Last week I was in the beautiful town of Maastricht to present on learning analytics at Health, Education and Lifestyle in the Digital Era. This was an event run at the Bonbonniere by the iLife project at Maastricht University.
The event was unusual in that it brought people from the fields of education and medicine together to talk about ways of making use of big data and digital innovation.
I was particularly inspired by Joel Dudley’s talk (very similar to this one). He is director of biomedical informatics at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, with access to data about over 3 million patients. He outlined some of the unexpected connections thrown up by analysis of this data: the anticonvulsant drug that treats inflammatory bowel disease, and the antipsychotic drug that treats small-cell lung cancer. He also showed networked images of data related to Type II diabetes, which point to this being not one, but three diseases.
For the non-medics in the room, he widened his talk to the use of data in general. When Amazon and Netflix base their recommendations for him on hundreds of data points, why is he prescribed medicine on the basis that he is a male in his thirties from New York? When Formula 1 cars have 200 data feeds and turn in 5GB of data in every lap, why is our knowledge of our own health confined to a few readings made at the times when we turn up in the doctor’s surgery? He pointed to the new technologies that enable us to gather data about our health – from tattoo biosensors, to nappies that form part of the Internet of Things, to a device that enables your smartphone to carry out blood tests. Now that we can collect all this data, when are we going to make good use of it to improve and extend our lives?
My presentation, like many others, looked to the future, drawing on the Visions of the Future study currently being carried out by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project. Visions of the Future began with the development of eight future scenarios for learning analytics that could come to pass by 2025. For each of them, we have asked experts – through surveys and workshops – whether the vision is desirable, whether it is feasible, and what would have to happen to make it a reality. The study is still in progress, but I was able to report on initial findings and responses.