Preparing Students for the World of Big Data

Ruth Krumhansl is an expert in curriculum development, education research, science teaching, and applied science with a focus on using Internet-based tools to bring authentic scientific data into the K–16 classroom. As the Director of EDC’s Oceans of Data Institute, Ruth is leading an initiative dedicated to transforming K–16 science education to support student entry into a world of Big Data. In November 2013, she was the keynote speaker at Big Data and Analytics EdCon 2013. In this piece, first published on the EdCon’s website, she reflects on the importance of data literacy and describes the purpose of the Oceans of Data Institute.

Complex data is all around us—online, in the news, and under our noses each day. This growth of data shows no signs of slowing, and indeed seems to be accelerating. Analyzing data, spotting patterns, and extracting useful information have become gateway skills to full participation in the workforce and civic engagement of the 21st century. Yet pre-college classrooms are falling short of preparing students for this world. And they’re missing the opportunity to harness the power of big data to transform student learning.

Today’s high school science classrooms have unprecedented online access to high quality scientific data that can provide fascinating windows into the natural world. Students can explore the cosmos and detect exoplanets, track the paths of great white sharks and blue fin tuna in the world’s oceans, and investigate what is happening to the climate in their hometown. In doing so, they can develop critical skills in making meaning from complex data and emerge better prepared for a data-rich world.

But simply making large data sets available to high school students and teachers isn’t enough. In most classrooms, students’ work with data is limited to reading graphs prepared by others, or at best collecting simple data sets themselves. Working with large, professionally collected data sets and data visualizations is a formidable challenge—enough to stop most pre-college teachers and students cold.

The Oceans of Data Institute is fully engaged in the challenge of bringing Big Data into the pre-college classroom, bringing together experts from diverse fields, conducting research, and developing and testing model learning environments that infuse large, authentic data sets into the classroom and develop students’ data-using skills. In my keynote address at Big Data and Analytics EdCon 2013, I shared what we are learning from our endeavors, the programs we are developing that hold promise, and the challenges we are grappling with as we prepare high school students for college and the world of Big Data. Would you like to learn more? I invite you to view my keynote address on Youtube, download a powerpoint of my address from the Big Data and Analytics EdCon 2013 website, or explore the Oceans of Data Institute website.