This is changing rapidly thanks to innovations like Google Cardboard, which lets users turn any smartphone into a VR headset for about $10. Though it may be slow, in 2022, we’ll see more widespread adoption of VR in online education. Many argue that the thing that will change education more than anything else is actually a byproduct of technology in the online classroom: data. Data, or big data because of its increasingly huge volume, is being generated at a blinding pace as institutions adopt online learning platforms, digital textbooks, and mobile applications.
Monitoring Student Performance and Outcomes: This information is astoundingly powerful — it can tell experts and educators all sorts of things about how students interact with the curriculum, what makes students engage (or disengage), and why a student failed, dropped out, or disengaged, which is a huge distinction. Big data can also help identify gaps in knowledge and track the minutiae of student performance. With this data about performance and behavior, we can start to predict and intervene; content can be adjusted in real-time and steps can be taken to support struggling students, thus improving student outcomes. Without it, a teacher might not know a student is having trouble until a test and by that point, the rest of the class has moved on and it can often be too late for that one student.
Improving University and Program Performance: Many universities and organizations have used big data and analytics to improve. For instance, Oral Roberts University wanted a more accurate and real-time analysis of how its programs and policies were affecting retention rates. When they dug into the data, clear patterns emerged and they were able to implement new policies that shot retention from 61% to 75.5% in a single semester. Likewise, Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, uses big data to analyze the full experience of its students from academic performance and residential situations to social engagement and use of support services. It then compares this data with established data that traditionally predict student success; the gap between the two allows them to know where students are falling through the cracks. Since using this model, Nazareth’s graduation rates have improved significantly. Big data may also be used to help us understand and remedy bias in curriculum and testing, improve student recruitment and admissions, and even see statewide and nationwide trends more clearly.
Misusing and Using Big Data: Its potential to advance education is astronomical, but so is its potential for misuse. There are issues of student privacy. So far, 21 states have enacted student privacy laws in response to big data collection. Additionally, big data can be difficult to make use of. Our data storage infrastructure is becoming antiquated and unable to keep up with advances in big data, which makes it hard to gather data, analyze the patterns, and implement education solutions. The increasing ubiquity of cloud services is changing this, but progress is slow. And, finally, many institutions have lacked the resources to either train staff or employ analysts to turn data into actionable information. To be leveraged in ways that will truly change education, all of these hurdles will need to be overcome.