The shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has led colleges and universities to embrace “big data.” Innovations in institutional data definition and usage sparked by the pandemic have led to new and more effective methods of defining data needs that are responsive to the challenges of an abrupt transition to the remote environment. Many colleges and universities will continue leveraging these systems as students return to campus this fall, meaning this move toward “big data” is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Colleges and universities will need to continue making changes to their learning outcomes assessment, data collection processes, institutional databases, and analysis strategies to support their stronger emphasis on making data-informed decisions. While there will initially be added costs to build or strengthen these systems—for example, hiring staff to quickly collect and analyze data—the long-term benefits should exceed the immediate costs. Institutions can also explore new approaches to help handle the increased need for data analysis, such as sharing platforms, templates, or even data scientists across institutions to help streamline these processes. While some colleges and universities may balk at using a one-size-fits-all system alongside other institutions, others may find a standardized system to be an excellent solution for handling the increased volume.
No matter how institutions embrace big data, it is essential that they continue to use data judiciously. The increased availability of data opens up new realms of possibilities, but educators must maintain nuance when looking at the numbers. Each institution is unique, and what applies at Institution A may not apply at Institution B. Approaching the numbers with a critical eye can ensure the appropriate application of data to meet an institution’s needs.
The American Council on Education (ACE) has a long history of providing guidance on the collection and utilization of data to inform decisions about education programs and policies. An important part of this work has been supporting the development of assessments and measurements that are valid, reliable, and fair. In the video below, ACE President Ted Mitchell discusses how colleges and universities can embrace new strategies to adapt and succeed in this age of big data.