Data Resource Roundup, Vol. 7

February 28, 2017

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

Welcome to the sixth edition of the Data Resource Roundup! In this series we will periodically share resources, including blogs, courses, white papers and other tools, that cover various aspects of data. Whether it’s better managing and tracking data or getting your organization to become more data-driven, it will all be here in the Roundup. Have your own resources that should be featured here? Be sure to let me know about them via email or by putting them in the comments. Want to see previous volumes? See Vol. 1 here and here, and check out Vol. 2Vol. 3Vol. 4Vol. 5, and Vol. 6.

FACTS AND FIGURES: Let’s be clear about something: Background statistics are often way more frustrating to track down than they should be. The American Academy of Arts & Sciences wants to make it a little bit easier with the report, “A Primer on the College Student Journey.” The report is intended “to convey the story of the major trends in undergraduate education through the framework of the student journey into, through, and beyond college.” Statistics covering preparing for, getting into, paying for, and persisting and completing at college are included.

________ MAKES THE DREAM WORK: You know what it is: teamwork. The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) has a good piece titled “Better Than Cake: Using Data to Celebrate Team Wins.” Data isn’t just for external audiences; it can be used as an internal motivator and congratulator. Programs are collecting a lot of data these days; how is your program using that data to point out what you’re doing right? This is sage advice: “Just as we hope to make our supporters feel like they are a part of something greater by sharing data on what they’ve helped us achieve, let us also remember the people by our side who want the same thing.”

DATA FOR ITS OWN SAKE < DATA FOR ACTION: James E. McCoy, superintendent of Lee County Public Schools in Alabama, has a short but sweet reminder that comes from the K-12 context but is applicable to NCAN members as well. This is his advice (just substitute “advisor” for “teacher” for your college access and success program): “Teachers need tools that allow them more time to teach, not add time to updating databases and spreadsheets. These tools need to be easy to use as well. There is proof that evidence boards make a difference in confirming a student’s progress or identifying a plan when the student is struggling. Transparency can create a space for healthy competition.”

BUT EVERYONE LIKES PIE: Lest readers think that the Data Resource Roundup is a text-only experience, here’s a multimedia feature. This 25-minute conference presentation finds Robert Kosara doing a deep dive on pie charts, which he says are “unloved, unstudied, and misunderstood.” If this is one of your preferred data visualization vehicles, take some time to better understand the design of and psychology around the segmented circle.

LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND DATA VISUALIZATION LIES: Nathan Yau of FlowingData is a recognized data expert, so I’m loathe to push back on anything he publishes. That said, I think that used correctly there’s sometimes value in having a chart’s axis value not be zero and employing dual axes. Still, this is a handy reference of the ways in which data visualizations can be misleading. Look out for these when making your own presentations and when examining those in the wild.

ONE DATASET, 25 WAYS: Back-to-back FlowingData links! Here, Yau takes the same life expectancy data, presents it 25 different ways, and then offers some advice on “getting to the point.” His “Focus” advice is the takeaway for members: “As you learn more, you get more choices, which in itself can be a challenge. Resist the temptation to add so many things to your visualization that it obscures the original purpose. That said, don’t use this as an excuse to resist trying new things. You won’t know how far you should go until you’ve gone too far. Iterate. Practice. Then let the data speak.”

REAL WORLD PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS: The New York Times takes a look at Georgia State University and other postsecondary institutions that are using the ubiquitous “big data” to predict student success and identify students who may be at-risk for not persisting or completing. This is only going to become more prevalent, not less, so readers should familiarize themselves with the concept and the execution.

Stay tuned until next time for even more resources on data and evaluation!

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