I had a chance to listen to Nate Silver, founder of 538.com, over the weekend about the many roles that data can play in the lives of people. For many, data comes to them as interesting factoids. Baseball games and sports in general are filled with this type of data. It is interesting. It makes for good conversations, but having a sense of 8th inning batting average versus left-handed pitchers isn't going to do much for the audience at home. Data can also be great trivia that people can break out to showcase their memory or their knowledge of a topic in real time during a conversation. Pub trivia, trivia nights, and trivial pursuits all showcase how data as trivia is mixed into our society. Data can also be used to judge.
With a data set in hand, limited as it most always is in some way, we lead not with the limitations of the data, but with the conclusions that support our opinions. All of these roles showcase how data can absorb our time, skew our judgment and conversations, and fail to serve our society as a lever of change. What if we acknowledged these limitations and started to focus on collecting, analyzing, and sharing data for a bigger purpose? What if data was primarily focused on saving resources, looking at growth over time, and predicting outcomes that could be remediated with available ideas and solutions. It is getting tiring collecting data that doesn't have a purpose in growing deeper, more productive ways of learning. It is getting old allowing the inertia of mediocre data to drive this ship that we call education.