Business Intelligence in Education – Visualising learning data

I’ve written before about the ways that data can be visualised to help teachers and leaders understand the story of learners within their own school. And one of the examples I have used is PivotViewer, which helps to focus on individual students – and groups of students – in a very visual one (see this Learning Analytics blog post).

Chris Ballard, who is part of the Tribal Labs team in the UK, is doing a lot of work on using learning data to enhance learning – and how cutting edge technologies can help to bring data to life for people who don’t enjoy staring at spreadsheets all day. (That includes me – I can ‘get’ data really quickly when it’s visualised, and I know that it is much easier to explain to other people when they can see data, and especially see the impact of changing data.

Visualising Learning Data

Chris’s latest blog post, Analysing education data with Silverlight 5 Pivot Viewer, is a great way to understand the kind of work that they are doing to visualise data for schools. Much of their work focuses on using Microsoft’s Silverlight, which is described as “a powerful development platform for creating engaging, interactive user experiences for Web, desktop, and mobile applications when online or offline”. Which means you can develop a single version of a visual, interactive application, and it will run on a laptop, phone or other interactive device.

The example Chris uses is a basic student reporting database, where you can easily start to dig down into your data, showing students by all kinds of different criteria – and showing each student as a picture, with colour coding for their performance. And because it is interactive, you can quickly change the display criteria (eg show students in a certain class, or those which have special needs), and the student images whizz around in real time. And this can be overlaid with colour codes (eg highlight everybody that’s not improved their NAPLAN scores in red).


And what Chris goes on to say is how this helps in education:


As soon as I saw PivotViewer I realised that it had lots of potential in the education sector. For example, schools could create a collection of students, using photos to represent each student, and use it to help them understand student progress. In the UK education sector for example, schools are required to set targets for future student attainment. Estimates of likely future attainment are used to help them set these targets. PivotViewer can help schools to visualise these estimates, understand which students are most at risk of not making sufficient progress and put in place appropriate intervention programmes or corrective measures.

What is fantastic about using PivotViewer for this purpose is that the data is immediately made much more relevant by showing each individual student, whilst still showing the overall picture and therefore all the data is in context. Rather than just looking at numbers we realise that there are real people who underlie the numbers.


And he’srecorded a short video that shows what this might look like:

Chris Ballard’s PivotViewer prototype for viewing student data

Want to know more? Here’s a few options:

Interested in learning more?

Read Chris’s full blog post on the Tribal Labs blog

A spreadsheet wizard, but not a programmer?

Have a play with PivotViewer yourself – if you have some student data in Excel, then you’ve got what you need to get started – just add the PivotViewer Collection Tool for Microsoft Excel, and you can build your own collection (and show it off to colleagues)

Got some programming skills?

If you’ve got some programming skills, then you can take the same journey that Chris is taking – and start to link the PivotViewer to dynamic data. You can find all of the tools, and user guides, to do this on the PivotViewer pages on the Silverlight website