Data, Data Everywhere! Data Collection, Synthesis, and Analysis Are Important for Drawing Conclusions and Making Informed Decisions in the Realms of Society, Economics, Technology, and Politics

Article excerpt

Data acquisition and analysis are cornerstones for informed decision making about the environment. Facts and figures are vital to the practical application of systems and products. These data are collected through various means and organized into useful forms (i.e., visual imagery, datasets, and sounds). The International Technology Education Association's (ITEA) Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) (2000/2002/2007) document states, "When presented with a particular product or system, the technologically literate person should be able to gather information about it, synthesize this information, analyze trends, and draw conclusions regarding its positive or negative effects" (p. 133). Whether collected by persons or obtained from other sources, information is realized through sensing agents. Data-sensing activities in technology education classrooms further opportunities for students to use the design process to recognize environmental issues and trends, and project their impacts.

What is Data and Why is it Important?

Information is knowledge attained not only by sensing, but also through instruction, reflection, and/or investigation and systematic inquiry. Data is organized, factual information that may include symbols, numbers, measurements, amounts, words, sounds, and images (ITEA, 2000/2002/2007). Data can be used to help solve natural and man-made problems. Data collection, synthesis, and analysis are important for drawing conclusions and making informed decisions in the realms of society, economics, technology, and politics. For example, individuals in local areas, society as a whole, and the environment (generally and specifically) can be affected by phenomena such as inclement weather, deforestation, or landslides. Comparing, contrasting, and classifying data from different levels (i.e., satellite data, aerial photography, and ground truthing) allowed data download, data monitoring, and ground data teams to work together, "revealing that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon was not as rapid as originally thought, though the effects on biodiversity were greater than expected" (National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA], 1995, p. 8). This methodology used to expediently gather pertinent information is known as remote sensing.

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Remote Sensing

Remote sensing is an integral part of the human experience and lies within a human's five senses. The average person uses his or her senses to experience an environment, synthesize the experience, and make decisions regarding the encounter. Three of the five senses (taste, touch, and smell) require direct physical (in situ) contact with the object being sensed. The other two senses, sight and sound, do not require in situ contact with the object. Both sight and sound are examples of remote sensing, the collection and interpretation of information about an object without physical contact with the object (Clark and Ernst, 2007).

The first account of remote sensing practice occurred in the 1840s. Photographs "were taken from cameras secured to tethered balloons for purposes of topographic mapping" (NASA, 1999, 1). Evelyn L. Pruitt, a geographer who worked with the Office of Naval Research, coined the term "remote sensing" in the 1950s (NASA, 1999, 3). Even though aerial photography was the single standard tool until the early 1960s, the terms "photography" and "aerial" had become insufficient descriptors for upcoming spacecraft remote sensing devices. There were hopes within the scientific community to observe the earth on an ongoing basis from orbiting satellites, and Pruitt's proposal was widely accepted as an encompassing descriptor of the use of these new devices. Today, one such data, service/ outreach source, NASA's EOSDIS (Earth Observing System Data and Information System), "supports the daily production of over 2 terabytes (TB) of interdisciplinary Earth system science data . …