Justin Reich asks: “What would you do with years of online discussion data?”

He explains: “[Emily] has access to a huge dataset from a for-profit college which includes student outcomes (graduate rates, annual re-enrollment, course completion), student demographic information, and transcripts from online discussion boards.”

And expands: “what could you do with the online transcripts that could teach you something about improving outcomes? How would you go about identifying practices in online learning environments that predicted better outcomes for students? And if you found those practices, could you understand them with enough granularity to make actionable suggestions for educators?”

Here’s what I think: I think it’s great that Justin is asking these questions. The idea of a lone scholar working by herself in an office and churning out papers is a relic of the past. My recommendation would be to publicize the research questions that you will be answering using that dataset, and then to anonymize and publish the data in the same way that biomedical researchers do. Figure out what you are interested in researching out of this dataset, but then make it available to others who may be able to pursue related research questions. Granted, colleges of education may not place a high value on the publication of datasets, but given that you might be providing the foundations for others to answer important research questions related to online education, I would argue that this should be considered an important scholarly contribution that our community should embrace.

Disclaimer: I am not interested in the dataset as the data do not appear to fit within  my research interests/agenda.