Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

BIG DATA IN THE SERVICE OF EDUCATOR LEARNING: What Should Be Done with Collected Online Professional Learning Information?

Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

BIG DATA IN THE SERVICE OF EDUCATOR LEARNING: What Should Be Done with Collected Online Professional Learning Information?

Article excerpt

Our field is one of big data and rich description. We increasingly capture an abundance of metadata about student interactions and pathways through the learning management systems that deliver online courses, but there are critical data points that go uncaptured and will remain uncaptured by these systems. The challenge here for scholars lies in developing proficiency in mixed methods approaches to research. Developing the skill set to analyze millions of data points competently while simultaneously providing rich, qualitative analysis of the offline contexts and the online interactions takes time and a commitment to ongoing professional development. (Pourreau, 2015, p. 16)

INTRODUCTION

The concern over big data and the ramifications of its use permeates many, if not all, aspects of life in the 21st century. With the advent of online learning, a new area of direct concern to educators has been added, that of data collection during the online learning process, as well as the collection and use of large collected data sets ("big data") that result from interactions within the online environment. This article focuses specifically on data collection during professional development venues for in-service educators as they further strengthen their educational skills.

The work in professional development parallels the efforts in higher education in providing learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students through e-learning. Online professional development is also related to the provision of online learning for students in the K-12 education system. While holding some of these common features, professional development e-learning holds particular challenges surrounding data collection. Professional development activities, for example, are voluntary. Engaging with professional learning through an online environment is but one option for educators within a menu of multiple available options. Additionally, the immediate relevance to job responsibilities is targeted in most professional development systems. Educators often seek professional development to meet the immediate challenges they are experiencing in their classrooms, rather than the preparation task that preservice teachers still within the higher education setting undertake. Examining educators who voluntarily choose to participate in an online professional development opportunity therefore involves a slightly different context than a situation wherein the expectation to participate in e-learning is a requirement, such as graduation from high school or a university. The expectation for data collection of those involved in voluntary, self-directed online professional development may well be different than the student who expects data to be collected as part of a traditional institutional context. The voluntary aspect of this context drives our analysis in this paper in a slightly different direction when considering the data collection and analysis that may occur in this unique setting. Students, whether in high school or in college, expect to have their engagement and their work monitored in order to assign grades to determine an overall outcome of graduation. In-service educators who attend professional development activities in the more traditional face-to-face context do not expect their engagement to be monitored or recorded in any formal sense, nor do they typically expect a "work product" to be evaluated as a result of attending a professional development event.

It is imperative that the educational field recognize the unique nature of the online professional development environment as regards the nature and type of data collected, as well as identify both data that is and is not typically collected today. We shall commence by establishing a definition of online professional development, examine the context of K-12 education as it relates to educators' continued professional learning, review some of the current efforts to support ongoing professional development in K-12 education, and then, in line with the focus of this special QRDE issue, address the collection and analysis of data for participants in professional development elearning, concluding with some follow-on suggestions for online professional development data collection. …

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