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  • Writer's pictureAllan J. Mucerino


Arguably the most progressive of the four major sports leagues is the National Basketball Association (NBA), which has transformed itself using technology in ways that progressive lab schools are using to transform the entire landscape of education.

In the NBA, data scientists with computer-programming skills and deep knowledge of advanced statistics form analytics departments.

In fact, the NBA competes with tech giants for the most talented and gifted of these scientists. The casual fan would not notice, but sophisticated camera systems that capture the location, movement, and actions of every player on the court 25 times per second are installed in every NBA arena.

The game within the game is now about collecting mountains of data on such minutiae as the optimal number of times each player should dribble before shooting, allowing teams to build information-management systems that integrate the data with quantitative game-performance results, qualitative scouting notes, league-wide salary information, biometric data on everything from players’ sleep habits to their exertion levels during practice, and multimedia files. The game itself has changed as personnel, training, and tactical shifts have resulted in significant increases in player efficiency.

This type of data is known as Big Data and it’s emerging in education too.

Big data are data sets so large they must be analyzed by computers. The purpose is to find patterns and connections relating to human behavior and how complex systems function. Education startups already exist that are adapting passive-observation technologies already in use in the NBA, consumer technology, retail sales, and other industries. Those approaches include constantly running video cameras and audio recorders, and using motion-tracking and facial-and speech-recognition software. The idea is that more and better information on students, collected unobtrusively as they go about regular learning activities in the classroom, might help make education more personalized, powerful, and efficient.

This high-tech movement in education is bringing new urgency to the national debate over digital privacy. One school at the center of the debate is AltSchool, which currently operates schools in Silicon Valley and New York City. Their proprietary software and algorithms, created by Silicon Valley’s top developers and data scientists, search for patterns in student engagement level, moods, use of classroom resources, social habits, language and vocabulary use, attention span, and academic performance.  Motion-tracking algorithms, similar to those used in both the NBA and retail analytics, focus on affect detection to generate digital data on students’ engagement levels, emotional states, and more.

Coming to a public school near you anytime soon? Maybe.

As the digital divide deepens between education and the rest of the world you may soon see the most progressive of school districts jumping on board and outfitting their students with Fitbit-like devices that track everything from their heartbeat to their activity intervals, and their classrooms with cameras that run constantly, capturing each child’s every facial expression, fidget, and social interaction, every day, all year long.

This isn’t science fiction. It’s already happening as high tech startups are fusing the world of big data and analytics with education.

Has your opinion of what a high-tech school means changed in the last ten years? Most educators consider 1:1 programs, Google Classroom, expecting students to collaborate in the cloud, etc...high tech....and they all are for the most part.  But relative to the world of big data and analytics they pale in comparison.  Silicon Valley and education are merging...or is it a hostile takeover?


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