In recent years, the use of big data has been fraught with debates and discussions about privacy and potential usages. Not much has been said about education and Big Data, that is, teaching coming and current workforce participants how to analyze big data and manage data teams. On Wednesday, April 3, former TLT fellow Betsy Sigman (MSB), brought together students, educators and industry representatives to talk about the challenges and future needs of education in big data.
Big data is transforming society in many ways. It has implications for changes in personal and private behavior to public and social dynamics. Keynote speaker Vivek Kundra, the first Chief Information Officer of the United States, talked about using big data to encourage government transparency and efficiency as well as promoting civic engagement. He also talked about how big data translates into opportunities for entrepreneurs around the world, even in recovering economies like Haiti. In terms of jobs, projected numbers for data analysts and managers of big data is in the billions for the next couple of years in the US alone. These changes demand more educated consumers of data, big data analysts, managers and leaders in all disciplines.
Provost Robert Groves moderated the panel, which was attended by the following participants: Satish Lalchand, Director, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, Steven Miller, Program Director, IBM Information Management Practitioner Marketing, Lisa Singh, Associate Professor, Georgetown’s Department of Computer Science, and Frank Stein, Director, IBM Analytics Solutions Center. Provost Groves asked the panel what they thought should be done in higher education to prepare new generations to become users of big data. The participants provided a range of answers: Higher education institutions could make a requirement of all juniors to take an Analytics Literacy class and then for seniors a data analytics course within their major. Alternatively, universities and colleges can incorporate data analytics in every field as a tool to manage the trend toward a more quantitative world. Industry experience would be necessary for the learning experience whether that be through internships or collaborations with local businesses to analyze data and inform business decisions in real-life case studies.
What types of skills are required by data analysts/ what skills should be taught at the university level? Provost Groves started with “skepticism.” Students of big data should be thoughtful consumers and analysts of data quality, which means thinking critically about what statistics accurately represent and not jumping to conclusions. The panel also mentioned that graduates must be prepared to keep abreast of new developments and technologies in the rapidly growing field. Most importantly, they must be prepared to ask the right questions.