Big Data Part 1: What is Big Data Anyway? The Educator’s Explanation

big data 1

Big data, not just another word on the buzzword bingo card, is the collection and analysis of data points. It’s like “Moneyball,” the story of how the Oakland A’s analyzed player statistics and made evidence-based decisions, or big data, to put together a winning baseball team.

In Part 1 of 3, we’ll discuss what big data means for educators. In Part 2, we’ll explore the applications of big data in the classroom. Part 3 will be about the privacy concerns of students as all this data starts finding a home in the cloud.

The concept of big data is very simple: the more information you have, the better the more informed your decisions will be. We see this practiced every day, very common in business, so they can advertise better. At Google, each of our clicks is tracked and from that, they can see what advertising will work best on us as individuals. So, after going to and clicking on mostly ankle boots, Nordstrom ankle boots now show up on the sidebar when I’m surfing, a place where is advertising.


Similar the way retail big data drives marketing decisions, classroom big data drives formative teaching. It’s  the idea of letting feedback guide the lesson plan. It’s giving three quizzes and a test rather than one tell-all test. The timely results of these quizzes can tell concepts kids are grasping so you can spend your time on the stuff that they aren’t grasping.

Checking in as often as possible is like upping the resolution of a student’s understanding. You have four different assessments instead of just the one. Additionally, by the time that one test is graded, it’s already time for the next lesson. Not exactly helpful. Minor quizzes along the way, like lesson road-makers, help both students and teachers see where they stand.

The computing power of the past 5-10 years has made it possible for teachers to crunch the data, test scores, much faster. We’ll discuss the educational big data technology out there in Part 2: Big Data Applications in Education. Classroom tech is nothing new: We use it every day from email to this blog you are reading.  The possibilities range far beyond evaluation —think classroom management, curriculum sharing, and administrative requirements. Now we are seeing what happens when we keep track of all that information.


While technology these days is powerful and amazing, it’s important to remember that they are just tools. Just like a hammer can’t build a house, video games and number processing can’t teach children. Not yet anyway. Big data and the algorithms that make sense of them are only as intuitive as the teachers using them. In Part 2 of the big data series, we’ll break down what tools you’re already using, what’s out there, and what’s on its way to the classroom.

Part 3: Big Data Privacy Concerns will look at the major push back for big data in the classroom: who gets to see all this data? The concerns are that information like grades, disciplinary records, and learning disabilities will hurt work against the students in the future, should the information not be protected correctly. For those interested, the New York Times published an article on October 5 about inBloom’s role in educational big data. InBloom is a nonprofit organization that stores student data in a cloud and protects it with high-level encryption. The big question is, who gets to see all this data, and does integrity get compromised given the k-12 educational software technology is a $8 billion industry?

So while big data is nothing Earth shattering, it’s a hot topic. Here at Gradeable, we want to make the benefits of big data accessible and useable for teachers with they systems they already have in place. Over the next few weeks, We’ll be exploring the topic over with two more posts as mentioned and we’d love to hear what you think. Any parts of it you’d like to hear more about? What are your concerns or praises for big data in the classroom? 

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The term “big data” was used 19 times in this post.

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