Numeracy Literacy

As the world becomes more quantified and data driven, our need for understanding and using numbers has increased to a great degree. It may be as important as learning language in some situations.

I teach a course called “How to Lie, Cheat and Steal with Numbers in English” and enjoy both its development and execution. We spend the first third on Numeracy, how to talk about numbers in English. Large numbers, small numbers,  simple statistics in both news and science. The second third we spend on presenting and understanding numbers, more specifically, infographics and visualizations. The final third we work on critical literacy, how to suss out the truth from the falsehoods, and the tools to fool people. Students vote on the veracity of all the final presentations. The students who tell the truth, but are voted as false, or vice versa (and that versa is a real vice), get the highest grades.

In the middle section we barely have time to understand how infographics are made, and visualizations are even more difficult. But a few students are able to create some visualizations with bare bones software. It has been a dream of mine to do a whole course on this middle section (or better, do a 3-course series, of each of the sections). One of the tools I have lusted after, but was too expensive, was Tableau. You put in a body of data, and use the software to create visualizations.

Tableau samples

George Siemens @gsiemens retweeted an announcement that Tableau is now free for students. Teachers can get an evaluation copy by sending an email to  tft@tableausoftware.com. Check out the software if you work with numbers and presenting them.

15 weeks of activities for the course are available. Just post a comment if you are interested.

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