Saturday, July 14, 2018

Doing data differently

Reading that 8 million horses died in the First World War or that 200,000 were slaughtered with the collapse of the equine market after the Second is extremely disturbing. More so than if it had been a 'large number' or a 'great many' - and so, in such matters, numbers count. Being a literacy scholar with a background in the humanities and qualitative research often puts me in a particular position with respect to numbers. When paradigm wars break out, as they do from time to time, I repeatedly find myself in opposition to the bean counters. But as Jackie once pointed out to me, quantitative studies can be really useful in offering a broad view of trends and patterns. I just didn't listen. But now, working on the British Academy funded project Doing Data Differently I'm beginning to learn the error of my ways. In fact I'm learning a great deal, most of which I'm still mulling over. But here's a random collection of thoughts. First - and central to the Doing Data Differently project, is the significance of what you measure and what you don't (the shadow side if you like). Second, and related to this, is the sheer power of numbers, the 8 million horses effect as I shall now call it. Third is about how you visualise data. Visualisation is representation, and as a result it can highlight, it can exaggerate or it can distort information And finally, in this whole quantitative field it's all about relations, what can be mapped on to what, who or where. This can be a highly creative act (highlighting new relationships), or a selective act (implicitly suggesting that some relationships are more important than others) and probably much more, too. I'm guessing that this sort of critical perspective is all very familiar to those working in this tradition and it's probably part of the basic mathematics that I've conveniently forgotten - but it's a useful antidote to the intoxications of post-qualitative theory and is certainly helping me to think about educational data differently and equally importantly, we're sharing this journey with a wonderful group of teachers.

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