Data Visualisation: A Motivational and Teaching Tool in Official Statistics

Forbes, Sharleen Denise

This paper reports on the use, in 2011, of some recent data visualizations to both motivate students and assist them to understanding underlying official statistics concepts. Examples of visualisations used in a Masters course in public policy and an applied statistics honours course are presented. These visualizations are free, either on-line or open-source and easy to access. Although they are of aggregates of very large official data sets and so may mask some of the underlying variation they provide students with fun tools to explore the patterns and relationships between variables in the data set, discuss its implications and sometimes lead to new questions and analyses. Geo-visualisations help demonstrate the inter-disciplinary nature of official statistics in the real world. Initial feedback from students in these courses was enthusiastic. The on-going challenge for the teacher is to keep up-to-date in a world of rapidly evolving technology and to see the learning opportunities that it may provide. This paper suggests data visualisation is a valuable teaching resource now and, in the longer term, may have implications not only on how we teach but also on what we teach in statistics.