bball2 data

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a common theme emerged from all the keynotes, exhibitions, and entertainment: data.  Throughout five days of walking miles through a labyrinth of exhibit halls, I observed hundreds of vendors from all over the world trying to communicate how their product gathers, processes and manipulates data.

Everything we do generates data that can be collected, analyzed and manipulated.  Working out generates data.  While some of the personal fitness items I observed simply gather and display data like heart rate, calories burned and blood pressure, more complex products process the data and make recommendations to the user. Mundane tasks, like driving, provided enough data for engineers to create a driverless car.  Using a football-sized outdoor display, participants at CES were given the opportunity to strap themselves into a driverless car, take a ride through an obstacle course and finally park, all without the need of human assistance. While it is scary to think about thousands of driverless cars going down the road, it is a fabulous display of how the car’s computer gathers, processes, and manipulates data in real time.


Now, even playing basketball creates data. One of the most innovative products at CES is a regulation-size basketball with a built-in processing unit that will analyze thousands of data points to help the basketball player perfect their shooting skills. Coaches and players can review the data and make corrections to improve performance through individualized training.  Coaches no longer need to sit through hours of bad game tapes.

So why are we afraid of data in higher education? We are good at gathering the data.  Student information systems collect and house a plethora of data. Oh, we have data.  What we don’t have, however, is access to that data.  Far too often, the data is difficult to extract from the database, or the data is presented in a format that is unintelligible to the average user.  Worse yet, some IT departments restrict access the data, making it off limits to many of the departments that could benefit from it most. And while those are real concerns, they can be resolved. The biggest challenge, once the data is in the hands administrators and faculty, is to use that data to drive change – the kind of change that impacts teaching and learning.

Data is everywhere. CES showed me how easy it is to get and some really cool things people can do with it.  If we can get it in the hands of our administrators, faculty and staff, and challenge them to use it in new and innovative ways, I think we will see some amazing results.