Everywhere we turn, we hear the words “big data.” It has become a featured buzzword not only in business, but also in education. We live in a world that revolves around and makes decisions based on data. We give up data, we collect data, we analyze data, we misplace data, we hack data, we lose sleep over data, and we slowly start to blur the lines using data. While we have been hearing the countless advantages of harnessing data and allowing it to inform decisions, there is a fear that all this “big data” removes us from those we are trying to serve, people.
Advancements in technology have increased the ability for organizations to make data-driven decisions that minimizes risks and pushes the boundaries of what is possible. While technology has improved lives, we must ask ourselves are we losing touch with the needs of people at the expense of focusing on the numbers. It is easier to make hard decisions when basing them only on numbers. Focusing on the numbers, removes the impact these decisions make on peoples’ lives. We see the effect in terms of numbers instead of people.
Understanding how to efficiently use big data and data analytic tools are important, if not vital as organizations continue to adapt to changing operational practices. It would be foolish to ignore the numbers when making business decisions, but there is a danger in allowing the numbers to replace the connection to the people affected by our actions.
Increasingly big data results are being used to demonstrate an organization’s industry effectiveness. For higher education institutions, the data provides a snapshot of its student population, progress, and completion. Big data has the advantage of allowing institutions to monitor students in “real time” in order to provide remediation and additional support services as needed. The negative is that focusing solely on the data can also cause institutions to become disconnected from students and understanding their needs or academic goals.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that the more we know, the better we can respond to challenges; however, when problems are solely focused on the data and not on people, our solutions can miss their mark. It is important for all organizations to use big data, but not lose sight of the very real people our institutions or products were developed to serve.
“Anything that separates us from the impact our words and actions have on other people has the potential to lead us down a dangerous path. This is one of the shortcomings of using numbers to represent people. At some point, the numbers lost their connection to the people and become just numbers, void of meaning. The moment we are able to make tangible that which had previously been a study or a chart, the moment a statistic or a poll becomes a real living person, the moment abstract concepts are understood to have human consequences, is the moment our ability to solve problems and innovate becomes remarkable.” ~ Simon Sinek
We need to remain focused on the students we serve and prepare them for a constantly changing future. In order for this to occur, we must never lose the human connection that is a part of our social being. Big data should be used to enhance students’ experience and inform decisions that are designed to help meet students’ academic goals. Harnessing the advantages of big data does not necessarily require expensive software investment or complicated reporting mechanisms, it can be as simple as using the data that institutions already collect in order to better serve students. Ultimately, big data should never replace the need for a human connection. We need to remain focused on people first.
How does your institution effectively use big data without losing student focus?