One of our Sage Road Solutions LLC clients, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, is holding its biannual meeting at the BYU Hawaii campus on the island of Oahu this week. Having spent the past several days in Denver hosting the annual meeting of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications, known as WCET), I'm still running on Mountain time. I woke up early, so I decided to take advantage of being in this glorious location to take a walk along the beach.
About 200 yards from the hotel an historical marker notes the location of the Opana mobile RADAR site. The story accompanying the marker offers an interesting object lesson for those of us trying to bring innovative applications of technology to the learning technology metaverse.
According to Wikipedia the term RADAR was coined in 1940 by the U.S. Navy standing for radio detection and ranging. It was brand new technology, showing enough promise that pilot programs were launched to test its utility. In 1941, a number of mobile radar trucks were deployed on Oahu to keep an eye on the skies near Hickam Field.
Early on the morning of December 7, 1941, two soldiers stationed at the mobile radar site near Opana Point saw electronic blips of what looked like many planes approaching the island. Reporting their findings, they were told that what they were seeing were *probably* planes expected from California, and not to worry about it. Consequently this information was never reported to those in command. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese planes detected by the RADAR bombed Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor, destroying US ships and planes, leading to the US's declaration of war on Japan and igniting US involvement in World War II.
The historical information was certainly interesting in its own right. The narrative that accompanied the marker, however, was particularly striking:
"The failure to warn the Army or Navy command in Hawaii was not a failure of the technology as much as it was a failure of organization. While the technology of RADAR functioned as intended and detected the incoming planes, there was no way to accurately assess the information and communicate this knowledge to those in command."
So, let's fast forward to October, 2011. On Thursday of this past week the WCET team working on our Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework project revealed some of the first findings from our ground-breaking big data project. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the descriptive, inferential and predictive techniques being applied to this massive data set are providing some eye-opening perspectives on variables affecting student loss and momentum. As noted in a Forbes.com online article featuring Phil Ice, our project's principal investigator (who, by the way, really hates being called "the other Dr. Phil"...so please don't) these results are going to rock the way that educational decision-makers think about everything from college admissions, student services, technology investments and even "best practices" for online learning.
Still, I have a feeling that these "big data" results will go through a period of being pooh-poohed by decision-makers who will have a hard time letting go of null hypothesis research methods. Traditional researchers' disdain for the so-called data mining techniques associated with pattern strategy and business intelligence used in other sectors are likely to get in the way. For many traditional researchers, educational data mining is a little bit like a stupid pet trick - even though these same folks really seem to like the convenience of Amazon shopping recomendations, Netflix movie recommendations and Pandora music recommendations.
I can't help but wonder if the findings about student loss and momentum that the cracker-jack research crew are sharing will be disregarded very much in the same way that Army and Navy command dismissed the evidence that Pearl Harbor was in harm's way because the techniques are too new to be taken seriously. I just hope that we can figure out how to help people pay attention to evidence before it is too late.