I happened upon this tweet today:
— Oceans of Data (@oceansofdata) January 9, 2015
I hadn’t heard of the Oceans of Data Institute before, but a quick look at its website revealed some interesting areas of focus:
- Designing interfaces to let students interact with large sets of data
- Defining the skills profile of big data scientists explicitly
As an example of their projects, the page includes a link to http://oceantracks.org, which allows students to visualize the movement of different animals in the ocean. In the image below, red is the track of an elephant seal, yellow is a blue-fin tuna, and turquoise is a white shark.
I like the idea of students getting large data sets and learning to play with them. I agree with the idea that students need to understand the role of data in the world given how frequently it is used to guide decisions. Having students collect, manage, model, and understand data is key to the scientific method and the learning process. Feeling comfortable drawing conclusions from data is crucial to being considered quantitatively literate today. I really like that ODI is putting in the effort to make this sort of exploration possible, while also acknowledging that there is a lot of work to be done.
Here is an example of the curation they are doing to share best practices:
All that being said, here’s one quote from an executive summary about the skills profile for big data specialists that surprised me:
Unexpectedly, “soft skills” such as analytical thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving dominated the 20+ big data skill and knowledge requirements identified by the panel and endorsed by experts who completed the validation survey.
As a teacher, I find that this isn’t unexpected. The skills in the profile (which can be downloaded here) include skills that I’m interested in cultivating in my students. These soft skills are the key to students being successful in any field, not just big data. These are the truly transportable skills that I hope my students have long after they have left my classroom. The executive summary also identifies “defining problems and articulating questions” as one of the key tasks that are essential to the work of data scientists. I also believe this to be a focus of my time with students, and a focus of the work of most K-12 teachers.
The site also links to this article, which suggests that the conclusions drawn in the executive summary are more declarative and alarmist than I interpret them to be:
The skills necessary for the data analytics jobs of tomorrow aren’t being taught in K–12 schools today, according to a new report released by the Education Development Center, Inc.’s (EDC) Oceans of Data Institute.
I’m not sure how the Oceans of Data Institute feels about the comparison, but they do link to the article in their page about the project. I’m a big believer in teaching computational thinking skills. I acknowledge that getting more data scientists is an obvious goal for an organization with ‘data’ in their name. I think that using data is a nice way to tick off the ‘real-world relevance’ box along the way to the bigger picture skills that students need to develop.
I just don’t think we need another bold statement about a skill set that is missing from today’s curriculum. I want more tools that get students interacting with data, the creation of which ODI states and has demonstrated is its goal. That’s certainly a better way to get educators on board.