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Utilizing Big Data to Unlock Innovation in Education

I’m always looking for new areas of innovation. One topic in particular that I’ve been keeping an eye on is big data, as this emerging area has the potential to change multiple industries and generate tremendous value.

This has already been happening in private sector industries like retail, where companies like Wal-Mart have been using predictive technologies to mine the trillions of bytes of data regarding shopper behavior it has collected to forecast what products its customers would need in different situations. For example, ahead of Hurricane Frances in 2004, Wal-Mart learned that strawberry Pop-Tarts increase seven times their normal sales rate and beer was the pre-hurricane top selling item. This resulted in stores in the path of the storm being stocked with these items, which sold quickly.

Even more interesting are new efforts in industries like education and government.

For example, at Stanford University, big data is being used to research how students learn in online classes. As Daphne Koller, a professor at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, told The New York Times last month, “In most education research, teaching methods are tested in small groups, comparing results in different classrooms. With small sample groups, research conclusions tend to be uncertain and results are often not available until tests at the end of school semesters. But in an online class of 20,000 students, whose every mouse click is tracked in real time, the research can be more definitive and more immediate.”

Recently, the Obama administration announced a $200 million dollar “Big Data Research & Development Initiative” to help accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen national security, and transform teaching and learning.

Efforts like these are of most interest to us at Skype, as we believe that any acceleration to improving and modernizing teaching is a good step in the right direction.

It is our sincere hope that advances in education technology – be it big data or video calling – can help further revolutionize the way our next generation learns.

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