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The Importance of Effective Interfaces

When I accepted the role of director of ODI, I added a “big data” news feed to my Google News page. Every morning I find new articles declaring the promise of big data, and the revolution it is bringing to business, science, healthcare, and every conceivable aspect of modern society.

The ready availability of diverse, free, online datasets, clearly offers an exciting opportunity for education. However, making that data usable for students is a big challenge. Students often need a vehicle for exploring, manipulating and visualizing data in ways that relate to the questions they are trying to answer.

At ODI, we’ve studied how interfaces can help make this transition from raw datasets to data students can use and manipulate in the classroom. (See our report, Visualizing Oceans of Data: Educational Interface Design)

And we applied this research to our development of the Ocean Tracks interface. One of our first steps in the development process was to research what questions scientists were asking when using the animal tracking datasets from the Tagging of Pelagic Predators research program. We then provided access to a constrained set of data and tools that would allow students to investigate those same questions. The goal of the Ocean Tracks interface was to enable students to focus on the process of formulating arguments from data, rather than on the mechanics of accessing and manipulating it.

We recognize that there are many barriers to getting data into classrooms. Finding the right datasets and data analysis tools can be daunting. Our work suggests that a useful approach is to develop clear learning goals. Ask yourself, is the exercise about:

  • locating and accessing data?
  • making arguments from data? or
  • conveying content knowledge?

The answers to these questions will help guide decisions about what features the data interface should have, and where the students’ attention should be focused.

For a list of potential educator resources for using data in the classroom, view our latest resource. If you believe that data literacy should be integrated throughout K-16 education, consider signing our Call for Action to Promote Data Literacy.


Randy Kochevar, Director
The EDC Oceans of Data Institute

Portrait of Randy Kochevar
Check out our newest resource, a list of Educator Resources for Teaching with Data

Read a recent blog on the challenges and opportunities around bringing data into the classroom.
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