Making Education more Calculable?

This is the fourth chapter in the book Is Technology Good for Education? which I am reading through and summarising here. Previous posts have covered the earlier chapters.

This chapter is concerned with ‘digital data’ or the datafication’ of education. I learn from the book that:

Learning analytics represents the educational application of tools and techniques from the fields of ‘business intelligence’ , website analytics and information visualisation.

Because of the tools used, […] learning analytics is argued to be able to track larger amounts of data than human educators, to provide faster feedback and, crucially, to identify unexpected patterns and behaviours.

This is the current buzz term ‘Big data’. And why would this be good? Because they will allow us to make education decisions and choices […]on the basis of evidence rather than intuition

It is a timely subject, from my point of view, because my organisation, Moodle, is currently undertaking  Project Inspire, a project taking ‘learning analytics’  up several levels. And as a counter to this, there is an interesting conversation in the forums about where do human being teachers come into all of this automated data gathering) Indeed, I learn from the book that De Muth (2014), a big advocate of  Skinner-type programmed instruction believes

the key ingredient is to keep educators completely away from the project.

Arguments against making education more calculable are concerned with the fact that education and how we learn is so complex that  is it really possible to ‘measure’ it in a defined way? The book uses IQ tests as an example – used for over a century, it is still debatable how useful they actually are. And of course, data software can only measure what it can measure – not what cannot be measured but it easily important. And then do we end up with a situation where we value what we can measure simply because we can measure it?

As with digital technologies in general,  digital data do not offer a neat techical fix to educational dilemmas – no matter how compelling the output might be.


Selwyn, N. (2016). Is technology good for education?. 1st ed. Great Britain:

DeMuth, P. (2014). How B.F. Skinner will save online education. [Blog] Forbes. Available at: [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

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