Educating Rita

Last week we heard about how George, who lives in the wonderful world of Bigdataland, was saved by big data predicting and warning about a flood. This week George is wondering what his daughter Rita could do for her career…

George’s twin brother, Gerald, was like him in almost every way. They not only looked alike, but they had similar tastes in most things. They both had married similar ladies, of a similar age, and they both had 2 children of similar ages. The only difference that was between them was their location – George lived in Bigdataland – Gerald in England. The differences between the 2 countries were often aired at family meetings. Mainly the conversation revolved around Bigdatalands success at football, due to their use of data to select the best players, but on the occasion of their fathers 70th birthday, the conversation turned to something that at first seemed more mundane – their daughters careers.

Both had daughters of a similar age, and educational ability. However Gerald was very concerned around what lay ahead for his daughter. “Rachel hasn’t quite got good enough grades to get into the university of her choice”, he said, “and she cannot decide whether to do a degree in a different subject to get into a good university, or stick with the subject that she prefers.” George sat back and smiled the smug smile that strangely often adorned the face of Bigdataland residents.

“Rita has no such problems” he started. “Indeed we have known about her future for a while” he continued”. George explained that analysis of Rita’s scores and capabilities started at Primary school. This enabled specific advice on curriculum choices, and helped the school to determine the areas where Rita needed extra help. Towards the end of school, there were in-depth counselling sessions around the potential career options available for Rita, and what additional bits of education would be needed for each career path.

“And that’s not all” George went on. “Rita started getting offers from universities directly. Even companies contacted her with a view to working with them, or getting sponsorship through university”.

Not for the first time the conversation soon turned to Gerald’s desire to emigrate to Bigdataland…


Is this realistic?  Could big data help Rita in this way?  Could it help Rachel as well?  Well, the answer is yes and yes!

Already, analytics techniques that employ big data are used in ways that could help Rachel.  Perhaps controversially, computerised software packages can already be used to assist in the teaching process, such as providing individualised tuition for learning how to read.  However, the data they provide make it possible to establish insights regarding student performance and what learning approaches they respond to, thereby enabling teaching in a much more tailored way. 

Similarly, it is also possible to assess data on how a student tests to make the best learning environment possible for a student and improve the academic outcomes for students.  Maybe, this would have helped Rachel achieve the grades she aspired to to get into the university of her choice.

As for Rita, at one institute in America, a system has been developed to predict whether a student is likely to be successful as early as the second week of a course, allowing much earlier interventions to help increase grades. 

There are also examples of colleges and universities recommending courses and majors to students based on data enabling them to increase graduation rates.  One institution has launched a course recommendation tool pulling in information from various student information and learning management systems to recommend courses based on degree requirements and predicted grades.

In addition, one college in the US uses software that analyzes a combination of historical data, retention and graduation rates and application counts making them able to increase to increase campus applications by reexamining their financial aid strategy and by predicting which students would have a higher probability of enrollment.

When it comes to universities directly approaching Rita, sites such as LinkedIn already allow employers to proactively target potential new employees so maybe this isn’t that far-fetched…

So this week we learned about how living in Bigdataland gives students much more information and choice about their future. Next week there will be another story about the benefits of using big data.