Website Wednesday: Models and Data

Website Wednesday is a (mostly) weekly feature in which we highlight one (or a couple) of sites from the Billions floating around the Intertoobz that just might help you with your Herculean task of educating inquiring minds. Any and all suggestions for future editions are welcome.

Here in week 7 of our semester, I’m a little less far behind than usual for some reason, but a little further behind than I was last week owing to a cold and so I didn’t have enough time to put up the post I’d planned (maybe next week!). Instead, in keeping with Kamran’s theme, I offer you three gifts:

~a truly great (and short) read called, “The Deception that Lurks in Our Data-Driven World,” that includes stories about bathroom scales, the German “Normalbaum” disaster that ensued from human efforts to make an unruly ecosystem easier to quantify and an overabundance of faith in their understanding of they system they were quantifying, and the sentence “Raw data is an oxymoron;”

~an even shorter, quicker read on one example of what happens when a model (even a good one) is mistaken for reality; and

~this fun, heretical presentation on “Big Data” (you can skim through the slides and summarizing text by clicking HERE if you don’t have time for the video):


And when you’re done, go read Kamran’s piece…

Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading is a regular feature with three links to fascinating, provocative, or particularly well-written, (usually) long-form pieces collected over the last three years. There will not be a test, but there may be a theme.

As I am sure you are breathlessly aware, Monday is the (pushed back) kick-off for CCC’s “Open Book” big data project.

From your email:

Over the last ten months, the OpenBook team has worked together to create a truly unique data system for the City Colleges of Chicago.  We’ve taken our goal of a data democracy seriously and have built entirely new tools and features that will help OpenBook be a system that is intuitive and easy-to-use for everyone -while providing enough power and complexity to grow with our needs for years to come.

It has been a massive undertaking, but we’re ready to officially open this system for use to every administrator, faculty and staff member at CCC.  We are pleased to announce that OpenBook will officially launch on September 16th, 2013.

What should you know? Well, maybe you learned enough looking at the district office team’s presentation on their project (a version of which was shown during DWFDW). Also, there is a lot of great information out there: big data is a big topic–described as the “steam engine of our time” and as a potential (and real) danger to privacy and as an answer to urban troubles of all sorts, and that’s just on NPR! Some people from the business world see immense promise, others wonder if it’s a kind of mirage.Meanwhile, educators seeing the business trends are scrambling to figure out how to put their huge volumes of data on students to work, as here (mini-grants), here (getting poor kids into better colleges), and here (student performance and advising). Other academics are working retroactively as this fascinating project called “Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere.”

Maybe you’ve read the book, Big Data (interesting reviews  here and here). Or maybe you’re on the side of the skeptics and heard about or checked out the work of one of my current intellectual heroes, Evgeny Morozov, whose book To Save Everything, Click Here is my #1 current book recommendation for anyone and everyone (you can get a taste of his ideas and his voice HERE or in this interview). Maybe you don’t read books. That’s ok.

Maybe you read one of the many stories (as here) detailing the role of big data in the last presidential election. Maybe not. That’s fine. You could take a free, self-paced class on data analysis if you’d prefer. Perhaps you’re not ready for that kind of commitment, yet, though.

You should still know some stuff about “big data” and education. Here are three places you can go to learn about Big Data before the public launch of CCC’s big data project:

~The Rise of Big Data: Unfortunately, this was once free (pretty sure), but is not behind a paywall because it’s been archived. It’s by the authors of Big Data, one of those articles-cum-advertisements/abridgments for a bigger book. Still, maybe you will be interested enough after reading the first few paragraphs to spring the five bucks for it (or better, use a library to read the article (or the book) for free!). Failing that, type “Big Data” into EBSCO and click on whatever you fancy.

~The Meme Hustlers: Evgeny Morozov writes about the language of the advocates of technological solutionism and one particularly effective purveyor of what common techie discourse. You will talk differently after reading this.

~The Tech Intellectuals: A who’s who of the advocates (and critics) of technology talk and theory. Along the way there is lots of good stuff about the fault lines related to the topic.


And whatever else, let’s not forget that data is one thing and interpretations of it are another. Should be interesting, regardless.