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It’s Complicated: How Data Will Transform Education (Or Not).

Sam Stringfield once told me that he heard Nate Gage say that for 50 years, Gage was told, “Computers will transform education – it’s just around the corner.” Gage reported that a 50 year corner was something to gaze at in wonder.

I’ve been reading danah boyd’s book, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.” (By the way, boyd’s book is required reading if you have a teen or pre-teen. But that’s not why I bring it up.) boyd makes the point that the internet (and now, social media) was billed as the great equalizer. This will be the thing that puts everybody on the same footing! Finally, we can achieve social equality, economic equality, and all sorts of other equality because everyone will have access to the same information! But it’s not that way. boyd points out that if everyone has access to the same information, it doesn’t mean that everyone has the same skills to interpret that information, or that everyone will interpret it in the same way. In fact, she points out that interpretation and access are still subject to the same factors as before. So, culture matters. Economic standing matters. Social standing matters. Your network (who you know) matters. These things matter in what information you access, how you access information, and how you interpret information. Not surprisingly, as boyd often saw differences along these lines as she observed teens and their social network use.

What’s this got to do with data use? I’ve heard similar claims made over the last 12 years about data. This is the thing that will give educators what they need to know about their kids! Finally, they get the missing pieces to this puzzle! Educators will be able to consume this information, interpret it, and do great things for kids. But boyd’s point applies here, too. Educators don’t all have the same data skills, nor do they interpret data in the same way. Educators come at data with their own set of experiences, their own notions about teaching, their own notions about what “data” are, and their own networks (who they know). Together, these and other factors make up the lens through which they view data, and what they lean on to make sense of it. Not surprisingly, I’ve often seen differences along these lines as I’ve observed teachers and their data use.

“It’s complicated.” Just like teens and social networking, educator data use is a complex, multifaceted thing – and it should be treated that way. It’s why data use is so interesting to research. And why I’m not working myself out of a job anytime soon.

So that’s what I think. Thanks for reading.

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