The Future of Big Data: A Nationwide Collaboration?

When I think about the history of technology I am absolutely blown away. My parents and grandparents are always telling stories of what technology was like when they were growing up… “We didn’t even have calculators back then, we had to use slide rules in math.” I was eating lunch with my co-workers one time and they all sat around talking about bag phones (and of course the whole time I just smiled and nodded my head like I had any idea what they were talking about).

It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come just in the last ten years. From bag phones to iPhones, dial up internet to wireless internet, the first computers taking up an entire room to the mini iPad; technology is ever changing. The capabilities we have with new technology are endless.

Take for instance, Big Data. Big Data allows industries to analyze a compilation of data so they can make future improvements to whatever industry they’re in.  The video posted below states that “…big data could help many organizations to understand people better and to allocate resources more effectively” and can probably explain the complexity of big data better than I can.

The Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) allows Virginia to track an individual from early education until they enter the workforce. The Commonwealth can then analyze patterns in education and workforce success to make future improvements in the Virginia education system. The only problem is there is no data on a student during the time period he or she lives out of state.

Virginia isn’t the only state using a longitudinal data system. Currently, 47 states have been awarded grants to participate in a Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS), but all 50 states are eligible to apply for the grant program. The systems don’t currently work together – but, brilliant idea, technology is ever evolving, right? What if they found a way to be able to cross over states and keep one big national data system? That could help us learn a lot about our nation’s education system.

Think about it: we’d have a better understanding of what industries need more people, what industries don’t have enough positions for the amount of people in that industry and what students should consider studying to ensure a more successful career. With the way our economy has been, I think a national data system like this is needed (it would create more jobs for needed researchers to analyze the data too!). It’s amazing to me that we even have the capability to possibly do something like this.

What do you think? Do you think having a data system like this could help improve education and the workforce? KMF


Big Data: Don’t Be Afraid.

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Image source: Pike Research

Security. What does that even mean anymore? So often we hear about people’s personal information getting hacked. And honestly, that’s a scary thought. The idea of someone stealing my identity and maxing out my credit cards is terrifying. I already know all of my information is just floating around out there, so when you tell me my education and workforce history is all going to be compiled into a single database that’s a scary thought too, right? Wrong! Not all databases full of information need to be scary.

Virginia received grant funding to develop the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) under the United States Department of Labor’s Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI). The VLDS allows schools to compile personal student information, starting from early education all the way through entering the workforce, into one data system.  When we hear our personal information is going to be stored in a database we automatically assume our Social Security Number, address, email, phone number and all that other personal stuff will be included.

But fear not! The VLDS uses a security method, similar to HIPAA, called de-identification. This process removes all identifiable information from the files before it is sent to the data system. The system doesn’t document any personal information your schools have, such as:



-Phone number

-Social security number

-Email address

So be relieved! This database is meant to benefit Virginians in the future. And best of all, your information is secure. Someone who looks at the information might know that someone your age went to all the same schools that you did, got all the same grades you did, and went to work for the same company you did making the same salary you do – but no one will actually know they’re talking about you.

I know, you’re probably thinking “you must be crazy to think I believe my information won’t get hacked.” I think we too often hear about someone’s information being stolen and it’s scared us away from believing that anything “secure” is actually secure. But like I said, they’re putting this database together to help improve our education system. They’re going to make sure any personal information is kept out of the system. They’re not going to jeopardize their research, and they certainly do not want to jeopardize anyone’s identity!

So, I guess the lesson here is: not all security isn’t secure.

If only all identity thief’s could be like this:


Workforce Developement

Growing up, I wanted to be an artist, teacher, and singer all before I even knew what education and life experiences would change my mind and determine which career path that I would ultimately choose for my future.

Take a look below at U.S. President Barack Obama on his 2011 American Jobs Act Tour in Emporia, VA as he spoke on the importance of education as it pertains to workforce development.  Throughout his speech, he spoke words such as “hard work is valued and responsibility is rewarded,” saying that as Americans, “we’ve got to step up on education and we must invest on basic science, as well as focus on putting people back to work.”

Well, the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) is trying to do just that! Workforce Development Programs have become a much desired and needed resource for those who are unsure of their talents, unable to receive the proper education and/or training, etc. What if VLDS could help to aid these programs and perhaps even decrease the need for them in regards to future generations?

Over the past couple of years, I have seen workforce development in central Virginia make much progress in helping residents of the city.  Richmond residents have been given the opportunity to team up with The Richmond Workforce Pipeline Department of Economic and Community Development to participate in a job preparation program to discuss possible training and employment opportunities.


Photo Credit: Briana Williams

I was able to personally attend a meeting in which Laurie Brooks, Workforce Development Coordinator, and Jamison Manion, Workforce Development Administrator, gave a complete overview and discussion of how the program was designed to help residents find out where they are, where they are trying to go and help them to get there in the workforce.

Various jobs provided in the program are in areas such as construction, healthcare, food services, customer service, and even starting their own businesses.  The meeting not only served as a way for new resident to begin the program, but also as a way for residents who already were involved to follow-up on their progress and find even more opportunities.

The program strategically works with each individual, discussing the times they can work, whether or not they are limited in transportation, need childcare, have legal barriers, etc. Despite situations that arise, representatives find opportunities the residents are interested in and find employers who are able to help.


Photo Credit: Briana Williams

With residents facing such a tough economy, it was explained that the program could not guarantee a job, but would work diligently with each of them to get an interview.

“It’s kind of like a boxer.  We train you to get into the ring and then you are by yourself.  If you get knocked down, we help you get back up and get you ready for the next time,” said Manion.

Just imagine what database system such as the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) provides, can do for the younger generation right now.  Just as President Obama stated in the video, “we must invest in basic science,” which includes this very important research initiative.  Although numerous workforce development programs are currently helping to place people into training opportunities and jobs, this database can only help to make the programs more successful in the future. Do you think that is could serve beneficial in helping to place these people in the correct fields and/or help to guide them in some way or another?  I certainly do. –BLW

Importance of Ethical Research & Data Management in Education

What is the true importance of research?  Let me rephrase that.  What is the true importance of “educational” research?  Well, it seems as though the answers to this question can vary from one person to another.  Some may believe that there is little to no importance in gathering such information and it is a waste of time and money.  On the other hand, others may believe that based on such research, better decisions can be made in the future when teaching and guiding the younger generation into their careers.

Big data systems, such as the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS), houses and utilizes a mass amount of this essential information, but why and how is it chosen and used wisely in the success of education?  One may wonder what information is deemed important enough to keep and what is simply disregarded.

According to the website:

These systems are intended to enhance the ability of States to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze and use education data, including individual student records, to

  • improve student learning
  • facilitate research to increase student achievement
  • close achievement gaps

In addition, the value of such information in today’s society is found when it can help individuals in deciding which colleges or universities to which they should apply or even choose a specific career to pursue.

Now, that we’ve covered what educational research through these big data systems can do, how can one remain ethical when gathering and distributing such information?


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The Resources for Research Ethics Education takes a stance on this issue and its main mission is “to promote best practices and evidence-based education in research ethics (responsible conduct of research, RCR).”  In addition, according to the RREE, the following criteria should be followed when dealing with such data management:

  • Data provide the factual basis for scientific work
    The integrity of research depends on integrity in all aspects of data management, including the collection, use, and sharing of data.
  • Integrity of the data is a shared responsibility
    All researchers have an interest in, and responsibility for, protecting the integrity of the research record.
  • Quality of data collection depends on thoughtful planning
    Adequate preparation for data collection helps to ensure that resources are not wasted and that significant results can be obtained.
  • Selection and analysis of data should be specified
    If the research is to be presented in a useful and significant way, critical decisions about selection and analysis must be made before the research commences, when possible.
  • Data should be shared
    An open data policy reflects positively on those who share and benefits science by increasing the likelihood for new insights, collaboration, and reciprocal sharing.

Each of these is being followed by VLDS to make sure to take all precautions in the protection of  identities and personal information of each student within the database including using double de-identification security.  Now, with all of this in mind, what is your stance of ethical educational research?  Do you feel as though it as beneficial as I do? – BLW

Privacy of Educational Records

I remember as a child always trying my best to stay out of trouble because I knew it would go on my “permanent record” for the rest of my life. Well I grew up, and as I grew up I heard less and less about my permanent record or who got to see it and what it was for. Lucky for us there are laws set in place to make sure that your educational records and information aren’t just available for anyone to get their hands on.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law applying to all educational institutions and agencies that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education, including private and postsecondary schools. But, what constitutes an educational record? As defined by the National Center for Education Statistics: Education records include a range of information about a student that is maintained in schools in any recorded way, such as handwriting, print, computer media, video or audio tape, film, microfilm, and microfiche. Examples are:

• Date and place of birth, parent(s) and/or guardian addresses, and where parents can be contacted in emergencies;

• Grades, test scores, courses taken, academic specializations and activities, and official letters regarding a student’s status in school;

• Special education records;

• Disciplinary records;

• Medical and health records that the school creates or collects and maintains;

• Documentation of attendance, schools attended, courses taken, awards conferred, and degrees earned;

• Personal information such as a student’s identification code, social security number, picture, or other information that would make it easy to identify or locate a student.

FERPA gives access to these records only to parents (custodial and noncustodial) and the student, as well as giving both parties the right to report inaccurate and misleading information to be amended. Once the student is 18 years of age or decides to attend a postsecondary institution then, all rights under FERPA are transferred to the student. With that said schools are required to give parents public notice of the type of information that is made public, which could include personal information such as name, picture, address, etc. at which point parents may choose to ask all or some of the information to be removed.

The Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) proves to be a useful tool to track and record all of this data safely and securely and provide this valuable information to Virginia educators and policy makers to improve or modify our educational needs.

Below is a brief entertaining video giving insight to the security of educational records. LDL

National Approach


Photo Credit: Apps4VA

With the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS), information about schools and individuals are recorded. All of the individual information is kept safe and it only tracks a student as long as he/she attend a school within Virginia. If a student moves out of state the VLDS system stops tracking the individual. There is no national databases yet, because there are three states that are not using any type of system to track their education programs.

Not only does this system track the educational whereabouts of students but it tracks the average income that is to be expected from attending college. VLDS is working to narrow the focus even more by being able to track which degrees make the most money.

Currently, only researchers have access to this information, but this information could be vital to parents looking to make informed decisions about where they would like their children to go to school. This information could be critical to recruiters when looking for candidates for new jobs as well. But since this system only tracks state-by-state, information could fall through the gaps if someone moves around the country a lot. This information could be better utilized if it was taken nationally. If all 50 states tracked their students to see where they went through their college years and the income levels after college it could paint a better picture of our education system nationwide instead of on a state-to-state basis.

Apps4VA is a huge driver behind the VLDS system. It is working hand and hand to create a powerhouse of information that can change the way people look at the VA school system. This system will track demographics about schools, the surrounding areas, performance levels of the students, etc. all while keeping the students information secure. But what happens if the student moves out of state? If they move to one of those three states that does not track their student’s educational history then their information stops there. If they move to a state that does use a tracking system, it begins again, but it starts from scratch. The information is not carried over.

Apps4VA is being utilized already and will continue to help the Board of  Education make improvements in the following way:

The Commonwealth will use these apps to
– help students, educators and administrators make better data-driven decisions
– measure Virginia students’ performance;
– decipher factors that affect student performance;
– reveal ways to better prepare Virginia students to enter the workplace;
– help Virginia students compete in the global marketplace;
– provide Virginia teachers with tools to help tailor their programs to student needs;
– facilitate communication and collaboration among Virginia school divisions to compare best or promising practices; and
– plan for future educational, technological and workforce needs.

VLDS said this information is used to help inform lawmakers on how to better reform education. If there are laws that are make that will affect the country as a whole when it comes to education, why not have a system in place that provides sufficient data to these lawmakers to help them make informed decisions. Why wouldn’t you want to take this nationally?

Planning for the Future


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As someone who has gone through the college process more than once (undergraduate and now graduate), I can tell you that there is a lot of research that goes into picking the right school. My generation comes from the baby boomers, a lot of our parents may have little to no college experience because it was not required of them. As society has changed through the years, a college education is not only expected but required.

In the state of Virginia, there are fifteen public colleges or universities. When you are 17-years-old and are excited about starting a new chapter in your life and being on your own for the first time –  how much money you will be making after college is not the first thought that comes to mind. Being that young, the trials of adulthood have not set in yet. The normal college student has their parents pay for school, they are on a scholarship or they take out loans (which they do not have to see until they are six months out of college). The gravity of your career choice and the debt looming over your head does not set in (at least for me, it didn’t) until the last semester of undergrad. The urgency to find a job in an unstable economy made the anxiety even worse. Luckily I chose a career that is versatile, but not everyone knows exactly what he or she wants to do. Many people go to college study in a specific field and 60 percent cannot find a fulltime job in their field after graduation.

The Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) is working to obtain information about students throughout their lifetime within the state in which they reside. This information will help launch demographic insight to the best schools within the state. This has created some fear among the school systems,which if certain information is released students will not want to apply to their schools. Instead of fear, this should provide a challenge to better their education system and provide the best so that their students can receive the best.

Already, VLDS has released reports stating future earnings of Virginia college/university graduates. This information may help many upcoming college students narrow their focus when looking at universities. VLDS is planning on narrowing the focus even more by obtaining information that lists which degrees make the most money and from which college/university. This information then gets complied into reports that list the average income 18 months out of school and then five years out of school. Colleges/Universities may be hesitant about this information being released because application rates may drop but this would provide a better picture for applicants who are looking for make the smartest decision for their future.

The number of graduates who come out of college with more the $24k in debt is a startling 59 percent. This short video explains the future of college graduates with the current economic state and what the future may hold.

This information could be key to upcoming college students who are looking to make smarter decisions. These reports were not easily accessible before and if all of this information is in one place it could mean a more stability and a better financial future for college graduates.