Monday, April 2, 2012

How to Excel without Excel

I just submitted my first article for publication. It looks at how to use data visualization in the classroom as a form of feedback for teachers and students. I won't know for a few weeks whether or not it has been selected for publication, but even if I don't see ink on wood pulp, the research and writing process has been a wonderful one. And I am much indebted to those of you who provided content or copy edits.

Of course, I am not the first one to write about using data in the classroom. In fact, in an odd bit of serendipity today, I stumbled onto three jewels from the 1921 - 1922 issues of the American School Board Journal. All were written by E.L. Bowman, Director of Vocational Eduction [sic]; Erie, PA. The first one I'd like to share is actually the second in the series, Graphic Aids in School Administration: Watchtowers in Charts, published in February and March of 1922. (I pulled the document together from its various hiding places in an 800+ page anthology on Google Books. You're welcome.)

Lest the word "watchtower," give you visions of visitors knocking at your door, rest assured that the author uses the term as it relates to the forestry service.
The school executive should erect his watchtower. He should build for himself a structure which will keep him in touch with his situation, and enable him to control with precision the forces for education in his community. Unless the executive keeps always in touch with the situation, he will probably be finding another place in which to exercise his powers. Since the less effort he expends in gathering the data the more force he will have for other essential duties, he should plan and put into execution a routine for his subordinates that will reduce his task visualizing the situation to a glance at a chart or graph.

Bowman describes how he builds his graphs---even detailing some best practices and showcasing different visualizations.

He goes into great detail about how he constructed the pie chart shown below, but warns "The circle chart has many disadvantages. Although the quantities are really plotted as arcs of the circumference, the eye sees them as areas of segments subtended by these arcs. It is a well established fact that it is practically impossible to compare areas accurately, whereas it is entirely possible to compare parallel lineal measures easily and accurately. Hence the circle charts, though often used, are likely to be misleading." Atta boy.

In the second part of the article, Bowman describes uses of maps to plot data, giving tips on how to thrust your map tacks. He provides ideas for building a master schedule of classes, as well as a variety of ways to track progress.

And all of this with his handy ruler, protractor, and slide rule. Dude was definitely ahead of his time.

I don't know the story behind E.L. Bowman, but after finding today's treasures, I'm definitely a fan. Here's hoping I get a chance to launch a renewed in data visualization, his watchtower.

1 comment:

  1. You're pretty much ahead of your time, SG. And discovering that kind of edu-paleography is pretty much beyond the beyond.

    Makes you wonder about how much folks listen with both ears, eh? Will someone rediscover these digital gems in 2202 A.D.?