A Primer on What 'Big Data' Really Means

Big Data

A Primer on What 'Big Data' Really Means

Data data everywhere, but where are the insights to be gleaned?

By Tony Wan     Mar 17, 2014

A Primer on What 'Big Data' Really Means

Concerned that your digital footprints are the foundation for all online “personalized” services, including your favorite math app? A report from MindCET, an Israeli edtech accelerator and research group, is hoping to demystify some of the wild assumptions and fantasies about what we can currently achieve with education data.

Articles like this recent Quartz piece stoke thoughtful fears about how Big Data could "haunt" students and set them on "fixed futures" based on the "permanence of the past." But neither learning scientists nor data systems mentioned in the report would suggest that we're currently headed in such a nefarious direction--or capable of such a Gattaca-level of automation.

At 84 pages, the MindCET report offers a comprehensive look at the latest promises and claims put forth about Big Data. Covering everything from adaptive learning and data interoperability standards to privacy concerns, it's a useful primer for anyone looking to get up-to-date on the debate. One of the first myths it attempts to debunk is our tendency to frame data in terms of size: “Big Data is one of the worst industry terms ever invented…it has created an obsession with the exact wrong parameter: volume of data.”

The report also includes survey results from over 1,800 Israelis, including teachers and students, about their attitudes towards online privacy. While (unsurprisingly), adults worry a lot more than students, "a clear statement is made by teachers and students against the free use of students’ data by the educational system, even if it is to improve learning."

It also includes comments from (and quirky cartoon sketches of) industry and academia thought leaders and their use of data in their work. Omri Mendels, a data scientist at Intel, says that "without proper emotional intelligence and better understanding of the cognitive models we’re using as human beings, [Big Data] could never fully support a true learning process."

Here's a video summarizing the report's main points.

The report concludes with an “unfinished dictionary” of Big Data terms along with a position statement from MindCET, which warns that “expectations of Big Data as revealing the truth about human behavior may lead to misconceptions and misleading actions.”

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up