Aarhus University uses Tableau to combine technical aspects and user experience

Aarhus University, founded in 1928, is a prestigious public university and is Denmark’s the largest university, with a total of 43,600. In most prestigious ranking lists of the world´s best universities, Aarhus University is placed in the top 100.

The main reason I’m using Tableau is that it does the best from a user experience perspective and it allows the students to get a better understanding of what Business Intelligence is.

Mads Brink Hansen is an external lecturer in charge of Business Intelligence courses at the School of Business and Social Sciences at Aarhus University in Denmark. Aarhus University, founded in 1928, is a prestigious public university and Denmark’s largest university, with a total of 43,600 students.
Mads, who is also a Principal Consultant and BI Enterprise Architect at IMS Health in Denmark, is responsible for one undergraduate class and two postgraduate classes. He is using Tableau mainly in his graduate classes where the main learning objectives of the programme is to provide students with an in-depth knowledge about:

  • Methods for analysing data to support decision making
  • How to improve business processes on the basis of business analytics

Interview with Mads Brink Hansen, External Lecturer in Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing at Aarhus University

Tableau: How did you hear about Tableau in the first place?

Mads Brink Hansen, External Lecturer, Aarhus University: As far as I remember, it was about four or five years ago. I’m a part-time lecturer but I work full-time as a Principal Consultant at IMS Health and I think the first time I heard from Tableau was from someone in our Marketing department, but I’ve had also heard about it in my previous job at Inspari. I am quite familiar with many Business Intelligence tools, and from my time at Microsoft I knew that they had a program called Excel for Teaching, so from there, I think I googled Tableau for Teaching and discovered that Tableau also had an Academic Programs.

Tableau: And why did you choose to use Tableau in your courses?

Mads: Actually 3-4 years ago, I was starting to have some trouble teaching what Business Intelligence Applications Development was like and I started to look at the options available, which was when I became aware of Tableau and its Academic Programs. Choosing Tableau in my course was part of a combination of two things. When I started teaching this course, my idea was to use Excel and PowerPivot because I was focusing more on the modelling part of the course, which was more a technical approach and I was not focusing that much on the user experience. When I got connected to Tableau for Teaching, I realised that I would be able to cover both the modelling part and the user experience. And the main reason I’m using Tableau is that it does the best from a user experience perspective and it allows the students to get a better understanding of what Business Intelligence is. The fact that Tableau for Teaching is very flexible allowing both my students and myself to have free licenses to use, was for me a no brainer.

Tableau: How are you using Tableau in your course today?

Mads: First of all, in my classes, I usually start by giving an introduction of the Agile Kimball Lifecycle, which gives a better understanding of the whole concept of Business Intelligence. Tableau helps me a lot for this because the focus on the visual part is very important and allows the students to get a better understanding of the Agile Kimball Lifecycle.
I’m using Tableau in my class as a vehicle for 3 different aspects. First I’m using Tableau to introduce my students to data audits, meaning that they need to know the data they will be working on, how they are distributed and so on.

Then the students are experimenting the Dimensional Model, which is the cornerstone of the Kimball Methodology. The fact that Tableau is already supporting this dimensional modelling concept helps my students to quickly understand the difference between dimensions and measures, and what does it mean to have a hierarchy within a dimension for example.

Finally, I give the students a hands-on experience with Tableau by giving them an assignment. The assignment I’m giving is basically the starting point in the Superstore dataset that comes with Tableau.

Tableau: Could you tell us more about this assignment and how the students are working with the dataset?
They are required to use Tableau to give state of the union of the superstore. Actually the superstore dataset itself is in an Excel format and I’ve been allowing the students to use both Excel and Tableau for this exercise, but none of them has been using Excel so far. I don’t want to impose anything on my students and I give them the freedom to choose the tool they would like for the assignment and so far they have been using Tableau.

In addition to the state of the union, they are also required to do a presentation which is business related and which could be something they would have to present in front of a board of directors, for example. They work with the data, get some insights out of it and then show them on a dashboard where they draw the attention of the management on specific areas where they should focus on in the near future. In that sense, I’m trying to switch from a pure Business Intelligence course to a more Business way of looking at things, which is what the students will have to deal with once they graduate.

“Tableau is very easy to just dig in to. Tableau demonstrates visual data discovery & analytics on a level suitable for all audiences and showcases all the possibilities within visual analytics.”

“The intuitive design and logically appealing visualization schemes makes it easy to get on the top of Tableau and start visualizing the most relevant and interesting perspectives on the data at hand.”

Tableau: What are the benefits to your students, in general terms, of using Tableau in your course?

Mads: The main learning points for the students are that they can have a look and feel of what Business Intelligence front-end is and they can have a better understanding of how it is to work with a contemporary Business Intelligence tool. They also get an overview of how it works within a Business Intelligence architecture, which is basically a standard Kimball architecture that I’m teaching, and last but not least they get a good idea of what rapid-fire or self-service Business Intelligence is, which is very important.

Tableau: How long was the learning process and how long did it take you to integrate Tableau in your course?

Mads: When I first used Tableau, I think I spent an afternoon to get an idea of the tool and after that I was convinced this was the right tool for me. Then I might have spent a couple more days playing with the tool and got to the point where I was convinced that it would fit perfectly in my courses. Integrating it in my syllabus was not hard and I think the main reason for that was that I did not have to prepare any datasets and I was simply using the samples provided by Tableau.

Tableau: What has been your biggest challenge in teaching Tableau?

Mads: Actually what I’ve tried to do, is to invite someone from Tableau to introduce the product to my students and the main reason behind that is to break the long stream of work from me. So I can’t say that I’ve had any difficulties teaching Tableau and I’m using it in a very easy way. Tableau allows me to introduce the concept of dimensions and measures in a far easier way than it’s done in a textbook.

Tableau: What type of feedback do you receive from your students?

Mads: I have received very good feedbacks from my students and actually I’ve had a few students who have been requesting extension of their license keys. Some students have been keen on having some practical skills on their CV and that is provided by having hands-on experience with Tableau. In fact the general feedback is positive as both for the teacher and the students, you don’t have to spend much time learning the tool. I believe that having the possibility to have someone from Tableau introducing the product via a live webinar has made it more interesting for the students as well.

“Some students have been keen on having some practical skills on their CV and that is provided by having hands-on experience with Tableau.”

Tableau: What would be your recommendations to an instructor who has never used Tableau before and who would like to integrate it in a syllabus?

Mads: What I would encourage them to do is to use the provided samples in Tableau as a starting point. They are quite good and for anything related to Business Intelligence or visualisation, these samples should be sufficient to start with. Otherwise, for other subjects, I would say that they can either use the sample datasets or simply provide data that are easy to consume by the students. They should keep it simple for the students as a starting point and once the students are used to the product, they can then extend to things like data blending, which from a self-service Business Intelligence perspective, is very important. I’m actually planning myself to introduce data blending to my Masters students this year.

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