#EL30 Week 1 From documents to data

Documents to data — for me, this is not an easy farewell.

It is not that I conceived ‘data’ as a setback in the hierarchy of data – information – knowledge – wisdom. This meaning of data is just one of the two possible senses: the one that suggests that data is just the substance, the raw material that we ‘processed’ when IT was still called EDP. While the glimpse into Learning Analytics on Wednesday still sounded like they see data like the tons of sand that clueless gold miners sift through to find some nuggets, Stephen’s last video featured a very different sense of data: like ‘facts’ which are ‘linked’ in Berners-Lee’s semantic web, and which are shared via the various initiatives to open the results of publicly funded research data for reuse and validation. This is an approach that must be applauded, of course, despite there is a danger that unstructured (unlinkable) ‘data’ get neglected.

What worries me is that the addressability, manageability, and transparency of the document files and webpages is lost — and with it a certain level of autonomy/ majority. In the document model, when you were about to click a link, you were able to see an address of an html file, composed from the gigantic world-wide hierarchy of top-level domain, subdomain(s), hostname, folder, subfolder(s), and page file name. In modern page views, it is totally obscure from where the Javascript loads its tons of ingredients — which, of course, is intended by the platform owners to better patronize you in minority.

It reminds me of the time when library information or, say, chemical abstracts were retrieved from OPACs or other special database hosts through an X.25 session and a login window, rather than clicking directly. OK, database rows aren’t typically addressed separately. But letting go of files and folders, also my own responsibility of backup and restore becomes much more risky. While I use to just right-click and copy my .accdb MS Access database file before I start a risky operation, I don’t know how I would repair the MySQL database on Reclaim Hosting if it scrambled; even if I recovered the component files, I’m not sure how I would recreate the whole again (which is greater than the sum of its parts).

The typical cylindric database icon, as a jigsaw puzzle, with some of the scrambled pieces reassemmbled and some  not.

Scrambled database

OK, maybe I am more relying on my file system than a modern user would do (e.g. my notes are just tiny separate Notepad .txt files, and much of my ‘graph’ consists of simple folder shortcuts), but I find it regrettable that in modern apps, and especially on the mobile, the access to your single files is largely obscured — and I was already thinking that a ‘Reclaim your filesystem’ movement was due.

I understand the push from larger objects towards smaller entities. From a picture object to picture dots. From assignments to xAPI events. It might help to ‘see’ an emergent whole picture in the way human brains do when they let go of the typical isolating/ fixing habit. (I am not sure though, if Learning Analytics is not also used to isolate ‘trends’ and reduce students to measures.)

But the users’ handling of their data becomes more complicated, and I fear people are willing to delegate ever more of this hassle to the eager offers of ‘helpful’ platforms. The classical example for me was RSS where the simple thing of a feed address is so much obscured that standalone readers died and people were lured into the trap of the Google Reader.

So, yes, decentralization becomes more important with the data-based model — becomes very important.

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4 Responses to #EL30 Week 1 From documents to data

  1. dogtrax says:

    „.. the users’ handling of their data becomes more complicated, and I fear people are willing to delegate ever more of this hassle to the eager offers of ‘helpful’ platforms.“
    This is reality, unfortunately, and mostly because not enough of us know enough of how systems and data analysis really works. We default to „ease“ and companies use that default to set up ways for us to give up privacy for profit (theirs).
    Thanks for sharing your insights and reflections.


  2. x28 says:

    Thank you Kevin for your visit, and for highlighting the challenge of ‘ease’.


  3. cain says:

    “Learning Analytics is not also used to isolate ‘trends’ and reduce students to measures.” This has been one of my concerns too. I think more needs to be done around the ethics of handling this data – we have FERPA but we need to take care with even so-called “disaggregated” records because the analytics systems are getting good at reaggregating them and that aggravates me 🙂 Be seeing you!


  4. x28 says:

    Thank you Geoff; we seem to share not only our fondness for concept mapping.


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