Education Research: how to "show" your data and tell your story - good tips from a data visualization expert

We just had the pleasure of hearing an excellent presentation on "Data Visualization for Education Research" by Jon Schwabish at the IES PI Meetings. Totally ripping from the bio on the conference materials, "Jon is an economist, writer, teacher, and creator of policy-relevant data visualizations". Which sounds cool - but this part is actually cooler - "he is considered a leading voice for clarity and accessibility related to the ways in which researchers communicate their findings". What does that mean? It means he - in clever and funny ways - tries to educate folks who want to communicate data in the form of (sometimes difficult) research findings in clear and  informative ways. 

As someone who has spent most of their professional life having to present statistical information, albeit more marketing and sales specific, to general audiences, the topic of his presentation applied just as well. Why? Because in these settings I most definitely gave presentations to sell myself or my (or my team's) plan or ideas. I had to explain sometimes abstract and boring data in a clear, engaging and persuasive way. Now that we're in the position of having to present research findings of the impact and efficacy of the Lingo Jingo platform on the education of English Language Learners, his tips and techniques are even more pertinent and will be absolutely front of mind when we need to do so. 

His summary slide in the pic below on the right is pretty succinct (and let's me get away with not having to give a blow by blow list of what he discussed over the course of an hour - yay brevity).

  • Use Good Techniques - don't fall into the trap of making your baby [presentation] any uglier than it may already be (e.g., don't use confusing graphs, don't put too much verbiage on a slide, use a reasonable color scheme, etc.) - YOU tell your story and don't tell your story on your slides, use them as tools to support you
  • Visualize - communicate your data (and get your findings across) in clean, clear and concise graphs or images
  • Unify - keep your messaging and your slide presentation materials aligned and they will help tell a deeper story
  • Focus - keep the content on your presentation slides brief, on point and don't distract your audience

Chances are pretty good that I left out some other great points from Dr. Schwabish's presentation - so you can actually see it in its entirety here (with pictures!). Note: totally worth it, check it out http://policyviz.com/presentations/better-presentations-2/ 

jon schwabish (@jschwabish)- economist and data visualization specialist for the urban institute and writes at policyviz.com (click the image)

jon schwabish (@jschwabish)- economist and data visualization specialist for the urban institute and writes at policyviz.com (click the image)