Posts Tagged ‘LAK11’

Losing at the Front Lines: Data Driven Mindsets

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

In an Authors@Google talk linked in LAK11, Ian Ayres, author of Super Crunchers, discusses the power of data-driven decision-making. His major thesis urges firms towards a more data-driven decision model and highlights human limitations of thinking. The speech reminds me of a recent book I read entitled Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics by Paul Ormerod. Both Ormerod and Ayres make dual points in respect to data: we can’t possibly break it down as well as machines but are significantly empowered through its utilization. In a sense our data is a double-edged sword revealing both human limitations and strengths. We are truly in an era of machine power, an era of “information management” wherein our most valuable assets are those that pull in the wealth of information around us and allow us to make sense of what we’ve found.

Ayres makes the point that as firms begin to shift to a system of more data-focused functions the “front-line employee will lose discretion.” Considered in relation to the computer, the human mind cannot compete and many of the decisions once made by human beings will shift to a computer’s decision-making model. Gone will be the subjective procedures of human interactions. Ayre’s mentions a bank loan officer’s assessment of a loan applicant on the basis of human observation and the factors of physical appearance or communication factors. He suggests that the financial crisis of 2008, building then when this speech was delivered in November of 2007, could have been avoided. Human means just cannot make the cut when the computers are in charge.

In short, computers are cold calculators of data. They deliver pure and evidence rich decisions free from the foils of subjectivity.

Is there danger here? One can only wonder at what the future will hold in terms of data decision-making. Certainly privacy concerns will curb much of the data grabbing procedures but one has to wonder just how much data is sucked up without one’s knowledge. Even worse, many provide reams of personal data willingly and wander into an online environment where considerably personal data is largely transferred and shared among network friends and peers. There is a risk for over-exposure and, as Ayre’s presentation suggests, an army of hungry firms craving for this personal information.

Perhaps the wary will be best prepared for this future world of data obsession. In those who hide away from the world of network utopia we may find a golden wall of protection. As millions drain their moats and cast off their metaphorical weapons of privacy, the future may prove optimism a delusion. We love our network and our new online goodies, but will the years ahead reveal a mad-panic of reaction. When data-driven decisions are made less by our human neighbors and more by mega computers stored away in corporate basements what can we do? As they say, when its online its there forever. We may loathe the used-car salesman now, but imagine how nice he’ll seem when the PC is the one floating the deal and our every point of negotiation has already been considered.

Bullets and Brains: The Educational Complex

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

In his farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower voiced his concerns about a network of entities with the ability to self-sustain via broad outreach and inherent power. The military-industrial complex was, and continues to be, a powerful testament to “net effects” or the power that results from membership in a popular group. It is not unique though, and it is easy to recognize educational complexes that maintain power and draw significant amounts of funding by virtue of membership. Education, like the military, is seen as a social good whose dynamic levels of support (financial, social, etc…) are considered essential to the health of society.

Unlike some areas of government funding, for example parks and recreation, one would risk irreparable harm if funding for social goods was reduced. Slash funding for education or the military and a vulnerability is born. Fears of this weakness help to keep funding constant and serves as the well-spring of power for the “complexes.”

Should we fear an “educational complex”? Certainly a struggling economy and a political system interested in budget cuts will look to educational funding as an area of consideration. When this assessment takes place what will serve as the evidence of the investment? In the military-industrial complex we can see the hangers of tanks and aircraft, the boxes of ammunition and the raw data on soldiers. These are concrete examples of the investment. Education does not have these concrete examples.

The educational complex functions to create abstract items. The ideas and points of learning that the complex creates occur at variable rate and may or may not have real-world application. Who is to say when learning is applied? Without raw data we have little to offer in terms of evidence. “Where’s the proof?” the funders ask and seeking out a source of evidence turn to test scores. Herein lies the data: numbers and levels, progressions and comparisons: the food for interpretation.

Education suffers as an industry of abstract products. Unlike industries that produce “concrete” examples of efficiency, the education industry can only prove its value in data.

The Impossibility of Assessment

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

What is learning? In my mind one has learned something when new information has been gathered. Learning is a process involving interaction with new information and a process of meshing this new information with material previously learned. My early training formed me according to this “constructivist” technique and developed notions in me that best educational policy focused on creating events in the classroom that assisted students in the process of meshing new info with old info.

If this is learning defined, how do we understand that learning has occurred? As a personal process we rely solely on the individual learner to prove that learning has occurred. Traditionally, the student’s performance on an assessment provides this proof. This secondary task, removed and yet related from the process of learning, is recognized as the only real form that a student can prove that learning has occurred. At play are two major ideas: “evidence” and “accountability”. Both connect to the two players in the learning process: the learner or beneficiary of the education and the institution or educator functioning for the institution who functions as the provider of information and activities designed to assist in the learning process.

Consider the process of education a game. In this game we have two players, the learner and the teacher, striving to a common goal of expanding the knowledge of the learner. Ideally, both players are working towards the benefit of the learner player. Of course complications factor in here: student resistance to learning and other learner-related complications can make this game of education a far more complicated task. Education is not simple, but in this game model both players utilize evidence and accountability to determine success. If a student provides evidence of learning the institution is determined to have met the expectation of accountability: the student has learned new knowledge and the institution’s goals have been met.

Throughout history this game model of education has been the underlying function of institutions and the students functioning within in. This game has not changed through history. Though the details have changed, evidence and accountability are the common points of focus. We obsesses still over the provision of evidence and the market of education has developed devices to make this pursuit more efficient: now we have the field of learning analytics and a focus of technology on learning management systems that gather certain points of data that the institution can used to prove learning and establish accountability. The game remains the same but the tools of the trade have changed; while accountability and evidence have always existed as major points of focus it is data-driven tech that has adjusted the game of education.

With learning analytics the institution has a window into student performance in a class. Moving beyond the performance on an assessment, an institution can observe rates of engagement, forms of communication and other points of data which serve as points of comparison with a peer group. The LMS provides an institution with behavioral data on each student- there remains no proof of learning because, as I mentioned earlier, learning as an inherently personal process which remains beyond all outside forms of assessment: only a student knows when learning has occurred.

Data garnered from an LMS and considered under the process of learning analytics provides powerful abilities to an institution. In service to the need for evidence to establish accountability, these tidbits of information are powerful tools to track and assist students. Responses stemming from considerations of this data can set in motion the process of assisting students with signs of difficulty. A student who displays behaviors trending to students who perform poorly can be re-assigned a greater amount of focus and steered towards behaviors more in line with students who succeed. Here again the dependence on behavior data to drive a student to learning.

Learning is an inherently personal task. Educators and institutions tasked with preparing a new generation of citizens faces the challenge of assessing one task (learning) through the use of assessments that consider other factors. Assessments provide data on test performance, testing skill or the communication skills of the student. Assessments focused on learning material do have value and will assess an amount of learning but I argue that there are limitations here and it is impossible to truly assess a student’s learning. The perfect assessment is an oxymoron and no device exists that proves 100% accurate evidence that learning has occured.

If the perfect assessment does not exist how do we assess learning? If our evidence is not truly reflective of reality how can we base accountability on this information? A better system of accountability focuses less on the raw data of education (gathered via faulted assessments) are more on a broadly based consideration of student growth within the classroom. Our students are better served by this system as institutions tasked with preparing the future generation will benefit from a system that more closely recognizes the process of education and inherent limitations of assessment.

work on this assignment. Your answers are correct, but I would like to see more depth and detail in your responses. For additional points, go back and expand your responses or increase the clarity of your response. 

Mr. Woollams

Never Frozen: The Classroom’s Relation to Technological Development

January 16, 2011 2 comments

How did the chalkboard revolutionize education? Did the desk drastically change the way educators functioned inside a classroom? Certainly these changes, though minor, had a profound effect on students and educators. Consider the reaction of an educator entering a classroom on Monday morning to find that a chalkboard has been installed. Though a minor addition, the educator’s response and adjustment to teaching would forever alter the educational environment of the classroom. For students this new device and their teacher’s new behavior in relation to it would serve as a major shift in classroom culture, one that possibly helped or deterred their progress in that room.

All changes demand responses, but in the educational world each response is an exponential one where the changes made by a teacher require a minute response from every student. From an initial responses comes a multitude of additional adjustments.

Maintaining this idea of the “first chalkboard” let’s consider how the student population responded. In a pre-chalkboard classroom the students would likely learn through a teacher’s vocal presentation. A chalkboard (or any board for text display) suddenly added a visual dimension to the class that altered the presentation of material. With the chalk board came a new visual dimension, now the investment of attention was altered and shifted from the teacher as primary focus to this new device and understanding its role as tool to learning. Even a minute supplementation of the chalk board would change the student experience in the classroom. For some students this additional dynamic was a positive change, providing a supplemental that aided understanding; and yet for others the supplement delivered a negative change creating confusion and a reduction in learning.

Classrooms are changing landscapes. We often look to the contemporary classroom as a place of changing tides, a location preserved in ice for decades but suddenly melting down under the heat of new technology. Technology integration is a hot topic in education. Experts exist on both sides of the issue: while some assert the need for providing universal access to technology others voice concerns about an over-dependence on technology and movement away from the “tried and true” formats of old. For some, theses concerns are less fears about technology and and more nostalgia for the past and the forms from personal experience.

The debate of technology integration gradually loses its validity as the students bring technology into the classroom. The most powerful force of tech integration is coming in the form of mobile devices and the dawning era of social networking. What began as tools of information access and communication and quickly becoming critical access points to friends and family. With this change the integration of technology becomes automatic and beyond a school’s control.

As technology begins to take on a greater role in the classroom we must consider the liquid state of the classroom. We cannot subscribe to a notion that the classroom has been frozen through history. Educators enter the classroom as citizens and figures tasked with preparing students for the future. Sir Ken Robinson has spoken on the impossibility of this task. In the end, teachers will strive to work more efficiently and will implement anything that makes their work easier. In short, all technology that assists the educator will find a place in the classroom. Such tech can come in the form of the PC of the chalkboard- anything that helps will find its place.

Whether technology comes in the form of a chalkboard, better markers or a powerful PC, all quality tools enter the classroom and the lives of the students placed therein. From these adjustment comes the requirement to respond. Both teachers and students need to be prepared for technological development. Likewise the society from which these teachers and students function is better served by an awareness that the classroom is a changing place and any resistance to technology or protectionism of “the way things were” does little to assist in student learning.

Data as King: Learning Analytics As Revelation

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Week one readings in Learning Analytics 2011 focus on the field of learning analytics and provides a basic overview of key terms and historical development. My reflections on these readings appear below:

Learning analytics is a dawning field of application. Moving the statistical analysis and data-driven decision making from business and technology industries into the educational industry is a new trend. Chief as cause of this adjustment is the increasing use of technology and, more specifically, the increased use of online education. More computers in use means more data generated and a plethora of musings on what the numbers mean and how current products and services can be tailored to meet suggested needs and expectations. In a sense, data analytics allows educators to pursue answers to the most important questions in the field: Is the student learning? Why is he or she learning? And what can the teacher do to make the student learn more?

These are all very important questions. Extensions of analytics moves away from student-centered considerations and focuses instead on the school itself and factors that affect student engagement and success. While still closely tied to student performance, this branch of analytics moves to discover answers to questions of school viability. Herein lies the major inspiration for analytics and the driving force of its development: competition in the market place.

Privatization of education creates a market for education. Firms competing are tasked with holding onto students and meeting government expectations for success. Interestingly the education field is unique in that students gradually develop over time and high mobile students may exist composites of learning experiences at multiple schools. Who has served the student best? Treating the student as a product is a sore spot for many, but ultimately analytics slides into cold analysis in the interest of all involved. Yes, we’re talking human beings here but with scholarship revealing trends in learning and student needs, the field of analytics can establish real improvement in a very efficient way.

Data is the king now. As we move into a society where online education plays a more important role we enter into a world of data possibilities. When an online school can generate and analyze reams of data an immediate comparison is born. Can a brick and mortar institution generate this data? Even beyond just the task of generating the data provides further perks to the online system. If an online institution can make powerful adjustments based on this data and provide real evidence of the benefits of such reactions there will remain little doubt to the power of analytics.

As an online instructor I am bias here, but I find it highly unlikely that an exclusively brick and mortar institution can function as effectively as an online school or school with an online based supplemental format. As the field of data analytics grows and beneficial decisions follow there will remain little excuse to deny students with the benefits of tech-heavy education. Student performance remains priority one for America’s education system and government policy will be unable to resist the power that these online services can provide.

Learning and Knowledge Analytics 2011 (LAK11)

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve decided to follow along with the open online course Learning and Knowledge Analytics (LAK11). I had some minor exposure to this format of learning and the work of Steven Downes and find the classes to be fascinating examples of the cutting edge in online learning. Beyond just the comprehensive scope of the tech, participants and topics, there is a certain sense that what occurs in these classes is less about the content and more about pushing the possibilities of online learning.

The collective power of the open online course is truly a testament to the potential of asynchronous learning. The evolution away from an industrialized society in which education followed a set time schedule is now readily apparent to most citizens. Despite these changes, though, we still see a common expectation that some form of schedule, albeit fuzzy, should exist for learning. It seems like an expectation for daily exposure is required as if daily participation proves one’s dedication and interest in a topic. In this sense we have not yet fully evolved into the asynchronous system. However it is the open online course that truly breaks from this tradition and reminds us that learning on our schedule is not only more logical but more effective in today’s society.

I’m looking forward to digging in with LAK11. As with my other experience in open online learning the task of transferring enthusiasm to course participation comes in varied formats. This blog will likely be the major, if not primary, form of reflection. The introductory slide show uses the phrase “skim and dive” to suggest student participation plans. I intend to follow this format of learning and look forward to exploring this ever evolving topic in an ever evolving format.

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