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2 November 2011 / erikduval

Believing in data

Wolfgang Greller made some interesting comments on his blog about an interview with me on Learning Analytics.

I’m a bit puzzled by his remark that

Duval being a computer scientist strongly believes in the power of data and the revelations it holds.

Actually, I am not sure what would be the alternative to ‘believing in data’ – not believing in data? Isn’t confronting theories with data one of the core activities of any science?

For me, there lies one of the most important promises of learning analytics: as a research domain, technology enhanced learning is too much a field of opinions – maybe learning analytics can help to turn the field into more of a collection of experimentally validated theories? Into more of a science?

I’m not sure I understand the problem that Wolfgang seems to have with data. Of course, a real issue is selecting what kind of data are relevant: we may not need to know shoe size, or hair color, but do we need heart rate? blood pressure? emotional state? what a learner has eaten? where she is? with whom? etc. Making that selection of what data to consider is really tricky. And recording it correctly is no panacea either. Nor is analyzing it and interpreting patterns. But that doesn’t mean that  data ‘is full of bias and opinionated thinking’, as he writes?! What is the bias and opinionated thinking in the speed of light?

Rather tellingly, Wolfgang also seems to believe that algorithms will never be able to factor in the influence of ‘problems at home’. Frankly, I think he underestimates somewhat how algorithms can be rather sophisticated…

I guess I agree much more with Wolfgang when he writes about how important human communication is. Of course. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be blogging, giving interviews and doing keynotes!

Anyway, looks like we will have something to discuss next week at De Onderwijsdagen😉 !

4 Comments

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  1. carpetbomberz / Nov 3 2011 5:38 am

    I agree Data in the abstract is better than instinct, intuition or random guessing. At the same time, I think there’s also a distinction to be made between Data, and what happens after it’s collected. Global Warming skeptics who desperately called for the data sets used in studies, wanted to prove the point that “truth” isn’t always in the data. Now everyone is convinced, even the most hardline skeptics that Global Warming exists. But there’s always an interim period where there’s a long debate over the interpretation of the Data.

  2. erikduval / Nov 3 2011 3:52 pm

    Interpretation is sometimes hard, I agree.

    That is why sharing data sets is so important, as it gives others an opportunity to check your interpretation and propose alternative ones. That is at the core of our dataTEL initiative (http://www.teleurope.eu/pg/groups/9405/datatel/)…

  3. Michaël Vanderheeren / Nov 3 2011 9:48 pm

    In my opinion data is one thing, vision is another thing. The last one being objectively stated by the first one. And let’s be honest, without any data visions are just dream or clouds. Jan Fabre made a statue about it, and it’s what all of us should do, measure the clouds. Gather the data that states the fact.

    You could easily relate it to Global Warming indeed. People see a vision of a cleaner and better planet (what we call sustainability), but without actually knowing which points to work on, we’ll never get somewhere. I then see the “interim period” as the period in which we try to measure the cloud, where we gather the data and look if it’s valid.

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