The challenges of Big Data extend to educators, many of whom aren’t sure which data points to focus on when evaluating student performance. Even with a fairly limited number of data points, Woosley said, educators sometimes struggle to leverage data to optimize learning.

“The best analytical models, if they’re not used properly, have no impact,” she said. “The simpler I can make [the data], the more likely they are to pay attention.”

That runs against the grain of how technologists perceive Big Data, since many technologists want as much information as possible, which can then be distilled, Woosley said.

Troy Williams, president and general manager of Macmillan New Ventures and a panelist at the EDUCAUSE Big Data session, said Big Data advocates should be wary of selling analytics as a panacea for higher education. Williams said the rise of Big Data in education has come with a spate of “over promising” on college campuses.

“We have to set peoples expectations and tell them that it could take some time” for the data to show results. “We should focus on setting a realistic timeline and attainable timelines … to under-promise and over-deliver.”

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