Education Canada Magazine

EdCan Network, Promising Practices

The Signal: Mapping language acquisition

A Slew of Signals


MIT professor Deb Roy1 wanted to understand how his infant son learned language, so he wired his house with video cameras and parsed 90,000 hours of video to interpret how his son turned the sound “gaaa” into “water.” Roy used visual manipulations of data to create space and time “hotspots” that provided clues around language acquisition. These “hotspots” or data worms led to insights around how language develops in the very young.

So what?

Observing the work of academics, statisticians, program evaluators and data specialists clues us in to how our world is evolving and changing. These professionals are modeling new ways to combine perspectives, methods, information and technologies. Researcher Deb Roy maps data across the space and time continuum. Big data parses data for causality and evidence. Social network mapping organizes complex data into relational maps. New mapping technologies combine population data with geospatial innovation across disciplinary data sets. A data revolution is underway.

Now what?

Educators need to respond to this signal of change through evolving practice and a nimble interaction with information and technology. New data approaches offer incredible opportunities to leverage data to address important social issues. Amplifying innovative thought and preparing students to respond to multiple ways of thinking becomes a 21st century imperative.


Participant reflections on signals of change

Participants at the 2016 EdCan Network Regional Exchanges discussed more signals of change than we could possibly cover — but we wanted to share a sense of their range and significance. We invited a number of participants to write a short piece reflecting on one of the signals they brought to the Exchange.


Discover more signals at:


We want to know what you think. Join the conversation @EdCanPub #EdCan!

Photos: Max Cooke and Yolande Nantel

First published in Education Canada, March 2018



Meet the Expert(s)

Sheila Giesbrecht

Student Success Consultant, Manitoba Education

Dr. Sheila Giesbrecht is an educator who is interested in program evaluation, social innovation and supporting students within low socioeconomic contexts.

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