Big Data, Technology, and Teaching

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s New York Times bestseller, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (W. W. Norton) argues that we are at an inflection point of exceptional change in society due to digitization, comparable to the period of the first Industrial Revolution.

“Digitization increases understanding,” they argue, “by making huge amounts of data readily accessible, and data are the lifeblood of science.” (p. 67) Talk about Big Data: there were more than 6,000,000,000 mobile phone subscriptions in the world by 2012, representing 3/4ths of the people in the world. (p. 95)

But if information is so readily available, why do American 15-year-olds rank 14th among 34 countries in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math? (p. 209) Is it in part [gasp] because of us academics? College students today spend only 9% of their time studying, and no more than 42% report taking a class in the previous semester requiring reading at least 40 pages a week or writing at least 20 pages in the course. (p. 198, quoting Arum and Roksa, 2010)

Maybe Big Data has already shown a way out of this depressing state. Anant Agarwal, the head of MIT’s online education initiative, analyzed 230 million “clicks” on course materials in one massive online course and over 100,000 comments on course discussion boards. He was surprised to find that half of the students started work on homework assignments before watching his video lectures: it was when they experienced the challenges of “doing” that they became more motivated to engage in “studying.”

So try starting off a chapter in Investigating by discussing the Research That Matters vignette and the challenges it poses. Even better, assign a short assignment using the end-of-chapter Practice Exercises or Web Exercises. Then start talking!

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This entry was posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 12, Chapter 14, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Teaching Tips, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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