Data is everywhere and is a driving force in not only professional industries, but in the future of the world and the interest of the public good.
Data’s power only becomes more evident, especially in current times when having precise information has become paramount to societal function. Nobody understands this sentiment more than Ben and Becky Jones, the founders of Data Literacy. An online learning platform dedicated to helping people get past their fear of data and instead wield it as an impactful tool, Data Literacy, which is based in Bellevue, Washington, but has a reach around the world, offers multiple levels of training so that students anywhere on the data-literate spectrum have an option that is right for them.
Ben and Becky, a husband-and-wife team who have built illustrious careers in their fields, serve as the company’s Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operations Officer respectively. Ben is a recognized thought leader in the world of data. A published author, he brings years of experience in the data and engineering spaces to Data Literacy and also teaches at the University of Washington. Becky’s area of expertise is in business development and she comes to Data Literacy after working at Amazon for eight years. She has built several businesses in the past, bringing a sharp entrepreneurial mindset to Data Literacy.
Data Literacy’s mission is rooted in helping people learn the language of data. Many, if not most, people in the world today never receive a formal education that appropriately prepares them for the data fluency they’ll need in their careers. When people aren’t properly trained or educated in data, they are often left behind when it comes to making data presentations, analyses or decisions. At Data Literacy, the team is looking to break down that language barrier and reduce data phobia. Not only is being data literate incredibly important in a professional capacity, but it also is crucial in the community and the public good overall.
To accomplish the goal of making people more data literate, Data Literacy has designed and implemented cost-effective training and certification programs. These courses are available online, on-site and on-demand, so more people are able to get past their data-phobia while having an enjoyable, engaging experience doing so.
The levels of Data Literacy
At Data Literacy, there’s a course for everyone no matter what their level of data knowledge is. With several tiers of training and multiple avenues to learn, students can choose which method they prefer – whether it’s on-demand or in-person – so they can learn more about data in a way that’s convenient and comfortable for them. Classes usually consist of between 20 and 30 people.
The levels of training at Data Literacy range from the absolute basics to more advanced data storytelling. At Level Zero, students learn the fundamentals and what data is. At Level One, trainees are taught how to interpret the most common charts and graphs. Moving on to the more advanced levels, Level Two is crafted with data workers in mind and is focused on data analysis and design. At Level Three, students learn about data storytelling and how to present data in a compelling, engaging fashion. This level is perfect for executive leadership figures, who are often delivering such presentations.
One of Data Literacy’s key differentiators is its tool-agnostic approach. By incorporating different data tools into the courses, students get a more well-rounded understanding of how to use data most effectively.
“It helps solidify the learning,” Ben said. “They walk away with an appreciation for all the tools and can use multiple tools to get the job done.”
In addition to providing a comprehensive curriculum of data, Data Literacy also incorporates the arts and humanities into the lessons for a more human approach.
“We humanize the experience,” Ben said. “It’s not boring and dry.”
When it came to approaching designing the courses, Ben said they looked to craft a framework for different tool applications to be able to give someone a map to navigate the world of data. Part of this framework includes breaking out the course material into four levels that would suit the pace that a student needs or caters to their current level of understanding.
At Level Zero, the aim is to explain the goal of data and incorporate how human thinking plays a role. At Level One, the goal is to make graduate-level textbook materials easy to understand and remember for everyone. It’s also important for students to retain what they learn so they can apply it to real-world situations, whether it’s in their professional career, personal life or public service.
Despite the changing landscape of classes and education during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ben said the team at Data Literacy was able to immediately pivot. With previous experience in virtual teaching, Ben and the team moved live courses to online platforms. During these classes, they conducted exercises, group breakout sessions, utilized the annotation and polling features in Zoom and made the experience as interactive as possible. They also used the chat very often and carved out ways for students to interact with each other.
“We wanted to make the virtual classroom feel more like a real-life one,” Ben said.
The team at Data Literacy also promotes the use of data and resources for good and therefore partners with organizations that hold the same views and goals. This includes collaborating with partners who work in sustainability and equity for all, and are dedicated to offering access to data education to everyone.
What’s on the horizon
As Data Literacy continues to prioritize providing superior course material and experiences to students, the team is in the process of preparing their current Level Two class for on-demand access later this year. Currently, it’s available only in person.
Ben said this level is associated with “Read, Write, Think Data,” which is a book that he is writing right now. The goal of this level is to help people become more savvy data workers and empower them to work with raw data, as opposed to relying on graphs created by other people. It will be Data Literacy’s flagship course, and Ben said it will allow many more people to be confident in working with data.
“We want people to roll up their sleeves and get toward the top of the data skill pyramid,” he said.
By completing courses with Data Literacy, students will learn to shape, clean and prepare data, as well as understand the pitfalls of data and how to navigate them. Data Literacy also developed the WISDOM Data Working Flow, which stands for wonder, input, shape, discover, output, mature. This process is designed to help people apply the data they are working with.
In addition to the on-demand Level Two course, the company plans to add an on-demand version of the Level Three course in the future. Ben said they also are planning to create a course for executives and a specialized class for health care as well as other industries and disciplines.
The Data Literacy Score
A key component of the Data Literacy process happens before even beginning a course. This is the Data Literacy Score, which is an assessment for teams to take in order to measure what level they are currently at. Becky said this helps the team at Data Literacy provide recommendations and build training. The Data Literacy Score consists of 50 questions and seven categories, where trainees rate a score up to 10.
“This puts them in a data maturity stage, and we have five different stages,” Becky said. “We’re getting a lot of insights in order to pinpoint more learning resources.”
The assessment also includes open-ended questions, and teams can see where they rank as far as a percentile. It enables helpful comparisons both across and within an organization. After the test is complete, organization leaders receive a full report as well as recommendations for continuous improvement.
Why data literacy is key for educators
Community involvement and advancing the public good are also a hallmark of the Data Literacy mission. In accordance with this, the team at Data Literacy recognizes how crucial data knowledge is to educators who are helping shape the future of society through students. As an educator himself, Ben said it’s critical that educators become more and more literate in data. He believes it’s important for Kindergarten through 12th-grade students to embrace data and become confident in working with it so they’re equipped for a fruitful professional life and an active role in the community. In order for this to happen, teachers need to feel confident in data.
In keeping in line with this thinking, Data Literacy offers a 50 percent discount on all programs for teachers and education staff, as well as for students, so that they can have access to the courses and resources that will propel them to being data-savvy. This is one of many ways Data Literacy gives back to the community and engages in partnerships to encourage people to learn more about data.
“To me, that’s an investment in the future,” Ben said. “We want to set them up for success and help them to work toward solving world problems.”