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Topic: Big Data

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Tableau Software: Analytics for everyone, now free for students and teachers

Summary:Tableau Software recently announced that it would begin giving away its Tableau Desktop analytics software. Having spent some time with the tool, I can say that this could mark a turning point in the way students think about data.

By Christopher Dawson for ZDNet Education | March 11, 2013 -- 17:58 GMT (10:58 PDT)

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My masters degree has been languishing for years. I've completed all of the coursework and only needed to write a thesis. I just couldn't manage to prioritize it over writing jobs that actually paid me. And then Tableau Software reached out to me a couple weeks ago about their new initiative to help students and teachers begin using their desktop analytics product for free and, in turn, learn about big data hands on. Suddenly, I had a project I couldn't resist. A student's and teacher's guide to data analytics using Tableau with public datasets.

But wait a second. Why should 10th graders (or sixth graders for that matter) need to know about big data and analytics? And if they do, why use Tableau? Both questions are actually pretty easy to answer. In terms of why we should be teaching analytics (not just analytical thinking but formal analytics):

  • Data analysis, management, and interpretation will arguably be the most critical skills students today face in the coming decades. In a time when rote knowledge is becoming increasingly useless, the ability to draw meaningful conclusions from floods of data will have applications across all industries and areas of life.

  • Analytics, as it turns out, give us some of the easiest ways to integrate math and science across curricular areas. The possibilities for math instructors to co-teach units with an analytic component in both the social and hard sciences are pretty extraordinary.

  • Analytics isn't just about math. It's about the interpretation and presentation of data in compelling ways. Thus, even for students who struggle with mathematics or fail to see its relevance can contribute meaningfully to design, messaging, persuasion, written interpretation, and other areas where the chance to connect engaging activities with real-world math and critical thought are easy to find.

  • Teaching analytics works best with real, relevant data from any number of sources. These skills can be taught with everything from flu outbreak information to housing prices to geological survey data.

And why Tableau?

  • It's free for students and teachers. The company just opened up the product to educational users last week:

Tableau Software today announced that it will make its flagship visual analytics product free to students currently enrolled at an accredited K-12 institution, college or university worldwide. Tableau for Students is a new program that provides licenses of Tableau Desktop Professional to students to enhance their studies and gain new skills. Tableau Academic Programs also include the Tableau for Teaching initiative, which offers educators software for their classrooms. Students should visit http://www.tableausoftware.com/academic/students to obtain a free product code and will be asked for information to verify their student status at an accredited institution.

  • It's easy. There are sample datasets and reports included with the software, and information can easily be visualized by dragging and dropping "dimensions" (categories or groupings of data), "measures" (the variables), and "parameters" (fields for subgrouping data) into a straightforward visual interface. Point to a data source, drag and/or define fields, arrange the fields in rows and columns, and choose the visual output. That's it. Even English teachers could do it.

  • It's professional software. This isn't dumbed-down software for kids. It's the real tool used for data analytics by everyone from The New York Times to Charles Schwab.

This is an incredible opportunity for schools to change the way students think about data and the information-driven world in which they live. It's also one heck of a potential catalyst for schools to really begin integrating STEM education with the rest of the curriculum. Focusing on STEM is all well and good, but making STEM an integral part of what schools do and demonstrating that, regardless of a student's individual interests, there are clear applications for math and science is far better.

Topics: Big Data

About Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson grew up in Seattle, back in the days of pre-antitrust Microsoft, coffeeshops owned by something other than Starbucks, and really loud, inarticulate music. He escaped to the right coast in the early 90's and received a degree in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University. While there, he began a career in health a... Full Bio

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Disclosure

Christopher Dawson is the owner and principle consultant for tekedu.net, formerly 6geeks.net, formerly 2D Business Services. Obviously this little company has evolved over the years, first as a side job consulting for local biotechs and ultimately becoming an umbrella for consulting and writing work related to educational technology. He spent 2 years as Vice President of Business Development for WizIQ, Inc., heading up US operations for the Indian company; he still consults for them. He has worked for his local school district as a teacher and technology director, for the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, and for Biogen, Inc. (now Biogen-IDEC, Inc.). He has also consulted with STATNet and Cytyc Corporation and retains close ties with X2 Development Corporation (now part of Follett Software, the supplier of the student information system he administered for several years), including occasional activities that involve some sort of honorarium. However, he promises that if he writes about anything interesting they do, it's because it's interesting and not because they tossed him a few hundred bucks a while back. He regularly purchases and/or recommends Dell hardware. This is because Dell makes good hardware and has truly committed itself to education in innovative ways, particularly with their "Connected Classroom" initiative. It isn't because he has had dealings with the company through his role at WizIQ (which he has) or because they have provided him with long-term loans of a variety of equipment for in-depth testing (which they have). HP gets nods from him, too; they have similarly provided him with equipment on long-term loan and their workstations rock out loud, so they deserve the coverage. He actually buys Apple equipment because they don't send him free stuff and he has a nasty Apple habit that he can't help feeding occasionally. Intel (reference designer for the Classmate PCs he has implemented in his local schools) has provided him with long-term loans of Classmate PCs for testing, as as has Lenovo with its educational offerings. Intel paid all expenses for his attendance at the 2009 Intel Classmate PC Ecosystem Summit which he attended as the sole representative of the technology press. He was invited to attend in 2010 but his wife would have killed him if he spent 3 days in Vegas geeking out and left her home alone with a new baby. And Google? Well, he has more than one Chromebook provided as preview units and runs his consulting business with Google Apps (in fact, he has 5 different domains tied to Google Apps, one of which he actually pays for to use Google Apps for Business). Acer provided him with a 50% discount on an Aspire One netbook in early 2009 after he tested it for 30 days through their educational seed program. He liked the netbook at the time but it has since broken and sits unused in his office. Canonical sent him Ubuntu lanyards, t-shirts, and mousepads for his kids. He stole one of the lanyards and proudly hangs his keys from it and occasionally features his 8-year old wearing an oversized Ubuntu t-shirt on his Facebook profile. Gunnar Optiks sent him a pair of computer glasses to evaluate for a holiday gift guide. He is wearing them now as he types this because they never asked for them back and they rock out loud, too. Seriously - they work brilliantly and make it much easier to spend 20 hours a day staring at an LCD. If they ever asked for them back, he would fork over the $99 and buy a pair.He even convinced his mom to buy him a pair of their sunglasses for his birthday. Microsoft gave him 2 free copies of Office 2010 professional, a desktop clock, and a useless book on Office 2010 when he attended the launch of Office/Sharepoint 2010. He occasionally uses the SharePoint lanyard they gave him instead of the Ubuntu lanyard for his keys, but feels dirty afterwards. Blackboard paid him to be a keynote speaker at their 2012 Developers Conference but then went and bought a bunch of open source companies, bumped him from the program so they could explain why they would do such a thing, and he got to keep the cash, all for covering the event for a day. It was bloody hot and humid in New Orleans, so he earned every cent. Adobe has given him lots of software and more than a couple free lunches at various conferences. Like the Gunnars, he would actually buy a Creative Cloud subscription if his free licenses on CS6/Creative Cloud run out because he couldn't do his job without them and CS6 (yes, I'm going to say it again) rocks out loud. Seriously. $50/month for Creative Cloud is a third of what he'd be willing to pay for it. Which is saying something, because he's actually pretty cheap. Any other companies wishing to send him cool things to evaluate, wear, or otherwise adorn his kids are more than welcome to; he promises to disclose it here if he keeps any of the stuff. And speaking of free stuff, Tuf-Luv has sent him enough free stuff to cover just about every tablet, phone, and laptop he's ever owned. That said, when his dog destroyed one of the cases and the Motorola Xoom inside it survived without a slobber mark, he went out and actually bought a new one. Same goes for an iPad he gave away as part of a contest he ran with WizIQ - he (meaning his corporate Amex) actually bought a Tuff-Luv case because (you guessed it) they rock out loud. He may report on any of these companies as his experiences with them have direct bearing on educational technology, Google, cloud services, etc; positive reports are not necessarily an endorsement and he receives no direct financial compensation from these companies or any others. He's pretty sure that's it. If he thinks of anything else, he'll be sure to tell you all about it here. By the way, he also writes for lots of other publications, but pretty much just about SMB stuff, so it doesn't really much matter. The writing and broadcasting he does for Edukwest (not surprisingly, ed tech-related) usually gets cross-posted to ZDNet, so that's all good too.

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