Data Literacy—Teach It Early, Teach It Often Data Gurus Tell Conference Goers

Understanding big data and artificial intelligence is not something reserved for computer scientists, said Kirk Borne, principal data scientist for the international consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton. Manipulating massive amounts of data that are becoming available will affect every form of intellectual and business pursuit.

“Data literacy is a way of thinking, not a thing to think about,” Borne told attendees of BDA Edcon, the International Big Data and Analytics Education Conference hosted by University of Maryland University College on June 3 and 4.

The conference explored how the convergence of big data analytics, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing can be implemented into teaching and learning experiences today to meet industry demand. The two-day event included the final judging and presentation of awards for the annual Global Analytics Competition.

Data literacy is “a way of business, a way of doing whatever we do in the world. It really is for everyone, not just for data scientists,” according to Borne. For that reason,  he said data literacy should be taught beginning in elementary school, just like reading, writing and arithmetic.

And, he added, if you call it artificial intelligence, suddenly there’s a big audience for it.

“We need to have this incorporated into all learning studies, in all courses, whether its history, social studies, health, medicine, even your Phys. ed. courses,” Borne said.  “There’s data processing and pattern recognition and all kinds of cool things happening in every discipline in the world today.”

On top of that, he said data must be mined to find patterns that can be used to enhance online learning, student retention and student betterment—and improve the education process itself.

“We now have all these ways of looking at every single thing in the world,” Borne said, adding that the amount of data available is not only growing exponentially but also the ways that data can be combined—all the ways you can put the pieces together—is far vaster.

No one can understand everything, he said.  That’s why the “real sweet spot” is the communication between the data scientists and the experts in various fields of inquiry to determine what they are seeking from the data and how it can be used. And there’s also an ethical component so that the data are not used to arrive at false conclusions.

Sylvia Spengler, the National Science Foundation’s program director for Information and Intelligence systems, said that solving today’s big questions requires an interdisciplinary approach across all the sciences.

“We need a deep integration across a lot of disciplines,” she said. “This is made for data science and data analytics. But it puts a certain edge on actually being able to deal with the kinds of data coming at you because they are so incredibly different.”

Spengler said this integration can only happen through teams of people working on it.

“You have to be able to collaborate. Those soft skills are critical. It’s not just your brains but your empathy because it makes you capable of taking multiple perspectives,” she said.

To engage students, colleges and universities—and even elementary through high schools— need to rethink how they present information using many of the technological innovations being developed, said Curtis Charles, a data scientist for Microsoft.

Charles, who joined the company after a 25-year career in higher education, said today’s students will be working in the fourth industrial revolution. An estimated 65% of jobs available to today’s sixth-graders when they graduate from colleges have not yet been invented, and 77% of the jobs will require technology skills.

Reaching students requires both using the same technology in the classroom that students are using outside of the classroom, and using available databases to determine how effective teaching methods are and how the college experience can be improved, he said.

“Do you still lecture in a classroom for an hour? These kids modus operandi is a five-minute attention span,” Charles said.   “Are students still sitting in class in rows?  My question to you, in five or 10 years, has your university begun to think about the art of the possible? Will the degrees or the content you are teaching students help them? How are you modifying those pedagogies?”

Right now, according to Charles, instructors can use augmented reality to engage students in learning a wide variety of subjects. With the use of AR glasses, students can see objects in three dimensions, increasing their understanding of how those objects work. Big data can be used to modify courses, to engage students and to reach them if they are having trouble.

“If we can engage students in the first semester, we can retain them,” he said.

Yuriko Horvath, solutions architect manager for Amazon, told the gathering about one riddle that big data solved for higher education. The College Board was looking for optimal times to offer the SAT tests, she said.

The data told them August was the best time. August? When everyone was on vacation?  That didn’t make sense. But when The College Board tried it out and offered the test in August, they were “overwhelmed” with applications, Horvath said.

Global Analytics Competition at BDA EdCon

Can data analytics help improve the efficiency of picking up your garbage? A team of graduate students from the State University of New York at Buffalo’s School of Management thinks so.

Their presentation, “Waste Management Report-Erase the Waste,” won the Global Analytics Competition, held on day two of the conference. The competition focuses on generating innovative analytics solutions to environmental issues and raising awareness about sustainability.

SUNY Buffalo’s Nidhishant Dixit, Sithara Karunakaran and Roshan Jain outperformed five other teams that reached the finals and presented before a team of expert judges.  Their presentation looked at waste collection in New York City, analyzed various data sets and concluded that waste management costs could be decreased by increasing the budget for awareness and control programs.

They recommended:

Targeted awareness programs to be more efficient with costs,

Incentive mechanisms to produce less waste.

Optimal routing of waste collection vehicles.

Cover Photo: Microsoft Data Scientist Curtis B. Charles, Ph.D., told participants that today’s students will be working in the fourth industrial revolution.