For HGSE Professor Chris Dede, the rise of data science in education research is a potentially transformative development in our understanding of how people learn — and how best to teach them.

Held in June 2015, the second workshop, “Advancing Data-Intensive Research in Education,” focused on discussing current data-intensive research initiatives in education and applying heuristics from the sciences and engineering to articulate the conditions for success in education research and in models for effective partnerships that use big data. The event focused on emergent data-intensive research in education on these six general topics:

Predictive Models based on Behavioral Patterns in Higher Education

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Games and Simulations

Collaborating on Tools, Infrastructures, and Repositories

Some Possible Implications of Data-intensive Research for Education

◗ Privacy, Security, and Ethics Breakout sessions focused on cross-cutting issues of infrastructure, building human capacity, relationships and partnerships between producers and consumers, and new models of teaching and learning based on data-rich environments, visualization, and analytics. A detailed analysis of each of these topics is presented in the body of this report. Overall, seven themes surfaced as significant next steps for stakeholders such as scholars, funders, policymakers, and practitioners; these are illustrative, not inclusive of all promising strategies. The seven themes are:


Mobilize Communities Around Opportunities Based on New Forms of Evidence: For each type of data discussed in the report, workshop participants identified important educational issues for which richer evidence would lead to improved decision-making. The field of data-intensive research in education may be new enough that a well-planned common trajectory could be set before individual efforts diverge in incompatible ways. This could begin with establishing common definitions; taking time to establish standards and ontologies may immensely slow progress in the short-term, but would pay off once established. In addition, if specific sets of consumers can be identified, targeted products can be made, motivated by what’s most valuable and most needed, rather than letting the market drive itself.

Infuse Evidence-Based Decision-Making Throughout a System: Each type of big data is part of a complex system in the education sector, for which pervasive evidence-based decision-making is crucial to realize improvements. As an illustration of this theme, data analytics about instruction can be used on a small scale, providing real-time feedback within one classroom, or on a large scale, involving multiple courses within an organization or across different institutions. In order to determine and thus further increase the level of uptake of evidence-based education, a common set of assessments is necessary for straightforward aggregation and comparison across experiments in order to reach stronger conclusions from data-intensive research in education.

Develop New Forms of Educational Assessment: Novel ways of measuring learning can dramatically change both learning and assessment by providing new forms of evidence for decision-making to students, teachers, and other stakeholders. For example, Shute’s briefing paper describes “continually collecting data as students interact with digital environments both inside and, importantly, outside of school. When the various data streams coalesce, the accumulated information can potentially provide increasingly reliable and valid evidence about what students know and can do across multiple contexts. It involves high-quality, ongoing, unobtrusive assessments embedded in various technology-rich environments (TREs) that can be aggregated to inform a student’s evolving competency levels (at various grain sizes) and also aggregated across students to inform higher-level decisions (e.g., from student to class to school to district to state, to country).”

Reconceptualize Data Generation, Collection, Storage, and Representation Processes: Many briefing papers and workshop discussions illustrated the crucial need to change how educational data is generated, collected, stored, and framed for various types of users. Micro-level data (e.g., each student’s second-by-second behaviors as they learn), meso-level data (e.g., teachers’ patterns in instruction) and macro-level data (e.g., aggregated student outcomes for accountability purposes) are all important inputs to an infrastructure of tools and repositories for open data sharing and analysis. Ho’s briefing paper argues that an important aspect of this is, “‘data creation,’ because it focuses analysts on the process that generates the data. From this perspective, the rise of big data is the result of new contexts that create data, not new methods that extract data from existing contexts.”

Develop New Types of Analytic Methods: An overarching theme in all aspects of the workshops was the need to develop new types of analytic methods to enable rich findings from complex forms of educational data. For example, appropriate measurement models for simulations and games—particularly those that are open ended—include Bayes nets, artificial neural networks, and model tracing. In his briefing paper, Mitros writes, “Integrating different forms of data—from peer grading, to mastery-based assessments, to ungraded formative assessments, to participation in social forums—gives an unprecedented level of diversity to the data. This suggests a move from traditional statistics increasingly into machine learning, and calls for very different techniques from those developed in traditional psychometrics.” Breakthroughs in analytic methods are clearly a necessary advance for data science in education.

Build Human Capacity to Do Data Science and to Use Its Products: More people with expertise in data science and data engineering are needed to realize its potential in education, and all stakeholders must become sophisticated consumers of dataintensive research in education. Few data science education programs currently exist, and most educational research programs 5 do not require data literacy beyond a graduate statistics course. Infusing educational research with data science training or providing an education “track” for data scientists could provide these cross-disciplinary opportunities. Ethics should be included in every step of data science training to reduce the unintentional emotional harm that could result from various analyses.

Develop Advances in Privacy, Security, and Ethics: Recent events have highlighted the importance of reassuring stakeholders in education about issues of privacy, security, and ethical usage of any educational data collected. More attention is being paid to explicit and implicit bias embedded in big data and algorithms and the subsequent harms that arise. Hammer’s briefing paper indicates that “[e]ach new technology a researcher may want to use will present a unique combination of risks, most of which can be guarded against using available technologies and proper information policies. Speaking generally, privacy can be adequately protected through encrypted servers and data, anonymized data, having controlled access to data, and by implementing and enforcing in-office privacy policies to guard against unauthorized and exceeded data access.” A risk-based approach, similar to the approach taken by the National Institute of Standards and Technologies in guidelines for federal agencies, would allow for confidentiality, consent, and security concerns to be addressed commensurate with the consequences of a breach.


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