that I had most interest in was when he was discussing gaming and the measure of and the reasons why students go "off-task". I have to be honest and say that I found a lot of the talk tough going - it was delivered at a break-neck speed (90+ slides in one hour!). I had missed the first week's class and had not read the recommended readings in advance of the class. I also found myself going "off-task" several times to check email and Twitter (to follow the Brian Cowen confidence vote on-line!). It is also distracting (but interesting) to follow the on-screen chat with other "classmates". Multi-tasking is not my thing - I can just about manage one thing at a time. I also get easily distracted when presenters mostly read from the text heavy slides on screen (as Ryan did).

Overall this was a worth-while virtual class to attend. It is a six week course and there are four weeks left - and it is free. You can see the syllabus here, and to sign up you need to join the course Google Group here.

1 comment:

  1. I was responding to a more recent post when I saw this. I think its worth noting that "gaming" in this context apears to be students who are playing the software rather than learning the subject. It looks to be an interesting course and am looking forward to the next couple of weeks. The most interesting thing I got out of the session was the reference to Cognitive tutors for teaching maths etc, and the data sets at PSLC Datashop.