2 months ago

Delight 19: Data

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this but I do love data.

It shouldn’t really surprise me. As a kid, I fell in love with sports, particularly baseball because of statistics. Baseball is a sport that loves numbers and data. Well before cyber metrics came along, baseball fans followed home runs, batting averages, strikeouts, stolen bases and other individual races as much as they followed the pennant race. Same with football and hockey for me. I remember in grade 5 being asked my favourite book and I said “ Pro Football’s Street and Smith Official Yearbook 1975” Mrs. Cram was not impressed. I would memorize stats and could tell you Fran Tarkenton’s throwing percentage and Chuck Foreman’s yards per carry.

Fast forward to adulthood and teaching and data were equated to tests and other measures. While this practice of “data-driven” instruction was taking root, I intuitively felt at odds. Without having the language or research I knew teaching was a human experience and there was a danger in trying to quantify learning. The work of Alfie Kohn in particular started me on the path of de-emphasizing grades and data. This has remained a theme for me.

It was about 8 years ago when I got my Fitbit that I had a small epiphany. At one point, Fitbit created a community and those communities could create challenges. At first, when asked to join a challenge I would always decline but for whatever reason, I accepted one. Now I was in a daily challenge with 10 other people, some I knew but most I didn’t. One evening I’m sitting on the couch watching TV with my wife and I get a notification that said, “Bill S. has now passed you”. Without even thinking about it, I stood up and starting walking on the spot. My wife asked, ” What are you doing?”

“Bill S. has just passed me”

“Who is Bill S.?”

“I don’t know but he’s not going to beat me” As silly as that sounded it was true. I was immediately struck with the apparent disconnect between my educationally-based belief that learning should largely be an intrinsic pursuit not swayed necessarily by data and my current lizard-brained activity of running on the spot to defeat a random person whom I may never meet.

The truth is that my daily goal of 11,000 steps is some combination of intrinsic and extrinsic learning. I love the buzz on my wrist when I meet that goal of 11,000 steps. I realize it’s not the end goal when it comes to my health but it’s a fun reminder. Gamifying things matters to some of us. Others find it distracts them from the real goal. I’m good with that.

I have a lot of data on my golf game. I have used an app for over 10 years that I track every single round I’ve played in that time. I can tell you when I played a certain course, my score on each hole, the number of fairways I hit, greens in regulation, putts and more. I use that data to help inform me about what areas I need to work on. However, I wouldn’t say it’s much more than my own personal gamification of the sport. That said, I have to be very careful not to let that data play a big role. I wrote this years ago and it represents a very important perspective that I maintain.

This is not an either/or conversation about data but more about emphasis. I like data and use it when I play. At the same time, I hate it when I let data get in the way. Focusing on data too much makes me forget about the sun on my face. It makes me forget that I’m with my friends and enjoying a laugh and time together. Focusing on data can make me forget I’m on a beautiful piece of land. It makes me forget how great it feels when I make a perfect shot, even if it only happens rarely. Golf is a wonderful game but it’s so much more than a score.  I always need to remind myself of this.

http://ideasandthoughts.org/2014/11/06/when-data-and-numbers-ruin-the-game/

I guess I’m a numbers guy. I like data and yes, I find delight in data. My phone is full of data. Maybe the key is that I find delight in it but I don’t find all the answers it in. Delight has a bit of a whimsical feel that can sometimes place things in their proper perspective. Thanks for reading this and while I don’t usually solicit comments, I’d love to hear a bit about your relationship with data and if indeed there are moments when it brings you delight.