Researchers are using tools borrowed from medicine and economics to figure out what works best in the classroom. Much of the new research goes beyond the simple metric of standardized tests to study learning in progress and the findings are beginning to fill in some blanks in that hugely complex puzzle called education.
One such innovative study was conducted by researcher and president of the International Educational Data Mining Society Ryan Baker. He and his colleagues completed a seven-year longitudinal study, funded by the National Science Foundation, looking at log files of how thousands of middle school students used a Web-based math-tutoring program called ASSISTments. The researchers then tracked whether the students went to college and, if they did, how selective the college was and what they majored in to see whether they could make connections between students' use of the software and their later academic achievements.
“Big data allows us to look over long periods, and it allows us to look in very fine detail,” Baker says. He and his colleagues were particularly interested in seeing what happened to students who were “gaming” the system—trying to get through a particular set of problems without following all the steps.