'Read the Headlines not the News': The Importance of Visualising your Data in Education

By IT@Spectrum | Posted: 19 Sep 2017

There's a saying "Read the Headlines not the News", but what does it actually mean and are we all guilty of this?

According to an article published by Forbes, an astonishing 59% of Americans will share and distribute web articles based on the headline without reading the article itself.

So if you are reading this blog, congratulations, because you are in the minority!

The main purpose of a headline is to attract your attention to entice you to read more, through using words to provoke an emotive response, such as fear or happiness. Unfortunately, this can lead to headlines being misinterpreted, misleading, or even labelled as ‘fake news’ (a term coined by Donald Trump).

…The less known fact is that the same thing can be said about data.

Data is undeniably one of the most important commodities to an education establishment. From day to day running expenditures, all the way through to determining the attainment level of a student and their predicted exam results, data plays a key role.

The main thing to remember with data is that it is only useful if you are proactive with it. This means making decisions based on your data, enabling you to save money or be more efficient, but potentially (and more importantly) making improvements to your day to day methods. For example, improving a student's learning experience that in turn, results in students reaching the required levels of progress.

BUT HOW IS THIS DATA PRESENTED AND INTERPRETED?

Schools receive an abundance of data in a variety of forms. To maintain accurate data, different individuals are relied upon to insert the correct information.

…But how do they know that the data is accurate?

…How do they collect and formulate the data from different sources?

…Importantly, how long does it take to do this?

Understanding, analysing, and presenting the data are the three 3 main considerations when it comes to data handling.

Firstly, you need to be able to understand what the data is and how it applies to the topic. Don’t be afraid to query something you don’t understand. It is important that you understand every aspect of the data before moving onto the next step.

Once you understand the data, you then need to analyse it. Look for patterns, look for potential abnormalities and start to probe the data by asking questions of it - take for example a student attainment report, why is a student not achieving their predicted grade? When did it start happening? How many lessons has the student attended? Who does the student sit next to? Who is the teacher? What environmental factors could have affected the student in question? Questioning the data allows you to analyse the information with more depth and clarity.

Finally, once you have probed the data you can now be proactive in forming a plan using the information to make a positive impact on your organisation. Taking the example above, the student in question may have been ill so they may have missed lessons and require additional homework to catch up! Or the student may have moved to a different desk next to a distracting individual who is affecting their education.

To come to these conclusions, what better way to make informed decisions than by presenting the data in a user-friendly format? Therefore, when displaying the data you must consider the audience. If your audience are suited to figures instead of diagrams, then they won't have an issue reading the findings within a spreadsheet. However, if a person who understands diagrams is given the same document, there is a high probability they will lose their focus and your point will become lost. Therefore, the most popular reports contain both diagrams as well figures, to captivate both audiences.

As an Implementation Technician, I understand that the main difficulties experienced with data capture and data handling within education is largely about the ways the data is received, and the time taken to manipulate the data into a format which is readable by an organisation’s reporting software. This is a common issue as many documents are received in spreadsheet format with different schemas so it isn't easy to merge the data into one. In addition, some data is received in handheld or PDF format. This causes an additional and unnecessary workload to the staff member as they need to re-work the data into a format that is acceptable by the school's reporting software.

Furthermore, the reporting software doesn’t always present the data in a format which is understandable to users, missing the point you are trying to emphasise completely. Additionally, the data is not intuitive so you can't question the data when it is presented. Your only option is to regenerate the same set of data but into another restrictive format. Every school is different, they want to present their data in different ways and not be limited by what their reporting software offers, thinking they have no other option.

Considering all of this, it is clear that within the education sector some teachers are expected to analyse data, spot trends, and present information in a format which is understandable to the intended audience, within a minimal time period.

Perhaps this is why people just read the headlines and not the news? Perhaps the headline is the only aspect of the news they can understand and interpret with such limited resources. This is problematic as it may be the wrong interpretation leading to the wrong judgement, which is concerning when it is regarding a child's future.

Ideally, the education sector needs a solution which can analyse the data, spot the trends, and write the news for them. Then the only thing they need to worry about is a catchy headline! That’s where we can help.

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