Data engagement

One of the significant trends of the last few years has been in what’s called "big data", and our increasing ability to manipulate, access, and use the huge amounts of digital data that now exist.

IBM reports that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. The way this data is accessed and used is a hot topic at the moment. We’re talking about:

  • data that comes from sensors gathering climate information
  • our posts and activity on social media sites
  • our digital pictures and videos, our purchase records
  • our search history
  • our cell phone GPS signals, and so on.

So, where information, in the past, was confined to print and oral communications, it’s now accessible in a range of new ways. And engagement with data is now increasingly an active rather than a passive experience.

Drivers for this trend

One of the drivers in this trend is the need to make our interaction with the massive amounts of data accessible, and our growing expectation that we can all use this data to aid analysis and make useful predictions.

Data visualisation makes data engagement much easier. You’ll be familiar with the use of infographics and new forms of graphical data representation. With the creative ways that huge amounts of data can be represented and easily manipulated means there are opportunities for improved understanding and interpretation. This clearly benefits students as well as teachers.

Impact of data engagement

We read that big data has the potential to revolutionise the way students learn, and teachers teach. One impact is in the future of search, and the semantic web. Google is the best example of this:

  • We have got used to asking Google pretty much anything, and expecting it to provide the answer we need.
  • Google is in possession of, not only the billions of pages of the world wide web, but is photographing all the world's streets, scanning all the world's books, and collecting every video uploaded to the public internet. Google has accumulated voice recordings in many languages and dialects in order to power its translation and voice recognition projects. It is doing the same for face recognition in films and photographs. Then there’s the great mass of information Google possesses regarding the interests, and communications, and movements, and search history of just about everyone with an internet connection.
  • Google Now will tell you traffic conditions, flight details, the weather—before you ask it, based on your location and search history.  "Google Glass" a headband that projects a screen on the edge of your field of vision, has cameras, search, social media apps answering to voice-activated commands.
  • This year, Google also rolled out what it calls its Knowledge Graph—a database of the 500 million most searched-for people, places, and things. For each one of these, it’s established an associative context, making it more valuable than just a string of words or a piece of data. Searching is more and more closely related to thinking.

Big data implications

Of course, the benefits of all of this is related to the way we access and use this data. In education, ‘big data’ is being used for learning analytics and research.

With the growth of massive open online courses, tertiary institutions have an entirely new range of data at their disposal, which could provide even greater insights. One of the ways educators might use this is in analysing the performance and skill-level of individual students, and then creating personalised learning experiences that meet their needs.

So, lecturers could monitor a whole range of different factors regarding student performance—including the amount of time needed to answer questions, which sources they use, which questions they skipped, how much research was done, which tips work best for which student, and so on.

And big data can also help to create more effective groups of students. Often students work in groups where the members are not complimentary. But with algorithms and data it will be possible to determine the strengths and weaknesses of individual students based on the way they learned, how, and which questions they answered, their social profile, and so on. This will create stronger groups and deliver better group results.

On a personal level:

  • You might consider introducing infographics as a presentation alternative for your students, and definitely point them to data visualisations for them to interpret.
  • You could explore ways to use the open data sources that are now available—Government data, population data, social, weather and news data can all be integrated into learning.
  • Check out some of the links that are provided at the bottom of this page.

So, along with the steady increase in the data that’s going to be available to us, there’ll also be a steady increase in the opportunities and advantages for learning that the new forms of data engagement and data manipulation will provide for teachers and students.


  • What advantages and opportunities do the new forms of data manipulation provide for teachers and students?
  • What use are you making of the open data sources that are now available?
  • What provision are you making for the new forms of interaction design that are emerging in your thinking for the future?

Learn, participate, and share

CORE staff are using Bundlr to collate links to articles and information relating to virtual learning in a Bundlr collection. There is the option for you to choose to follow the growing collection over the next few months.