Navigating uncharted waters
When Mei Tan started her master’s program in education data science (EDS) at the GSE, she planned on getting in, getting the answers to her questions, and getting out.
What she found instead — often the case with those studying new and emerging fields — was even more questions than she had to begin with.
“I came here looking for ways to hold the edtech industry to a higher standard, how to build software that’s sensitive to the context of real classrooms, and how to help teachers in ways that are meaningful to them,” said Tan, who was one of the founding engineers of Microsoft Education prior to joining the GSE. “But studying the effect of anything on education is really hard. There are a lot of unknowns, and I have a sea of more questions in addition to the ones I had from the start.”
While working at Microsoft, Tan volunteered as a remote computer science teacher for students in her home state of Texas. There she saw the significant gap between the problems edtech was trying to solve and the ones that were most prevalent.
“In the edtech field there is a narrative of ‘fundamentally changing’ and ‘disrupting’ the current education system, and I became increasingly uncomfortable with how little context the industry had about what really went on,” she said. “In my discomfort I sought more knowledge.”
While she certainly gained more knowledge upon graduating with the EDS’ first cohort of master’s students in June, Tan will return to the GSE in the fall to pursue her PhD. As a doctoral student she will work with Assistant Professor Dora Demszky to further bolster her understanding of the intersections between education, data analysis and using technology to support teachers.
“This entire line and method of work is exciting,” she says. “It’s amazing to know that I and my colleagues are pioneers in a field that’s just taking shape.”