Tag Archives: graph

Raw. What is it good for?

students vs teachers-1 cropped

When I first came across Raw, a free, online data visualization tool, I channeled my inner Edwin Starr and asked, “What is it good for?”  It turns out the answer is “absolutely everything.”  Or pretty close to it.

Raw is extremely user friendly.  It’s built on D3.JS, which is pretty powerful.  If you, like me, haven’t had time to explore D3 in depth (or if, also like me, you’re not sure you have the skills to take it on,) Raw greatly simplifies the process.  And all of the data is processed in your browser, which means your data is never copied and stored on their servers.

So, what can Raw do for you?  Well take your favorite data set and paste it into the text box (or choose from one of the four example data sets provided).  Then choose from one of the 15 chart types and drag components for your data into the axes or other options for the cart type you have chosen.  You can do this as many times as you like to get the data to try on different options.  Finally, customize your visualization by adjusting the size, scale, and colors of your visualization before choosing how you want to export your results.  It’s amazingly easy!

I created the visualization at the top of this post by feeding in some data on teachers (left) and students (right).  The lines connecting them represent classes that the students had with each teacher with thin lines for one semester and thick ones for the next.  I wanted to explore how students move through our program.  Here, it’s easy to see that most students move up from one level to the next, but there are some that skip levels and some that repeat levels.  The students and teachers are not arranged in order from lowest to highest level, though this would be possible and might make it easier to see these trends.

There are lots of other options within Raw and, depending on what your data include, some may be more useful than others.  But the beauty of Raw is that you are only a couple of clicks away from any of them, making it very easy to try several visualizations until you find one you like.

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Data Visualization: Attendance vs. GPA

Above is a plot of students’ attendance versus their grade point averages (GPAs).  See any trends?  Obviously, students with higher attendance tend to have higher GPAs.  While this is not particularly surprising, it’s nice to be able to support this notion with actual data.

(I should say that this “actual data” is not actual data, but it is based on actual data.  I’ve taken the actual “actual data” and randomly added or subtracted up to 5% so that the general trends remain, but none of the actual data points are the same, except by chance.)

In addition to the general trend that GPAs correlate positively with attendance, I can say that no student who had 100% attendance got less than a C+ (2.85 GPA) and that no student who got a 4.0 GPA (straight As) attended less than 96% (at least in the “actual” data).

Can I claim causality?  Not exactly.  I don’t know that higher attendance causes higher grades, or vice versa, but I think it could be claimed that low attendance causes low grades — if you aren’t in class, you can’t get an A.

Admittedly, this isn’t the most cutting edge visualization — it’s just a graph I made using Microsoft Excel — but I think it represents a relatively simple set of data effectively.

I plan to show this graph to all of our students at our program-wide meeting at the beginning of the academic year.  If nothing else, it should get them thinking a bit about the importance of attending class if they want to be successful.  This isn’t a big issue for most of our students but, as you can see, it is an issue for some.  And if it helps them to have me connect the dots, I gladly will (see below, click to enlarge).

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Processing Data Visualizations

closeup of CPU chip

I’ve seen a lot of interesting data visualizations lately but have struggled to figure out how to visualize my own data.  It seems like there is a vast chasm between creating pie charts in Excel and Hans Rosling’s TED Talks.  The I stumbled upon Processing.

Processing was used to create the genetics simulation I described in an earlier post.  After looking into it some more, I learned that Processing was developed out of a project at MIT’s Media Lab.  It is an object-oriented programming language conceived as a way to sketch out images, animations and interactions with the user.

Examples of of Processing projects include everything from a New York Times data visualization of how articles move through the internet and visually representing data in an annual report to more esoteric and artistic works.

To get started, download the application at http://processing.org and go through some of the tutorials on the site.  There are lots of examples included with the download so you can also open them up and start tweaking and hacking them, if that’s your preferred method of learning.  Once your code is complete, or after you’ve made a minor tweak, click on the play button to open a new window and see it looks.  Once you’ve completed your project, you can export it as an applet, which can be uploaded to a web server, or as an executable file for a Mac, Windows, or Linux computer.

I’ve been through the first half-dozen tutorials and am to the point of making lines and circles dance around.  I can even make the colors and sizes vary based on mouse position.  I have also opened up some of the more advanced examples and started picking away at them to see what I can understand and what I still need to learn more about.  Once I can import data from an external source, it will be really exciting to see the different ways to represent it.

I haven’t had a foreign language learning experience in a while.  I am learning (and re-learning) many valuable lessons as I try to express myself in this new language.  Not surprisingly, I’m finding that I need a balance between instruction (going through the tutorials) and practice / play (experimenting with the code I’m writing or hacking together).  I’m also a bit frustrated by my progress because I can see what can be done by fluent speakers (see examples, above) but am stuck making short, choppy utterances (see my circles and lines, which really aren’t worth sharing.)  I plan to both work my way through the basics (L+1) as well as dabble with some more advanced projects (L+10) to see if I can pull them off.  If not, I’ll know what to learn next.

Fortunately, I have one or two friends who are also learning Processing at the same time.  They are more advanced than me (in programming languages, but I hold the advantage in human languages), but it has been helpful and fun to bounce examples and ideas off of one another.  We plan to begin a wiki to document our progress and questions as they arise — a little like a students notebook where vocabulary and idioms are jotted down so they can be reviewed later.

Watch for more updates as projects get pulled together as well as notes on other ways to visualized data in the near future.

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Graph Jam: PowerPoint gone awry

This website makes me laugh out loud. It’s a collection of user-generated, MS Office-style graphs on completely trivial topics. It’s a little like a site devoted entirely to info graphics from the Onion with shades of The Daily Show and Office Space thrown in. How can you go wrong with that winning combination?

An example graph from GraphJam.

An example graph from GraphJam.

So, how can this be used in an ESL classroom? Well, we’ve all sat through laborious PowerPoint presentations (made by students, administrators, etc.). I think this site can help us to look at the charts and presentations in a new light. I’m curious to know what my ESL students would submit to this site. That might make for a more interesting presentation than, “My countries chief exports are…”.

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