Monday, October 26, 2015

What can a dog teach you about data?

I just got back from last week's Tableau Conference after spending a few extra days in Las Vegas.  What an amazing week!  This was my second conference and I can't wait until next year when the conference will be coming to Austin, Texas.

As I met people at conference, I shared my Tableau journey over the last year.  How I went to conference in Seattle without ever using the tool, taking 2 days of training, and starting this blog the day I came home.  It has been an exciting year, and I have come a learned so much, but hands down the most rewarding experience was when I was asked to present about data at my son's school

Sharing this with people over the last week, many of them commented on my example of using a dog to teach 10 year kids about the different types of data.  I was even mentioned by Tableau Zen Master Peter Gilks on his blog post of thoughts from conference.  Some people thought that this analogy was a great tool to explain to their own children what they do everyday while others mentioned that it was a great way to educate their management on data types.

So how can we use a dog to learn about data?  Well as most of you know, data can be classified as either qualitative or quantitative. Since my audience was a group of elementary students, I looked for a way to keep the definitions simple and easy to remember. 
  • Qualitative - data that is descriptive, and does not measure things
  • Quantitative - data that is used to measure and can be written down in numbers
To help them remember it, I pointed out at the "Quantitative is about Quantity."  These definitions are also useful when describing the difference between Dimensions and Measures to a new Tableau user.

Taking it one step further, there are two types of quantitative data - discrete and continuous.  I will admit that when I first started using Tableau, I struggled with this until I started thinking about it in the following terms:
  • Discrete - whole numbers or items that can be counted
  • Continuous - numbers within a range or can be measured
Once the students had a general understanding of the definition, I introduced them to Data the Dog and began asking questions. 
  • What is something qualitative about Data?
    • He is brown and white
    • He has a red collar
    • He has lots of energy
    • He is friendly
  • How about something quantitative that is discrete?
    • He has 4 legs
    • He has 2 eyes
  • Or something continuous?
    • He weighs 14.5 pounds
    • He is 3 years old
  • Can you combine qualitative and quantitative to describe him?
    • He has 2 (discrete) brown ears (qualitative)
Going in, I wasn't sure how well they would grasp the concept.  I gave 5 different presentations that day to different classes.  I thought there would be 1-2 students in each class that would provide answers, but I was wrong.  In every session, multiple kids raised their hands and gave correct answers.  One of the sessions was for my daughter's 1st grade class.  I didn't want her to feel left out since I was at her school all day.  Even they understood after a few examples!

It was so fulfilling to see these kids get excited about data!  One of the teachers even sent me an email the next day to tell me that the students had Chromebooks in class and they all wanted to build visualizations.  Future Data Rockstars!

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