Big Data and Education: Scope of data in Teaching

Traditionally accused of archaism and immobility, the world of French education has begun to transform, in line with the global trend. The digitalization of teaching tools and methods is becoming more widespread. In 2016, students of the 5eme in 25% of France’s middle schools were provided with tablets. For higher education, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other e-learning platforms have multiplied in number. Universities and professional schools develop their own online programs with a mix of audio content, videos, writings and student-teacher interactions via dedicated forums.

Growth in education market

In this wave of educational innovations, private sector is not left behind. The term edtechs represents the companies that design innovative technologies to revolutionize the world of education. Where US edtech companies had raised an investment funding of over one billion US dollars in 2016, only 30 from over 300 French edtech start-ups have managed to raise funds. France, however, has many good public and private universities and organizations like Ed21, le Lab de l’éducation and la French touch de l’éducation which promote innovation in the education sector. To acknowledge the importance of big data in education, National Education became a part of this movement and published its data records in line with the national approach of open data.

The revolution of personalized learning

Which technological innovations are behind the ongoing changes in this sector? Data science has entered education space under the name of learning analytics. It involves collecting, measuring and analyzing the traces left by students on connected learning tools so that teachers can offer customized learning paths or adaptive learning. Industry champions such as Knewton, Domoscio or Mereos have a strong understanding of students’ profiles on the basis of which they are able to offer the best lesson format. Theoretical lessons, practical exercises, video lessons or enjoyable lessons: the same content is provided in many different formats to make it as appealing as possible. Making these new educational tools enjoyable and interesting allows us to envisage a way of teaching where, by the use of artificial intelligence (AI), ‘human’ is at the center of all man-machine interactions. Alesandro Lazaric, research scientist at Inria Learning Lab (which specializes in designing MOOCs in computer science) concludes: “It is of course not a question of replacing professors but rather to think of synergies”.

However, adaptive learning in each classroom appears a far dream. While United States is actively taking initiatives to integrate data in school management and to improve academic results, France is slowly getting involved. The central and decision making role of National Education can prove in this respect to be as much an asset as a major handicap. Moreover, there are legal obstacles: in this area, the usual precautions relating to privacy are all the more imperative as the targeted population is of minors. In the country of Jules Ferry, the revolution of data-driven teaching can be better carried out by private companies.

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