Science is data-intensive, but today’s science education is not. In most classrooms, students’ work with data is limited to reading graphs prepared by others, or at best collecting simple data sets themselves. While these student-collected data sets allow students to begin building their data proficiency, the conclusions that can be drawn and the lessons that can be learned from these data are limited in scope and can sometimes be compromised by data quality. The large, high-quality scientific data sets that are newly available online allow today’s science students to incorporate working with authentic data into their learning experiences, giving them virtually unlimited opportunities to participate in real scientific work.
However, the fact remains that the educational promise of large scientific cyberinfrastructures will not be met without concerted effort. It is a huge leap to bridge from reading graphs or maps that have been carefully prepared to illustrate a particular concept to interpreting data visualizations that may not have ever been seen before, may have data problems, and may not show any obvious trend. It’s also a huge leap to bridge from data that students have collected themselves to data that were collected remotely, by instruments students do not understand, in an environment they have not seen.
As one of our advisors, Jim Hammerman (August 22, 2012), noted:
It’s a really hard and important problem. It shouldn’t be so hard for people in schools to use [these professional data sets], but we all know it is. I’m interested in having these sorts of tools available for schools and citizen groups who want to make a difference in the world, making it possible for people to be curious, and making the case for what matters to them using data.
The Oceans of Data project has made an attempt to define and confront what is “hard” for students and teachers who attempt to use large, online professional data sets. We feel passionately that it’s important for us to do this to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world.