Storytelling with Educational Data


A little more context beyond that Twitter conversation: This summer, I am teaching two sections of the same course in our Ed.D. program ((One section is online and the other is f2f. I should probably, at some point, write a separate post about the instructional design decisions I made to effectively blend these two modalities. Remind me…)). The course is titled, “Communicating Research Findings,” though that is probably not the perfect name. The course has two main goals. First, it is the last course before students enter into an academic year of working on their small group capstone projects. Those projects have Ed.D. students working with a local organization on a real problem of practice. That work on the problem of practice always involves research of some kind, and often it involves the collection of original data (and occasionally, analysis of secondary data). During at least two points during the year, the capstone teams present their work to the client. So, in this course, I work with students to grow their capacity to deliver modern reports (both as products and as oral presentations) to their clients.

The second goal of the course is related to the fact that our Ed.D. is a leadership program. And, I strongly believe that organizational leaders need to understand the affordances of modern technologies for communicating with data. For better and for worse, and especially so in education, we are awash in data and there are healthy ways to analyze those data and report the resultant information so as to advance the goals of the organization. There are a whole set of leadership skills and dispositions around data and information these days that educational leadership programs should address with their students.

Very basically, I want students to move their reporting of data and information beyond Word+Excel+Powerpoint (or the Apple equivalent trinity). And, I want students, as researchers and leaders, to think of themselves as storytellers and designers ((I should note that I have taught this course a few times before, but new technologies for data visualization are constantly emerging and my own skill set has been growing over the years. Thus, as usual, I have tweaked the course this summer to be framed around the Storytelling with Data book and the focus on the two dataviz platforms.)).

With all of that in mind, we are reading three books:

We are also learning to use two freely available data visualization tools:

My sense before the course started was that it would be quite clear to my students how these books and tools could be useful for their upcoming capstone projects, but I was less sure that students could see how this all might apply to the work of educational leadership (the second of the two main goals articulated above). Fortunately, I have the privilege of working with a great team of folks from our internal research and evaluation center, the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC). And, it so happens that my MERC colleague, Dr. David Naff, is currently involved in a major research project with a large local school division wherein they are using Google Data Studio to provide information from the research project to school division and building leaders. In addition to producing the typical long, static, written report to the school division, the study results are being delivered via interactive, Web-based data dashboards. When David first told me about this effort, I knew I had to have him demonstrate the work as I think it’s a perfect example of how educational researchers and leaders can work together to use data visualization technologies and techniques to display important, meaningful information in a much more interactive, actionable form than a 100+ page pdf file.

So, I interviewed David via Zoom and invited my students to “attend” live and/or to watch the recording of the interview after the fact. The video recording of my interview with Dr. David Naff is below. I post it here in case it is helpful to more than just my Ed.D. students.

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