The power of people in Big Data

“We like to think of it as intellectual intimacy,” Paucek said.

Laura Perna of LinkedIn discussed the social networks new university pages and how the site now connects students directly with colleges. Ariel Diaz of Boundless pushed for further adoption of textbooks made from open educational resources. Abigail Seldin, CEO of College Abacus, demonstrated the site’s financial aid calculator by examining college costs for the titular character in the film “Akeelah and the Bee.”

Robert Rubin of edX outlined the many ways educators and programmers are taking advantage of the nonprofit massive open online course platform’s open source code.

“It’s transformed from an open source project to an open source community,” Rubin said.

But all of this technology means nothing unless the right hands are putting it in front of the right students, the speakers repeated.

To that end, Bror Saxberg, chief learning officer of Kaplan Inc. aimed a dig toward MOOCs, telling the audience to imagine their worst professors — and then to imagine them broadcasting their teaching to tens of thousands of students at once.

“They are now weapons of mass destruction,” Saxberg said.

For the most part, though, data and technology was referred to throughout the event with reverence. Said Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton of the morning’s showcase of products: “Damn, I wish I’d had that.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan concluded the presentation with a fact he said keeps him awake at night. A generation ago, American universities’ graduation rates were ranked first in the world.

“Now, we’re twelfth,” Duncan said. “We need a different way of thinking about these issues.”

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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