Now I am about to embark on a completely new adventure, something that is relatively new and has been receiving a lot of buzz lately in the blogosphere and twitterspace: Big Data!
What is Big Data? Well - it is is exactly what it sounds like, a study of all the questions that arise when confronted with the massive and incredibly complex amount of data available to us from common media sources. Google's recent decision to link all of its products with the Google+ feature had enlightened many average internet users to the power of what can happen when massive amounts of data are correlated to be able to give you specified links and adds as you search the internet.
The implications, then, of Big Data on government and especially within Higher Education is not a small one. Just last week, the White House announced a new initiative to embrace the idea of Big Data in Government. As a result the technology world has been a buzz in terms of how they can cash in on assisting the Federal government in its quest to collaborate all data together.
Of particular interest is the impact that Big Data can have in higher education. For instance, as written about in the Chronicle for Higher Education, a professor is utilizing Google and Google Reader with his classes to source over 1000 literature sources. This being my first day using Google Reader, I sympathize with the overwhelm these students must feel. But then I stop and consider, imagine what would happen if we all have access to incredible amounts of data on a day-to-day basis? What potential could we have to reach beyond the bounds of what is known through perhaps our teacher and our classmates, to connect with scholars and workers from around the world thereby expanding not just our own political footprints, but also the ability to gather heretofore unknown research and input that information into the common lexicon.
Within Higher Education once can already see how the massive amounts of Big Data are shifting the parameters of what is acceptable research - and what is not. For instance, when I was in school sourcing items from the internet was really only ok if you were sourcing from a major news sours (i.e. the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist). No one would ever think of utilizing a blog as a source of real information - in fact I think blogs were just in their infancy as I left grad school. Nowadays, people would not think to leave the blogosphere at least untouched when researching a new issue.
So given the impact Big Data can have on higher education - what, then, should the institutions be doing now to ensure that the chance for access to this information is not wasted?
Well - for one, the government should look to funding not only its own research for BigData, but to also support in the form of grants and research BigData ThinkLabs at major universities and corporations. These organization would be able to utilize the support of the government to better understand the vast socio-cultural implications of data (ex: crowdsourcing, crowdsharing, and the like).
Further, the government should take care not to fall down the same holes it has done in the past with similar collaborative efforts - that is the goverment has to be willing to experiment with Big Data in real time. As indicated in Information Weekk, the government must, must, MUST make sure they are working on this in a collaborative nature. I believe the government should create a big data site where people can work in a sandbox environment with realtime, non-sensitive data, to figure out ways the Federal government can utilize the information covered by Big Data to answer the various questions it is plagued with on a day-to-day basis. Health and Human Services, by nature of the electronic health records push, is having to deal with some of these issues already - but it (as well as the rest of the Government) still has a long way to go.
And this brings me to the last part of my musings. You may notice the title of my blog ends with a question "A New Paradigm?" The reason I ask that question is that throughout researching the idea of "Big Data" and seeing just how 'hip' and 'cool' and 'sexy' it appears to be, I wonder why that is the case. I believe it has something to do with our innate trust of numbers. For some reason, in business, in government, and in life we are more compelled to change when there are numbers and so-called 'facts' to support one claim over another. But why is that so? Especially in the realm of big data, we are dealing with such large amounts of data and information that it is nearly impossible for two people to look at the same amount of data in the same way. Let alone compile it, display it graphically, and then draw some sort of conclusion from that data. I think that the big data issues illustrates that we are on the cusp of some kind of new paradigm of thought - where we will start to see the emergence of a new culture, and new realms of understanding that have their basis is data, facts, and so-called information. The days when people segment themselves into 'right-brained' or 'left-brained;' people who have a proclivity to data and mathematics, versus social issues and arts, I believe will start to blend together into a world where those who will be truly successful will dance on the edge of data tnd creation; figures and art; social trends and supported tweets. I, for one, look forward to this venture and what the future will bring.
For those looking to learn more, check out Twitter #bigdata or #bigdatagovt. Also the company Integrated Software Solutions and Lucid Imagination, as well as IBM and various government agencies (DARPA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy) are all working in this field.