Data – big or small!

Came across this article from the Washington Post via twitter this morning. An interesting look at big data by Pasi Sahlberg and Jonathan Hasak. Pasi, from Finland, is known for his writing and speaking on Finland’s education system – and education in general. The argument is that we rely too much on ‘big data’ and need to look at what happens in the classroom – or ‘small data’. The idea of causation vs correlation are examined. I agree that we do need to hear the stories from teachers, students and others in the system. The stories are dismissed as ‘anecdotal’ – which they are, but a lot of positive ideas can come from examining stories in context. I also think we need big data as well – together both forms can act to improve learning for students. I like several passages from the article, but I will use these two;

These data sets, however, often don’t spark insight about teaching and learning in classrooms; they are based on analytics and statistics, not on emotions and relationships that drive learning in schools. They also report outputs and outcomes, not the impacts of learning on the lives and minds of learners.

Big data has certainly proved useful for global education reform by informing us about correlations that occurred in the past. But to improve teaching and learning, it behooves reformers to pay more attention to small data – to the diversity and beauty that exists in every classroom – and the causation they reveal in the present.

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