How professors at EDHEC motivate and inspire students with data skills

Trends across employers in recent years have prompted schools around the world to evaluate how they’re preparing students for the workforce. Data skills are in high-demand from employers, but it’s not something that has been traditionally taught in higher education–until now. EDHEC Business School is a leading French business school specializing in business, entrepreneurship, management and innovation. EDHEC Business School offers undergraduate, graduate programmes and has an extensive portfolio of executive education. In recent years, EDHEC has seen around 8,600 students enrolled in traditional graduate and undergraduate programmes, 245 exchange and double-degree agreements with the world’s foremost academic institutions, and a network of more than 40,000 alumni in over 125 countries.

A growing demand from employers in the Consulting, Digital Marketing and Finance fields, are explaining to us that the leaders of tomorrow have to understand data. Tableau, being the most accessible software for students and with the high quality help online plus an active community, fit all the requirements for a new approach to data analytics in our school.

Identifying what motivates students to learn data skills and maintain a high standard of work

Tableau was chosen to help close the data literacy gap in students due to its accessible software for students and the high quality community support. Tableau was quickly implemented into the university within a few months with some help from the Tableau Academic Programs Manager and an on-campus professor who was also a Tableau Visionary

EDHEC noted the importance of the Tableau community for the motivation it gave students: 

The number 1 reason for student motivation is Tableau Public, they can see what they've done, share it, compare it.” Yvan Fornes, 3 X Tableau Visionary (Zen Master) | Data Visualization Teacher at EDHEC

Professors discussed how Tableau Public helps students see real Tableau dashboard examples, share their work, receive feedback, comments and questions. EDHEC uses Tableau Public as a platform for students to present their work to not only their peers and professors, but to the world to keep their standard of work the highest it can be. Currently, it is the only data visualization platform that is free and allows you to easily share your work publicly.

Lastly, EDHEC valued the importance of having a dedicated Academic Team at Tableau; helping to supply excellent online resources for instructors, students, and self-learners.

Photo by Sabrina Godemert

High demand from students resulted in a stand alone Tableau Data Visualization course

In 2017 EDHEC incorporated Tableau into their data analysis and management curriculum. On average, 60-70 MBA students and instructors have free Tableau licenses provided through the Tableau for Teaching and Tableau for Students programs, in addition to the estimated 80 licenses per year through MScs.

From a desire to introduce big data into the curriculum, EDHEC initially created a course named - “Big Data & AI @Work”, where Tableau was first introduced. There was such high demand for this course, that it grew to a stand alone Tableau Data Visualisation course–receiving high praise from student feedback. Due to the affinities between program directors and professors, Tableau spread to the Masters programs with success, leading the university’s online division to also develop a course entirely for the EDHEC online community. Tableau is now recognized among the majority of faculty as a great learning tool across a broad variety of courses, from finance to digital marketing to data analytics. In a few short years, Tableau has grown into a mainstream tool across the academic disciplines at EDHEC.

In growing numbers, students are choosing to use Tableau for their end of year capstone projects, where they work on real world strategic consulting projects for companies over an 8 week period. Companies have responded positively to the conclusions students have drawn from solid data analysis and their presentations to upper management. 

Creating a data viz challenge for students across Europe

Organised by EDHEC Business School together with Tableau, Mazars and UNICEF, the challenge – launched in 2020 – runs on the belief that Business Schools are an important source of talent in the field of data analytics. It aims to encourage students to become more involved and skilled in the art of visualising data for the greater good. The challenge offers students an opportunity to raise awareness of social or environmental issues by harnessing the power of data visualisation.

The Student Dataviz Challenge started as part of the MBA course, but has since expanded to all students enrolled in a degree-granting programme at an accredited academic institution in Europe. Growing the competition to include students across Europe was an intentional action to ensure the quality levels of EDHEC students, to be not only highly competent within their class context, but across Europe. For data visualisation students at EDHEC, the final assignment is for the students to participate in the Dataviz Challenge. Building on the skills students have learnt in class with the competitive element of the competition, students push their capabilities. 

This competition taught me that I can both have fun and improve my data viz skills by learning from my peers and industry experts. I would say to my fellow students: the Challenge is a great opportunity for you to improve your data visualisation skills and build the foundations for your career in the future.

The competition is designed to put theory into practice using Tableau Software and open data provided by UNICEF. EDHEC’s Paris campus hosts the challenge’s final, where the top 10 entries present their visualization to a panel of judges and partners, competing for a data visualization internship interview with UNICEF. Other prizes include tickets to Vivatech and a job application tips and tricks session with Mazars HR specialists.

Investing time outside of the classroom and seeing the big picture of data

Due to the one year course, students had to do some pre-work prior to the course in order to keep classroom hours to a minimum. Class time is used to share, ask questions, demo how to go further, and to showcase student progress–the real work and time is invested outside of class. Another challenge faced was ensuring that the students didn’t just see this as a software skills course in the MBA –but saw the big picture, the stories behind the data, the power and pitfalls of data communication and of course, data-backed decision making. EDHEC explained that in the business world, tools like Power BI, Python, etc. are also important, and do receive student requests to teach these as well. However, due to the limited timing, EDHEC believes Tableau to be the best platform to start learning data skills. 

EDHEC continues to attract more data-savvy students to the MBA. Through giving importance to present business needs in data, digital and innovation, in addition to the fundamental academic subjects, the school is growing its position as a modern MBA. EDHEC plans to continue their use of Tableau by expanding to other programs such as the digital marketing masters, and for students to use Tableau for assignments and final projects across more courses. The Business School is considering expanding the use of Tableau to their research chairs. 

There is a demand for data skills in the job market and often Tableau is listed by name as a desired skill. It gives our students a boost on the job market when they have published evidence of their work on Tableau Public.