In Education City, Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) students have been flocking to a trendy new coffee shop called The Data Viz Cafe. But the students at the QF partner university aren’t there to get a caffeine fix. The coffee shop is a fictitious company website developed for a GU-Q course where students of international affairs will be learning about data visualization and data analytics this semester.
In the age of information, data is king. And for students enrolled in the one-credit introductory data visualization course, learning how to leverage that power is key, explains course instructor Robert Laws. “Evidence-based practice is the cornerstone of higher education. But once we have that data, what do we do with it? How do we apply it to real-world applications? These are the questions we will be answering.”
In the business world, he explained, data analytics is used to streamline business processes, increase efficiency, and maximize revenues. “Using data as a means to drive decision making forward is at the heart of business intelligence.”
At Georgetown, students also work with a large amount of data on demographics, education, energy, health, the environment, and human development. In the course students access datasets from the World Bank, United Nations, and governments around the world to gain insight into policy decisions or identify trends for future planning.
To learn how data is a critical source of competitive advantage in the private sector, students analyze a dataset of the coffee shop’s “transactions” to glean insight into the business performance of the company. They also analyze datasets on COVID-19 and deforestation. Regardless of the data pertaining to business transactions or global policies, the key to revealing insights for decision making, explains Laws, is data visualization.
That means column and bar charts, multi-set column charts, pie charts, scatter plots, line graphs, geographic charts, heatmaps, and more. Through software like Tableau, students can experiment with dozens of different visualizations and combinations of data points.
“Having a data set of over 230,000 individual order records is overwhelming to parse on its own. That’s where software and data analytics comes in to save the day. Students learn how to approach the coffee shop’s data with a flexible perspective, and discover the best way to visualize the data to tell the right story.”
The skills learned in this course can be applied to other courses across the academic curriculum and will be valuable in job search and career advancement after graduation.
Laws teamed up with Associate Director of the GU-Q Library Tatiana Usova for the pilot course that launched in Spring 2020. Working together, they have also co-authored an article published in the January 2021 issue of the Journal of Information Literacy titled “Teaching a One-Credit Course on Data Literacy and Data Visualisation.”
The article calls for a reevaluation of a library’s role in the teaching of data literacy, pointing out that as experts in information literacy, “librarians are in an ideal position to develop and share their expertise in this area. Through focused instruction, the library can empower students with data literacy skills that will benefit them in their subsequent coursework and careers.”
The GU-Q librarians hope their experience “may inspire other academic librarians to incorporate data literacy and data visualisation into their teaching practice.”