Data Visualizations that Enable Discovery in Schools

Viewers usually come to data visualizations with a question. Good visualizations answer that question. Great ones answer that question in a way that sparks more questions. The best visualizations answer the question, spark more questions, and answer those too.

Dan Murray, Director of Strategic Innovation at Interworks and Tableau “Zen Master”, is an expert at this. He’s built Tableau dashboards for a range of organizations wanting to use BI data more successfully, all with the goal of “enabling discovery” for the viewer. At Schoolzillla, we’ve seen similar success at school districts that do the same for teachers and principals.

An insight into the Chronic Absence Toolkit for District Leaders

Toolkit (1)

For a superintendent to get the most out of this report, it was important that he/she be able to explore the data independently. Just see how Dan’s top three “enabling discovery” tips applied:

  • Use filters and parameters: Filters allow you to narrow the scope of the data (e.g. by school year) and reach a more precise answer to your question. Similarly, parameters allow the viewer to explore the data using the factors that matter most to him/her (e.g. demographics).

filter parameter


gender parameter

(Notice how we narrowed the data to the 2014-15 school year and split the report by gender to compare chronic absence rates between male and female students.)

  • Tell more with tooltips: Tooltips allow you to offer lots of granularity without overcrowding the view. And for viewers who need to recognize individual data points before they trust the overall visualization, tooltips are a nice way to ground them. (Districts who have done this will tell you that data quality is especially important here: if the data’s incorrect, many viewers will decide the entire report is “broken”. Don’t waste your first impression with poor data quality!)
  • Pull it all together into a dashboard: Your data tells a story if you compile different perspectives into the same dashboard. This dashboard allows you to look at average daily attendance (ADA) against chronic absence rates at the same time so you know how chronically absent students are affecting your ADA rates. While each metric is important, they become infinitely more powerful when shown in the same frame.

If you’re interested in exploring this report in more detail (including a student-level attendance dashboard used by office managers across the country) request access here.

And if you’d like to try these tricks out on your own, Dan’s releasing a new edition of his Tableau how-to, Tableau Your Data!: Fast and Easy Visual Analysis with Tableau Software, a great resource for anyone learning to build reports in Tableau Desktop.

For teachers and principals, simple, exploreable reports using these tips can enable discovery and most importantly, empower action on behalf of your students.