Journalism Students at Michigan State University Learn to Use Tableau for Data Storytelling

Journalism students learned about data-driven journalism and how to use effective visualizations to supplement conventional stories.

I was impressed with the layers of information and interactivity and the relative simplicity of the software program. It’s a great data visualization program for journalists.

Jane Briggs-Bunting, Director of the MSU School of Journalism was introduced to Tableau in 2011 and found herself teaching with it in her course just several months later.  Jane teaches in the areas of communications and media, with experience as both a reporter and media attorney. 

Main learning objectives:

  • Learn how to present news and information on multiple platforms
  • Be savvy in storytelling with data and determining the best platforms and media (text, video, audio, interactive, etc) to tell various kinds of stories

Can you tell us how you used Tableau in your BI course?
Students in the Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) course pitch four data driven stories.  In previous terms, students have examined faculty salaries, the university budget, enrollments, grades and parking tickets.  Three stories are based on campus data and issues, and one can be on any other subject.  Student used Tableau as a tool to help tell these stories.  We did not have the Tableau live webinar until late in the term, but students immediately dug in and began using tableau to illustrate their CAR projects. When I teach this course again in Fall 2012, I plan to introduce Tableau much earlier in the term. 

How did you learn how to use Tableau?
I was introduced to Tableau at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Orlando in June 2011.  The conference had a workshop where I worked with census and real estate data. After the conference, I just played with it on my own.

How did you teach Tableau to your students?
I had already covered spreadsheets, databases and simple mapping.  Then they watched the webinar, and off they went.

What were the biggest challenges in teaching Tableau?
Getting them to understand the axis concept (measures and dimensions)

What type of feedback did you receive from your students?
They were very interested in Tableau and all it could do. They dove right in after the webinar and began experimenting using data from the projects they were working on.

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