Aaron Sumner


Strata Conference Real World Applications Panel: Education and Government (a Book Report)

O’Reilly Media has recently released videos from last February’s Strata Conference, a three-day forum on big data and data-driven decision making. While I’ll admit that I don’t live and breathe data, most people in my field do. Thanks to the release of these conference videos, you can get timely access to the sessions held by Strata, either by purchasing the entire set of videos or individually. Given my work in education research, I was eager to check out the session Real World Applications Panel: Education and Government, which consists of two presentations.

In the first presentation, Peter Clark from the University of Minnesota discusses the challenges and benefits of harmonizing microdata for big picture analysis. This is a little outside my field of interest or expertise, but Clark’s demonstrations of pulling global census data from multiple sources, then doing interesting comparisons with that data, should compel researchers in other fields to think about ways to mine data from multiple sources and harmonize those data to tell new, interesting stories. As Clark suggests in a slide, this ability to collect so many cases makes it “easy to get statistical significance when you find a real effect.” If you’re the data-minded sort, take note.

Steve Midgley’s presentation on using big data to identify relevant educational resources was of more interest to me. Representing the U.S. Department of Education, Midgley advocates a “learning layer” for Web 2.0 which provides a mechanism for these educators to locate existing, relevant instructional materials by context. This layer, dubbed the Learning Registry, helps knowledge creators and knowledge distributors work together to get these materials into the hands of educators—who, in turn, provide contextual data on usage and effectiveness. This is all done via a “common metadata timeline,” meaning that educators aren’t required to buy into yet another portal or social network to access these resources. Neat stuff, and Midgley’s concrete example makes an otherwise academic topic real, understandable—and hopefully exciting for anyone creating, distributing, or consuming instructional content. If you make a living pitching ideas about education to the federal government, it’s worth a watch.

I really like what O’Reilly is doing with conference videos. The quick turnaround, making them available either as a set or a la carte, and the high quality of the videos themselves make them ideal for anyone from big-time data nerds to people like me with relatively small overlaps in interest. While it appears the presenters had a few technical issues with slides not displaying, these matters didn’t adversely affect the overall quality of the video.

More information about Real World Applications Panel: Education and Government is available from O’Reilly.

Note: I wrote this review for O’Reilly’s Blogger Review Program. It’s a pretty nice deal: Get a free e-book to read, share a review in your blog, get another free book to read. Sign up for yourself to take advantage of this deal, and watch for more book reports in my blog.

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