Saturday, December 1, 2012

Big Data Transforms Higher Education

the Glass ClassroomTM
(big data)

Preamble: the Glass Classroom TM has nothing to do with MOOCs or online education. This is a concept to coalesce attention on the lack of technical progress in education and provide a new, innovative framework to move forward. The concept isn't focused on one aspect of the problem, but the entire ecosystem. The future classroom is a place where the instructor and student are aware of progress and outcomes in real-time. They can collaborate, adjust, explore and engage with unimaginable fidelity.

This is one of those post that could slip by. Please take a second and stop--and truly consider this concept. If you believe technology isn't a solution but a tool, this article won't disappoint.

Why is this post different? In short, it speaks to "how" technology ultimately transforms education.

This is a new era, the Age of Glass, and one that demands an educational ecosystem that leverages data and systems to provide augmentation, that extends the student and educators situational awareness to enhance outcomes.

At its core, technology enables real-time feedback, adaptive courseware, media that extends engagement and relevance, but most importantly the data collected by these functions and it's systematic analysis provides a view of instructional effectiveness never before imagined.

The paragraph above encompasses the complete spectrum of technology's potential in education. In fact, the use of media to extend, flip or create classes with 10,000 or more students is already a reality. 

Then this problem is solved, and why waste any more time here? The promise of technology in education isn't the delivery of content through video lecture capture or eTextBooks. Technology's true promise is its ability to harness the infinite number of data points generated by the use of technology in the educational process to enhance (augment) student and teacher performance.

Now the light begins to glow. How many times have we sat and asked the question, I wonder if we collected data on this specific problem and studied it, only to realize that wasn't possible--a data collection mechanism simply doesn't exist for that element. However, that all changes when instruction shifts to a tablet connected to the cloud. 

Let's take a side trip for context: in the early days meteorologist faced a torrent of information, with literally trillions of measurements taken at different times and heights from all over the planet. From a human standpoint, they were incapable of processing all of this information. In the 1970s meteorologist began to leverage computers and models built specifically to ingest massive amounts of data and generate atmospheric models to assist (augment) meteorologists in the creation of accurate long-range (7 day) forecast. In short, this formula allows one meteorologist to harness the true power of technology to produce a far more accurate forecast. Today's meteorologist can accurately predict synoptic weather patterns seven days in advance.

Why the meteorology example? It points at the core competency of technology--the collection and analysis of massive amounts of data to augment and extend human capabilities. This is the essence of the Glass Classroom. Technology extends humans, it doesn't replace the human interface, it simply there to increase, and enhance situational awareness.

The world has progressed, the era of absolutes has passed, and the new reality is a torrent of information and decisions made at the speed of light.

The Glass Classrooms premise is, the introduction of a tablet in the classroom changes little until the base course ware is instrumented to facilitate the collection of data points that are analyzed and used as a tool to augment student and professor capabilities. 

The video below is a Corning advertisement for the possibilities that glass holds. It's somewhat futuristic, and doesn't really delve into the potential educational value added by the technology itself. However, it does provide valuable insight to the instrumentation of everyday behaviors. As you watch the video, understand that every action is a data point, and these data points collectively, when processed and analyzed will produce the advances everyone expected from technology in the classroom.

What's the Glass Classroom?

The Glass Classroom is an initiative designed to coalesce effort and accelerate transformation of courseware and the instructional ecosystem. Recent events emphasize the need to move swiftly forward or be left behind. This initiative focuses attention on the challenges and transformative opportunities ahead.

This concept facilitates the employment of electronic text, dynamic/adaptive course ware able to adjust to meet educational objectives, real-time student performance metrics, seamless production and integration of rich media content and a new level of mobility that extends the reach of the classroom without the loss of engagement. It leverages technology to tailor the educational experience and eliminate barriers to access.

Envision a classroom where on-ground and distance students enjoy the same level of collaborative engagement. Recent advancements in cloud, mobile and social foreshadow the possibilities of this technology in education. Not unique, but one example of this concept in operation today is Google’s Hangout. This widely used collaboration suite allows several users to see, hear and interact in real-time within the same context; edit documents, view media or share a whiteboard. This is a glimpse into the classroom of the future.

What's In A Name?

The proposed name of this initiative, the Glass Classroom may seem somewhat offbeat at first. However, when you step back a strong parallel with the digital transformation in aviation emerges. In addition, metaphorically silicon, the component of glass, is the base substance used to create all advanced technical devices. Glass touch screens, processors, and fiber optics have a common bond, they are all just glass (and yes, a lot of plastic, but the Plastic Classroom just didn’t sound as exciting). The parallel in education relates to the promise of  technology (silicon) to transform education and the transparent nature of glass. Picture a classroom with glass walls. This represents new educational possibilities and its extension (technologically) beyond traditional boundaries.

Below is additional background on the “Glass Cockpit”.

Before 1980 aircraft operated with crude mechanical controls and analog avionics. In the 1980s aircraft manufacturers introduced advanced liquid crystal display cockpit technology. The term “glass cockpit” was coined to describe this transformative effort. The radical departure from analog controls met strong resistance from pilots and federal agencies responsible for aircraft safety. However, by 1985 the first “glass cockpit” received an airworthiness certificate. A testament to its efficiency and safety, by 1995 all new commercial and executive jet aircraft produced had “glass cockpits”.

From the cockpit itself to fly-by-wire systems used to control the plane to new pilot requirements, the transformation to digital avionics (glass cockpit) encompassed every aspect of the aircraft and revolutionized flight.

A great concept is like a bright beacon that naturally attracts support, transmits vivid images of the possibilities and inspires innovation. More importantly it serves as a focal point that challenges us to accomplish more than we ordinarily could. The “Glass Classroom®” is a single concept designed to inspire thematic innovation and focus institutional effort towards the goal of modernization of instructional ecosystems.

Lee Johnston

© Lee Johnston and, 1-Dec-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lee Johnston and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.