I was on a panel at SXSWedu this year. At the beginning, our moderator, Dr. Rod Berger, invited the audience to suggest buzzwords that the panelists shouldn’t be allowed to use. Someone said “big data.” (I tried to comply for about 5 minutes before I gave up.) That’s like calling “anatomy” or “supply and demand” buzzwords. How can a branch of science be a buzzword?
Someone else at SXSWedu said, “I still have yet to hear anyone explain what big data is!” as if that were an indictment of big data. To my ears, that sounds like saying, “I still have yet to hear anyone explain what the Higgs Boson is!” And, fair enough, they are both relatively new science. So let’s explain big data now. And then let’s examine the arguments against using this powerful personalization science to help kids learn.
Like the Higgs Boson, big data has been around forever, in that it’s part of the natural law of the universe. And similarly, it has attained prominent notice by human society over recent decades. But big data has been used by human beings for a long time — just in bricks-and-mortar applications. Insurance and standardized tests are both examples of big data from before the Internet.
The data have always been there. What’s changed is that technology has recently made them easy to capture. The internet and mobile make everything done on a device capturable. Scanning technology is becoming mainstream, whether biometric scanners you wear on your body or hold in your phone, or logistical scanners embedded in packages and products.