In December, I had a district level administrator tell me his wish for the ability to overlay his student achievement data with a Google Map. At the time, I thought it was a very intriguing idea, but I was unaware of any tool which would automate that process. It seemed unlikely that anyone would actually take the time to build a map in Google Maps, student-by-student. I had seen visitor maps on websites that somehow captured IP addresses and then pulled them into a map displayed on the sidebar, but I was sure that required way more code than I was interested in dealing with.
And then, a few weeks ago, the link for MapAList appeared in my Twitter stream. MapAList is "a wizard for creating and managing customized maps of address lists." Hmmm...
I pulled some public data off the state website and stripped off what I needed (name of school, address, score on 5th grade 2009 science WASL) in Excel. I then uploaded the spreadsheet into GoogleDocs and logged into MapAList. After fussing a bit with the settings, this is the result (or click this link):
What you're looking at is a map representing nearly every elementary school in the state. Be sure to zoom in so you can have a better view of things. Looking back on the process, I probably should have used a smaller data set to begin with (there are over 1000 pins in that puppy), but I do so enjoy a challenge. My divisions by percent meeting standard are arbitrary. Perhaps other pieces of data would be more valuable to show. But for proof of concept, it's a start.
I do find it interesting to see just how much the Cascades really divide our state. The map also gives an interesting view of population. While not every elementary school is the same size, the effect of clustered pins provides a different way to think about distribution. The yellow and green "outliers" definitely grab your attention. What's happening in those schools that are all by themselves (in terms of geography) and are doing all right?
Right now, you are limited to two pieces of data/information showing in the pop-up for each pin. This is a bit of a limitation---I would like to show school district name or % free/reduced lunch or size of school or ethnicity data in addition to school name and score. The tool is also clunky if you want to go back and change any settings---for the most part, you just have to start over. The map will autoupdate if your spreadsheet changes, you're just stuck with the labels and appearance of the things.
As an educator, what are the uses for a tool like this? Might I want to mash my district achievement data (however that's defined) with a map? Would I see intriguing things as the neighbourhoods changed or gain other insights? I do believe that one would have to be very careful of running afoul of FERPA. I'd want to leave student names off the spreadsheet---they're unnecessary in some ways if the goal is just to visualize the interaction between geography and achievement.
I wonder how many other interesting ideas for data mashups are out there. What else is on the wish list for teachers and administrators in terms of data visualization?