One of the side effects of moving education online is you can track virtually everything a student does, from mouse clicks to how long they spend on a page of information. All of this data is starting to be analyzed in a process called Learning Analytics. The theory is you will be able to determine how students learn and why. Ok, sounds good but do the students get to play with data too? Increasingly the answer is yes.
Two trends are converging to enable learning experiences that students were never able to have before.
1. Processor speeds are still increasing. Large scale data manipulation is a very performance intensive task but if you have a fast computer you can do some of it. Even better is if you have a cluster of many computers that can be connected together into a virtual supercomputer. Like in a classroom…
2. There are many more datasources now available online. A cool website called Flowing Data is devoted to visualizing large scale data in order to find out things about it. Students could use this data to do the same things. In fact you can do actual research and projects to find out new information. For example, this isn’t a student project but people on the Internet have been looking at a public database on photos from Mars. They believe they have found the resting place of a failed Soviet mars lander. Apparently it landed and then failed within a few seconds. This is really cool! With the right tools, students could do the same thing.
If you couple this data with simulations, you can do some serious scientific investigation in the classroom. Watch for this technology to get much better, very quickly. I think we are at a tipping point.