Identifying the skills needed for participation in a "big data" workforce.
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Where Business and Science Meet

I recently finished reading Thomas Davenport and Jinho Kim's intriguing book Keeping Up with the Quants. "Quants" refers to the new crop of data-savvy quantitative analysts who are making a name for themselves in the business world. Davenport shows how their analyses are shaking things up in finance, healthcare and virtually every industry—and why everyone now needs analytical skills to "turn data into better decision-making."

Though the book is ostensibly about business, it could have been written in support of science education. The process of doing science is one of developing a question that can be answered by gathering and analyzing data—and then communicating the results to people who haven't gone through all of those prior steps with you. Done well, it's an iterative process that allows you to dig deeply into the complexities and realities of the system you're studying and gain important new insights.

In fact, the "three stages and six steps of quantitative analyses" in business applications that Davenport and Kim describe in their book closely parallel those in the Next Generation Science Standards, which require the teaching of science content in the context of scientific practices. What does this look like in the classroom? It means students learning about the natural world by developing questions and models, designing investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, and communicating their findings. And this is good news, because it means that the skills essential for participation in a "big data" workforce will be core to the science investigations students are engaged in every day.

The EDC Oceans of Data Institute is working toward a robust understanding of the skills, knowledge and behaviors of the "big data-enabled professional." We are also developing the curriculum and tools that will build these skills through students' K-16 schooling. This summer, we'll be deepening our understanding of big data analytical skills by convening a panel of experts who use large, complex data sets to solve problems and develop new understandings in applications ranging from astrophysics to analytical journalism. We’re excited about what we'll learn. Stay tuned!

Ruth Krumhansl, Director
Kim Kastens, Principal Scientist
The EDC Oceans of Data Institute

Want more information about the importance of big data in today's science classrooms? Listen to Ruth Krumhansl describe the landscape of big data, science, and K-16 learning and teaching in this video from EDC's 2013 Annual Report.
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