David Williamson Shaffer

Credentials: Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Learning Sciences, Department of Educational Psychology; Data Philosopher, Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Position title: Department of Educational Policy; Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Email: dws@education.wisc.edu

David Williamson Shaffer is pioneering the emerging field of quantitative ethnography, which provides tools for researchers to embrace the human side of big data. While data analytics can identify patterns in the numbers, quantitative ethnography also gets at the stories behind those patterns. David’s research is breaking down the walls between quantitative and qualitative research, blending statistical and ethnographic techniques to derive meaning from data.

As director of the Epistemic Analytics lab, located in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, David develops innovative approaches to both research methodology and data analytics to enhance our understanding of how people learn. Traditionally, educational research has emphasized data about outcomes for students, such as growth in test scores. David is working to change that by grounding data in observations of how educational interventions affect the learning process, not just results.

David began his career as a K-12 teacher, both in the US and in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer. His desire to give students more authentic learning experiences led him to the MIT Media Laboratory, where he completed his Ph.D. Throughout his teaching and research career, he has aimed to develop a compelling vision for what needs to change in education and how to model those processes.

“If we don’t think about data analytics with a grounded perspective, we absolutely know that we will reinforce every bias in a systemically racist society. If we just look at the data and we’re not informed by an understanding of the people who generated it, all we’ll do is perpetuate existing inequalities.”