There’s certainly a lot being written at the moment about the significance of data in our lives. With the advent of advanced networks, virtualisation and cloud computing, massive (and cheap) storage etc., together with the ever increasing demands for storing large, multimedia files, we’re beginning to see a completely different perspective on data stemming from concerns such as..
- what data do we need to store and manage?
- how long do we need to keep it for?
- where will it be stored?
- what format(s) will it be stored in?
- who can access it?
- what about backup, support, failover etc.?
- what can we do with it (combinations, mash-ups, visualisation etc.)?
The recent earthquakes in Christchurch have brought many of these issues sharply into focus with several schools and businesses losing access to their data when their servers were lost or damaged in buildings. This infographic showing physical storage vs. digital storage illustrates a number of the ideas and issues that we need to be thinking about in this regard
Mashable’s 5 predictions for online data in 2011 paint something of the bigger picture in this regard, illustrating why businesses – including schools – should be thinking about their data storage and management at an enterprise level, and not simply as an ‘in-house’ extra. As they say in their last prediction, “You’ll be sick of hearing about data (if you’re not already).
Of course concerns about the storage and protection of data are just one part of the picture. There’s also an enormous amount that we can do with data now, thanks to the sophisticated (and fast) processing engines available. A favourite example of mine at the moment is a video from the BBC Four’s “The Joy of Stats” that illustrates how data can be used very effectively to help visualise broader concepts, in this case 200 Countries over 200 Years in 4 Minutes from Hans Rosling, illustrating the dramatic changes that have occurred, and offering a glimpse of what the future might be like based on the extrapolation of these trends.
On an international scale there’s a move towards making all data ‘open’ and available. The controversy around Wikileaks earlier this year illustrated the great debate that is to be had about this as philosophy, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there’s an up-side to making data available for wider interrogation and use. Several countries are now making data gathered by their governments (e.g census data, building consents data etc.) available for citizens to access, in the hope that as it is used and manipulated, new trends and patterns of thinking about it may emerge. Examples can be found at the US Centre for Public Education – Data First, and in Open data initiatives from England, USA and New Zealand. Schools should be considering ways of using these sites to enable students to work from authentic data sources.