Week 1: what are ‘data’?

“Data Centre” by Route79 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This deceptively simple question guides our introductory week. Firstly, you’ll notice that the grammar of this question adheres to the fact that the term ‘data’ is technically the plural form of the singular ‘datum’; however, in common usage this is usually overlooked, and we won’t hold you to it on this course! Further, as Williamson notes, ‘data’ are ‘derived etymologically from the Latin dare, meaning “to give”’, and in this sense ‘signifies something that is given or taken for granted; data constitute the raw elements that can be abstracted, measured and recorded from various phenomena and turned into evidence or facts’ (Williamson 2017, p29). As you’ll hopefully encounter further in the readings this week, data can also be understood as something ‘taken’, but also as the product of social and technical practices, deeply connected to the contexts and means by which they were produced. From this perspective, the question of ‘what are data?’ would seem to be rather involved, requiring us to be attentive to a diverse range of factors, from the specific technologies and techniques involved in data capture to the wider social and political environment that shapes how the results are used.

It is precisely in this involved sense that we explore a critical understanding of data in education over the next 12 weeks of this course, examining key contexts in which practices of learning, teaching, and educational governance are influenced by the wider ‘datafied society’. This week will provide you with a conceptual foundation through which to approach subsequent weeks and themes of the course, as well as the upcoming ‘data visualisation’ assignment. We’ll do this through some dedicated reading, a group video tutorial, and some discussion in the week 1 forum.

Your key tasks this week will be to: