On February 16, the Data Quality Campaign released its annual scorecard and analysis of states’ ability to collect and use data to improve student success. This six-part series highlights key ideas from our recent “Next Decade of Educational Data” event.
It’s hard to overemphasize the extent to which the ability to understand, analyze, and make meaning of data is–and will increasingly be–a core skill for both the workplace and the public square.* To teach students how to navigate in this data-filled world, educators must be data literate.
This is especially true in the sciences. The science–and public policy debates–around climate, ecology, genetics, public health, and much more all increasingly revolve around massive data sets. On this front, I recommend the outstanding special issue from Science Magazine:
Most scientific disciplines are finding the data deluge to be extremely challenging, and tremendous opportunities can be realized if we can better organize and access the data….
Even fields with well-established data archives, such as genomics, are facing new and growing challenges in data volume and management. And even where accessible, much data in many fields is too poorly organized to enable it to be efficiently used….
If we can use and reuse scientific data better, the opportunities, as indicated in many examples in this special section, are myriad. Large integrated data sets can potentially provide a much deeper understanding of both nature and society and open up many new avenues of research. And they are critical for addressing key societal problems—from improving public health and managing natural resources intelligently to designing better cities and coping with climate change.
Obviously, education is not alone in navigating issues around the use of data. If you only have a little time, I recommend the articles on visualization (to help us better use data), data use in the social sciences, and also on competitions.
One other important point from the magazine that bears directly on how we use data in educational research. I’d love for education researchers and institutions to adopt the following editorial stance:
Science‘s policy for some time has been that “all data necessary to understand, assess, and extend the conclusions of the manuscript must be available to any reader of Science” (see www.sciencemag.org/site/feature/contribinfo/). Besides prohibiting references to data in unpublished papers (including those described as “in press”), we have encouraged authors to comply in one of two ways: either by depositing data in public databases that are reliably supported and likely to be maintained or, when such a database is not available, by including their data in the SOM (supporting online material)….
To address the growing complexity of data and analyses, Science is extending our data access requirement listed above to include computer codes involved in the creation or analysis of data. To provide credit and reveal data sources more clearly, we will ask authors to produce a single list that combines references from the main paper and the SOM (this complete list will be available in the online version of the paper). And to improve the SOM, we will provide a template to constrain its content to methods and data descriptions, as an aid to reviewers and readers. We will also ask authors to provide a specific statement regarding the availability and curation of data as part of their acknowledgements, requesting that reviewers consider this a responsibility of the authors. We recognize that exceptions may be needed to these general requirements; for example, to preserve the privacy of individuals, or in some cases when data or materials are obtained from third parties, and/or for security reasons. But we expect these exceptions to be rare.
* To be clear, background knowledge is of course, critical to making meaning from and catching errors in data.