Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Metadata and Education

I understand the benefits of metadata collection. I want to know what school children who are failing have in common so that by targeting that, maybe I can have more children succeed. Is it the school, the teacher, socioeconomics, health, language, etc. If you look at one child's academic results, it's difficult to understand why that child is failing. But if you look at dozens or hundreds or thousands of children's results, patterns emerge that can be used to pinpoint the source the problem and suggest ways to improve teaching methods.

But I also understand that metadata collection and analysis is unpopular in some circles. I'm not unsympathetic to some of their concerns.

There are people who are against using metadata. Racists and fundamentalist Christians have their reasons to avoid data-driven analysis. And there are conspiracy theorists who think Bill Gates is evil. I don't want to get dragged into those tiresome arguments.

There are other, reasonable people who have concerns about businesses exploiting children. Placement of sugared drinks and snacks in lunchrooms was one issue a while back. Advertising or product placement in educational videos broadcast in classrooms was another. Advertising in computer lessons is controversial today, especially if that advertising is targeted to individual students based on the advertiser's collection of data on each student. Think how Facebook creepily knows what you've been shopping for and seems to fill your timeline with ads for similar products. Facebook at least is something you voluntarily sign up for. Math or geography lessons are not.

In education, improvements in the collection and analysis of data means the feedback loop can become instantaneous, so each child can get educational help tailored to his or her individual needs. That's good. But it also means that each child can also be targeted in ways the child and his parents might not be expecting or want. I think that's a legitimate concern. There is another trend that increases the risk of misuse of this technology. With students taking computer devices home, the boundary between education and home recreational use grows blurry.

Whereas I don't think it's reasonable to ban technology in education altogether out of fear that Bill Gates is trying to get rich (in fact, he's working hard to give away his money, not get more), or out of fear that businesses are trying to brainwash our children into becoming industrial robots to fill their job openings, I do think it's reasonable for society to discuss what kind of regulation we want on this technology to ensure it's used to improve education, not enrich commercial interests by targeting and tailoring advertising to our children in a captive environment.


Unknown said...

Not trying to be difficult as I respect u way too much. But why is Facebook placing ads you would be interested in creepy?

Do you realize when u watch cable now, your commercials are often different than your neighbors based on your demographic information? I worked on that technology years ago.

I consider it being efficient. Why bother you with things you are not interested in?

As far as,the collection of meta data of academics for private companies. . . Companies do not develop new products unless there is profit. Profit comes from supplying something for enough value that someone is willing to pay for it.

That's how progress is,done. If we keep academics I. A purely "socialistic" environment void of business, no progress will e we happen. We are entering an age where a hybrid approach with both socialism (teachers all paid regardless of performance) and capitalism where new concepts and new ideas have to emerge but can't be paid for by the socialistic academic system.

Are we doing it perfectly and smoothly? No. But we are generally moving forward.

Mark Steger said...

Bryan, thanks for the feedback. It's always appreciated. I guess whether or not Facebook's behavior is "creepy" or not is a subjective opinion. Personally, I'm not "creeped" out by it in the least, but I know many people are uneasy with how much Facebook/Amazon/Google/etc. seem to know. And I'm not the first to notice: "All of the Creepy Things Facebook Knows About You."