Tableau Software: Analytics for everyone, now free for students and teachers

Tableau Software recently announced that it would begin giving away its Tableau Desktop analytics software. Having spent some time with the tool, I can say that this could mark a turning point in the way students think about data.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

My masters degree has been languishing for years. I've completed all of the coursework and only needed to write a thesis. I just couldn't manage to prioritize it over writing jobs that actually paid me. And then Tableau Software reached out to me a couple weeks ago about their new initiative to help students and teachers begin using their desktop analytics product for free and, in turn, learn about big data hands on. Suddenly, I had a project I couldn't resist. A student's and teacher's guide to data analytics using Tableau with public datasets.

But wait a second. Why should 10th graders (or sixth graders for that matter) need to know about big data and analytics? And if they do, why use Tableau? Both questions are actually pretty easy to answer. In terms of why we should be teaching analytics (not just analytical thinking but formal analytics):

  • Data analysis, management, and interpretation will arguably be the most critical skills students today face in the coming decades. In a time when rote knowledge is becoming increasingly useless, the ability to draw meaningful conclusions from floods of data will have applications across all industries and areas of life.

  • Analytics, as it turns out, give us some of the easiest ways to integrate math and science across curricular areas. The possibilities for math instructors to co-teach units with an analytic component in both the social and hard sciences are pretty extraordinary.

  • Analytics isn't just about math. It's about the interpretation and presentation of data in compelling ways. Thus, even for students who struggle with mathematics or fail to see its relevance can contribute meaningfully to design, messaging, persuasion, written interpretation, and other areas where the chance to connect engaging activities with real-world math and critical thought are easy to find.

  • Teaching analytics works best with real, relevant data from any number of sources. These skills can be taught with everything from flu outbreak information to housing prices to geological survey data.

And why Tableau?

Tableau Software today announced that it will make its flagship visual analytics product free to students currently enrolled at an accredited K-12 institution, college or university worldwide. Tableau for Students is a new program that provides licenses of Tableau Desktop Professional to students to enhance their studies and gain new skills. Tableau Academic Programs also include the Tableau for Teaching initiative, which offers educators software for their classrooms. Students should visit http://www.tableausoftware.com/academic/students to obtain a free product code and will be asked for information to verify their student status at an accredited institution.

  • It's easy. There are sample datasets and reports included with the software, and information can easily be visualized by dragging and dropping "dimensions" (categories or groupings of data), "measures" (the variables), and "parameters" (fields for subgrouping data) into a straightforward visual interface. Point to a data source, drag and/or define fields, arrange the fields in rows and columns, and choose the visual output. That's it. Even English teachers could do it.

  • It's professional software. This isn't dumbed-down software for kids. It's the real tool used for data analytics by everyone from The New York Times to Charles Schwab.

This is an incredible opportunity for schools to change the way students think about data and the information-driven world in which they live. It's also one heck of a potential catalyst for schools to really begin integrating STEM education with the rest of the curriculum. Focusing on STEM is all well and good, but making STEM an integral part of what schools do and demonstrating that, regardless of a student's individual interests, there are clear applications for math and science is far better.

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