Statistics Class Gains Followers on Twitter

Just prior to the holiday break, students in John Adams’s statistics class had a chance to video conference with a data visualization expert who made contact with the class after becoming a fan of the class’s Twitter feed, @RiversStats.

The expert, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, is founder and CEO of Storytelling with Data and author of a book and a blog by the same name. A former member of Google’s analytics team, Knaflic travels the world as a consultant, conducting workshops and seminars that help companies learn how to make better use of data and graphs to tell their stories. During her video conference with Rivers’s statistics class, Knaflic shared some of her expertise as she talked about how to create effective graphs that engage viewers and communicate the most essential information.

The class came to Knaflic’s attention as a result of its participation in a monthly competition Knaflic runs through her blog. Called the #SWDChallenge, the competition gives participants the chance to practice and apply data visualization and storytelling skills.

“Our students prepared for the competition by using some tips that Cole had shared on her blog about how to use sticky notes when storyboarding for a presentation,” says Adams. “We shared photos of our storyboards on our Twitter feed and Cole took notice. She commented on each group’s tweet and then reached out to me via email to learn more about our work in class.”

Creating such connections is exactly what Adams hoped Twitter would do for his class.

“I knew Twitter could be used to develop student learning and to connect students with the statistics and data science communities outside of our classroom,” Adams says. “Before we created the channel, I had students research and vet people, groups, and blogs that we could follow. Once that was done, we created the channel and started posting. Students have tweeted major takeaways from a lesson, pictures of activities they’ve done in class, and brief synopses of articles they have read.”

The response to the Twitter feed, he says, has been fantastic.

“What is most exciting for students is when people from leading companies and universities take notice of their work. For example, the chief scientist at RStudio, Hadley Wickham, commented on and asked questions about their programming work with the language R. Also, after tweeting pictures of their code and the visualizations they created with it, a Stanford Ph.D. student, Ben Stenhaug, reached out to talk about how data science and, specifically, the programming language R has been taught in high school--something he said he hadn’t seen before. We’ve since planned lessons together involving the use of RStudio. Each time a connection like this has been made, my students are thrilled.”