Your Data Is Big, But Is It Thick?

Big data is a big topic in business and is moving into education more and more.  At the New Jersey Institute of Technology where I work, there is a certificate program in this area.

I knew this a decade ago as "data mining" and recently I see the term "thick data" being used. As far as I can tell (the term isn't even in Wikipedia yet), that term is taken from other fields, including anthropology. A "thick" description of a human behavior is one that explains not just the behavior, but its context as well, such that the behavior becomes meaningful to an outsider. Thick data is taking big data and giving it context.

Big Data embraces technology, decision-making and public policy. Supplying the technology is a fast-growing market, increasing at more than 30% a year and likely to reach $24 billion by 2016, according to a forecast by IDC, a research firm.

The NJIT certificate focuses on managing and mining Big Data analytics to understand business customers, develop new products and cut operational costs. Most of the jobs emerging in Big Data require knowledge of programming and the ability to develop applications, as well as an understanding of how to meet business needs. I can see people currently working in computing as candidates for this program.

What about in education? The skills most often mentioned in connection with Big Data jobs include math, statistics, data analysis, business analytics and natural language processing. Those are not skills I associate with most educators. Who will put the Big Data into that Thick Data context for education?

Teaching Technical Writing

I am giving a presentation at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Spring (NJWA) Conference this week on my experiences teaching technical writing this year at New Jersey Institute of Technology and at Montclair State University. NJIT is NJ's science and technology university and MSU is the state's second largest comprehensive university.

Although the two schools are seen as quite different, the approach I take to technical writing is very similar. My presentation is on "Technical Writing Across Disciplines" and will examine how a technical writing course can emphasize a research approach and problem solving that is not like most of the academic writing done in other writing classes.

One thing I enjoy about the NJWA conference is that it has presenters and attendees from both K-12 and higher education. That doesn't occur often enough.

Keeping with the conference theme of "Achieving College-Ready Writing: The Common Core and Beyond," I'll also examine how secondary school teachers can teach writing about science and technical subjects. That is a strand of the English Language Arts Standards that are part of the controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative as adopted in NJ and other states.


European Students and Employers Want More Web-Development MOOCs

Students, education providers, and employers call massive open online courses one of the best ways to learn web-development skills, according to a report released on Thursday by the European Commission.

The report, which drew on a survey of about 3,000 people, including 731 students, said that only one student in four was not familiar with MOOCs and that about 64 percent of the respondents had taken such courses.

Web-development courses appeared to be in high demand but were not always easy to find online. According to the report, only 56 MOOCs teach such skills throughout Europe, compared with 115 in the United States.

Most employers surveyed, including corporate managers, developers, and human-resources staff members, said MOOCs could help close a skills gap in web design. “They stressed the fact that in the current market it is especially difficult to find employees with domain-specific skills, iOS, Android, and HTML5 experts,” the report said.

For the most part, respondents rated MOOCs as more effective than colleges in teaching such skills.

The Death of the Home Page

The New York Times lost half their traffic (80 million visitors) to the homepage in two years. Does that mean they lost half their visitors? No. It's visitors to their home page - that landing page that "starts" off your website. For this blog, that is

Why did that happen?  Well, did you arrive at this post by going to our home page and reading this OR did you arrive directly at this post's permalink URL because of a link from a search, or that you found on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr or some other location? The odds are very good that it was the latter.

Websites once tried very hard to get readers to that home page and not to the deeper links. The home page was not only the home of the brand, but also the page with the main "cover" advertisements and news. That is no longer the case.

An article from The Atlantic says that the incoming traffic from "Facebook, Twitter, social media, and the mix of email and chat services summed up as 'dark social' (dark, because it's hard for publishers to trace)" is the main source of traffic. That may not be what site owners want, but it is what they are getting. Social powers much of the Net today.

This is changing how news sites handle their home page and it should and will influence the design of other websites, including those for colleges.