member spotlight: 10-week course participants

 

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This article is part of our Member Spotlight program where we aim to shine a spotlight on SWD community members who are contributing outstanding work. These are people who contribute in ways that foster an even more connected and diverse learning environment. Our goal is to help you get to know your fellow community members a little better and learn from one another. 


This past spring, we offered a brand new storytelling with data 10-week online course. This was an intensive program that allowed us to explore topics in depth through weekly lectures and weave together our various resources (the books, blog, podcast, videos, and exercises) into weekly assignments for a robust learning experience.

Perhaps the most exciting part was meeting a diverse group of individuals eager to learn! People joined from ten countries, tuning in weekly to meet with Cole and me during lectures. These folks worked hard to get through all of the content (there was a lot!) and completed weekly assignments while working to craft a final project to share with the class. Kudos to everyone who completed the course. I’m happy to feature several course participants for our fall member spotlight: Alicia, Brandy, Dilyana, Dipankar, Jacob, James, Lee, Mary, and Yi. I encourage you to pop over to the community conversation to chat with them directly and ask questions about their experiences, their work, and the course.

To give you a sense of how much these folks accomplished in 10 weeks, I’ve shared a brief description of our weekly topics, and a sample of the work created by our member spotlight students in the following.

week 1: the art of feedback

Feedback played an essential role throughout the entire 10 weeks, so we kicked off the course with lessons on how to both solicit and give good feedback.

We asked each student to practice soliciting feedback for a chosen graph and to offer their thoughts to other course participants. Jacob shared three anonymized graphs from his corporate role and did a great job of providing context and being specific in his request—see below.

week 2: graphs

We dove deep into the world of graphs, primarily focusing on visuals used in a business setting, but we also shared avenues to learn more about xenographs (less-common visuals). 

To practice, participants were each asked to graph an identical data set. This gave us a diverse view of the many ways the same data could be visualized. Dilyana alone experimented with four different views (shown below) and weighed the benefits and challenges of each. 

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week 3: audience & message

Perhaps one of the most crucial topics of study came in week three: audience and message. In explanatory communications, everything we do should be done with our audience’s preferences and understanding in mind.

Participants completed a Big Idea worksheet for their final projects and gave feedback to one another. If you’ve never crafted a Big Idea, this can be a challenging task, but Dipankar excelled at this assignment—articulating his point of view and conveying what was at stake in a single sentence.

week 4: low-tech planning

We continued with another low-tech planning strategy: storyboarding. Participants witnessed the impact of building content in a low-tech manner before jumping straight to their digital tools.

To make progress on their final projects, we asked everyone to create a storyboard—getting all of the ideas out of their heads and into the real world. Brandy went all-in on this exercise! She used different colors to categorize and rearranged her ideas into a cohesive story (keep reading to see her final narrative arc in week 6).

week 5: declutter & focus

In week five, we turned our attention back to our graphs. Our focus this time was to go beyond a default chart by stripping away clutter and leveraging design techniques to focus attention on the key insights.

James illustrated just how impactful these simple steps could be in the following before and after—impressive!

week 6: story

Story is one of our favorite topics to share. While we alluded to data storytelling components throughout the course, in week 6, we specifically focused on story structures, tension, and the narrative arc.

Participants revisited their storyboards from week 4, and experimented with various narrative flows. Brandy expanded on her previous storyboard, rearranging her ideas further into a compelling narrative arc that incorporated tension.

week 7: the finer points of design

During this week, we addressed a range of design concepts, from big topics (like accessibility) to some of the finer details (like the thought process behind where to put an axis title). 

To illustrate the power of design, we asked folks to consider company branding and see how they could incorporate that design into a graph. Mary created the following two visuals using the same data. Notice how different they feel!

week 8: presentation planning

This week, we focused on building our final communication, and talked about how to bring your storyboard to life in your slideware application. 

Below is a template from Alicia, whose final project was on the harsh conditions affecting certain species in the Chesapeake Bay. You can see her inspiration on the left and how she designed the look and feel of her slides, before adding content!

week 9: presenting data stories

In the penultimate week of the course, everything came together as we explored how to best present data stories. Instead of building graphs and slides, the focus shifted to the individual, and the vital role of a presenter in communicating data stories. 

To practice, participants recorded and watched themselves present—an awkward yet powerful act. Lee made a handful of recordings and shared her take on the activity below.

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week 10: driving change

In the final lecture, we turned our attention to the future, sharing strategies to drive positive change within an organization and setting goals for everyone to continue the momentum post-course.

Everyone took the opportunity to share their learnings and how they planned to implement good habits moving forward. Yi mentioned that she valued all of the low-tech strategies and activities we did. She even snapped a quick picture of some of her low-tech efforts!

The course officially ended with a round of presentations, where folks had an opportunity to share their final projects. The final project was open-ended—an opportunity to apply learnings to a real-world example of their choosing.

I hope everyone enjoyed the class as much as I did. It’s amazing to reflect on where everyone started and ended, leaving the course with a well-rounded portfolio, new learnings, presentation experience, and the confidence to craft an inspiring data story!

Kudos again to everyone who participated in the course—and especially those featured here who offer their time for our member spotlight. To learn more about the course attendees or chat about any of the work you see, participate in the featured community conversation.

If you’d like to be notified when we offer the 10-week course again, indicate your interest here.


There are plenty of noteworthy members in the community—too many to spotlight at once. This program is part of our larger efforts to find new ways to share multiple voices and experiences. As you discover great work and ideas in the community, be sure to give appropriate kudos and spread the word! Better yet, complete this form to nominate a fellow member.

Source: Story Telling

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