Nathan Jones: Using Data Science to Study How We Teach

Dr. Nathan Jones is an Associate Professor of Special Education in the BU Wheelock College of Education and Human Development and a founding member of the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences. His research focuses on measuring classroom teaching and investigating different conceptions of ‘good teaching.’

Much of his work involves measuring teaching effectiveness, evaluating teachers and providing feedback on how they are performing. As a former teacher himself, Jones has first-hand experience on the evaluation of teachers and the variance of education across urban, suburban, and rural areas. During his time as a middle school teacher in the 2000s, he witnessed a lot of federal changes to education policy and decided he wanted to pursue a doctorate degree to work on these issues. 

Jones believes that machine learning and AI provide opportunities to expand the kinds of questions asked in educational research, particularly if complementing traditional data sources in education. Data science can also help address challenges faced by educational researchers. As one example, much of Jones’ work over the past several years has involved training human raters to assess the quality of some aspect of classroom instruction. Such procedures are time consuming, costly, and commonly require multiple raters to ensure reliable scoring. Machine learning has increasingly been used to complement – and in some cases approximate – human scoring on classroom observation tools. 

Jones is currently pursuing opportunities to collaborate with CDS faculty on possible grant submissions to federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, both of which have established funding opportunities focused specifically on data sciences in educational research. Within his role at CDS, Dr. Jones also helps to oversee goals of the unit while representing Wheelock College.

Outside of his research work and faculty position, Jones plays a role in building curriculum for the doctoral program and seminars within Wheelock, and he is working with his colleagues to foster further opportunities for Wheelock and CDS students to work at the intersection of education and data science.

His most recent findings are available here. The paper represents the first long-term study of how teachers’ work changed in the immediate months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools across the US shut down and began remote learning.

We cannot wait to see the amazing impact he continues to make on the BU community and the field of education.