13 November 2009

Data Visualization for the Classroom: Part I

One of my professional goals from last year was to delve deeper into the realm of "data visualization" and think about applications to schools. There are any number of websites devoted to great visualizations of social and economic information (as well as plenty of "Infoporn"/eye candy), but I'm not seeing much in the way of transitions to practical applications for schools. And I think we could use them.

I'm still playing with some ideas for an upcoming presentation, but here is some of my thinking so far...

Consider the graphic to be a piece of a gradebook. I haven't labeled the assignments, just input some numbers representing where students scored (on a 4-point scale) for a given standard. I used boldfaced type for summative assessments---others are formative.

Fuchs and Fuchs (1986) conducted a meta-analysis of feedback types given to students and determined that graphic representations (putting information into pictures---not just words/numbers) increased student achievement by 26%. So, what can we do with the batch of numbers shown above? For one, we can apply some conditional formatting and make a "traffic signal" visual:

It's not bad. It certainly gives me a better idea about whether or not the class is "getting it," depending on the assignment. But we can also take things a step further, and eliminate the numbers altogether:

The graphs above come from a Sparklines add-in for Excel. It is a free, open-source (Thank you, Fabrice!) tool that provides you with multiple options for charts/graphs that are one cell in size. (Note: Microsquash just applied for a patent for their own version, but it is nowhere near what others have developed...and, let's face it, there is nothing proprietary about their ideas in this matter.) But back to the snapshot above, I had Excel generate a simple line graph for each student (with the red line representing "At Standard/Level 3") and the bar chart at the bottom summarizing the data for the entire class.

So far, so good. When I look at this with my teacher eyes, I see so much more of a story appearing about each student. It is no longer a sea of numbers. Now, these fancy-dancy charts won't help me know what to do next (e.g. If students are still below standard, what should the intervention be?), but it may be a better start for identifying issues.

I have a few other tricks up my sleeve that I'm working on and will share in the coming days. What would you like your gradebook to be able to do and show you?

Update 5/2012: Please visit my page on the Excel for Educators blog for the most recent versions of gradebooks and reporting tools.


Dr Pezz said...

I would love to play around with the resources you have posted here. I have to admit, however, that I am quite the novice when it comes to Excel.

I like the color coding and the line graphs. Excellent.

Jason Buell said...

I use Excel for my gradebook too before transferring into Powerschool for the official version. I go for bar graphs showing percent proficient and that sort of thing. The trouble I'm having is I end up leaving comments on all these scores like "Only missing standard 3b" or "needs to learn to calculate acceleration". I guess I don't have a good way of doing that other than hand coding it and then hovering over all their scores. So I guess what I need is a good way to manage comments in excel. I was thinking I could input all the standards and then create like a checklist system or something. Not really sure.

The Science Goddess said...

Hi, JYB,

You might have a look at this post from the Contextures Blog: Numbering Excel Comments.

It might not be the perfect solution, but it is one I've had bookmarked as a "just in case" type thing.

Dr. Pezz---Once I get done playing with a few things, I'll upload a sample workbook. The only problem is that if you don't have the Sparklines plugin (it's free!), you wouldn't be able to play with the graphs.