Back in the Summer of 2021 I only had a hazy understanding of Big Data. It seems to be a word thrown around here and there during conversations on the advancement of technology or the dangers of companies selling your information. But, “Big Data” is more than just a buzz word!
Big Data “is a term that refers to the gargantuan volume of data that cannot be processed without the use of technology. Big Data uses data processing to analyze and extract information from datasets to gain insights and advance forward.” (cissbigdata.org)
Truth be told, in the technology-driven world today you would have an incredibly hard time avoiding Big Data. It has been ingrained into the internet and the many sites we frequent but also beyond that.
- Wonder how YouTube recommends you videos? Big Data.
- How does my shopping site seem to know what I need before I do? Big Data.
- What powers Google’s Auto-fill Search function? Big Data.
- How does my document know that I misspelled those words? Big Data.
- It’s strange that my cell phone keyboard can formulate a sentence with the auto-recommended words. How? Big Data.
That’s right, Big Data is present beyond just what we initially assume. It’s existent beyond your searches and shopping habits, it’s a part of your auto-spelling check and auto-correct.
Big Data can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. It can also be characterized by its V’s. People have different opinions on how many V’s should be considered as the most important, however there is a general core 5 V’s.
- Volume: the size of the data.
- Velocity: the speed of the data.
- Value: the importance of the data.
- Variety: the type of data.
- Veracity: the quality of the data
👉 There are several more. Check out this link to read more about the different V’s of Big Data.
Is Big Data Good or Bad?
Like I mentioned before, Big Data seems to have become a buzz word in the media. Many people jump on the fear-mongering bandwagon that perpetuates the notion that Big Data is evil and invading your privacy. I will concede that that may be true – to a certain degree.
First, you must understand that like nearly everything in this world, something is only as good or bad as the person that wields it. Big Data is not inherently good or bad. It just is.
It’s true that companies that obtain your data can and might sell it to third-party companies. However, that’s typically after you agree to their terms and conditions.
Most of what Big Data does benefits us. Many of the functions we enjoy online are quicker due to Big Data. We almost never want to type out an entire query into a search engine, so we utilize the auto-fill options Google and other search engines provide.
The reason why social media and platforms like YouTube can be so addicting is because content we enjoy is recommended to us. This doesn’t just magically happen; algorithms take into account all the data we provide it with and when comparing with the user behaviors of others viewing similar videos, we are recommended videos we are more likely to watch.
How I’ve Used Big Data to Understand Global Issues
The semester-long course I took during 2021 led up to a final project using Big Data analytics on a topic of our choice. My classmates conducted their projects on the NBA, coral bleaching, solar panels and more. Personally, I decided to center my project on poverty in Argentina.
Specifically, how different socio-economic factors related to poverty within the nation. My project was divided up into 3 analyses. Analysis A centered on the relationships between the school dropout rate, illiteracy, and poverty. Analysis B investigated the relationships between lack of healthcare, deficient infrastructure, and poverty. Finally, Analysis C examined the relationships between doctors per capita, birth mortality*, and poverty. (*Birth mortality is not an official term. For the purposes of this project, it is understood to reference infant mortality rate. This is the number of children that pass away between the time of their birth and before they turn 1 years old per 1,000 infants that make it to their first birthday and on.)
I, along with several of my classmates, were invited by my teacher to participate in the 5th International Conference on Big Data and Education. After the conference I was awarded the “Best Oral Presentation” award in my category.
Beyond the Classroom
Big Data’s role in my life hasn’t stopped simply because the semester ended, and I moved on to learning something else. I had a summer 2022 internship with Concordia Welfare & Education Foundation (CWEF) centered on Big Data analytics.
Following is a short Q&A I conducted with CWEF Executive Director Josh Lange and his interest in how Big Data can help his organization with poverty alleviation in Asia.
- Why did you want to use Big Data for your project analysis?
For the past few years, our team has put a strong emphasis on improving our storytelling — helping our community of supporters experience a deeper connection with the impact of their giving on real people’s lives.
Now, in the coming few years, we want to place a stronger focus on improving our ability to understand and draw conclusions from the data we already have available, as well as getting better at planning, gathering, and analyzing data for financial management and program monitoring & evaluation.
One of our key values for Concordia Welfare & Education Foundation (CWEF) is “Trustworthiness.” In addition to cultivating healthy financial stewardship and accountability, we also know that thoughtfulness and diligence in collecting and analyzing data about the rural communities we serve will lead to better outcomes in the future. We also believe that improving our organizational habits related to the use of data will lead to better decision-making and increased confidence and commitment from our community of supporters. ✦
- What are the benefits in using Big Data?
For our leaders and team members, it’s challenging to see or understand the ‘whole picture’ of a program, organization, or system that we are trying to understand and improve. By improving our field of vision by using data analysis and visualization, it can help to enlighten us about important issues and opportunities we might currently be unable to see. ✦
- Overall, how do you think Big Data can support poverty alleviation?
Big Data has the potential to help nonprofits and other teams working in poverty alleviation and rural development through: improving the effectiveness of our work through monitoring and evaluation, helping leaders to make more informed decisions, and getting a clearer window into important trends, both within the organization and in the wider environment. ✦
✨ In addition to the Big Data assistance to CWEF, several classmates and I have been writing a picture book about Big Data. It’s been exciting and challenging to create text to explain such big concepts in simple ways. The project is still underway, and this article will be updated according to its progress. Stay tuned!
Increase Your Understanding of Big Data
Big Data is a huge part of our lives whether we know it or not. It is also becoming an invaluable skill as the technological age advances. If you and your family are ever looking to learn something new, I highly recommend learning about Big Data. You can certainly find an application to your own personal interests and further your understanding in that capacity.
Are you ready to learn more? Take this FREE Big Data analytics course that was developed by Concordia International School Shanghai Big Data students. The course is broken up into several modules with written and visual sources. There are some notes documents and optional quizzes for you to further cultivate your understanding.
There are dozens of articles published on Medium.com by myself, current and former students in Concordia’s Applied Learning Analytics class. The articles cover a variety of topics on Big Data and explain what it is in more detail.
To sum up, I was inspired to use data and analytics software to better understand the needs of the world. I found Big Data to be a useful source for analyzing solutions to the problems that lie before us. This is a field that is still newly emerging, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to begin to explore the advantages of using Big Data for Global Issues while still in high school.
Big Data analytics is a powerful tool for making a difference. I hope you will agree!