K-12 and higher education institutions around the country have invested in data visualization software with the promise of better information and insights. Unfortunately, there can be lots of pitfalls along the way. Often, stakeholders can’t get what they need quickly and easily – and can’t actually gain the deeper insights they need – so they can’t use big data to drive decisions that transform programs, curriculums and student outcomes.

Here are four areas K-12 and higher education institutions should focus on to realize the most value from data visualization technologies:

1. Provide Training and Self-Help Materials

Many education professionals are not savvy about data or analytics. They need help learning how to understand data and interpret analytical reports correctly before they can make informed decisions. Institutions must offer appropriate user training and self-help resources, which can take many forms, such as video tutorials. Some institutions use a train-the-trainer approach, identifying key stakeholders whom they can educate and turn into effective, confident data consumers. Others provide hands-on user workshops in computer labs. Many utilize training provided by software vendors.

Regardless of the type of training used, complement it with additional self-help materials, such as user manuals and data dictionaries that define value hierarchies, data elements and more. These materials can be offered in hard copy or through context-sensitive online documentation.

2. Develop In-House Expertise

This is somewhat an extension of the first training tip, but this is what will sustain the data visualization effort for years to come. While a vendor is happy to help with consulting and technical support issues, it’s much more efficient to have someone on staff with deep understanding of the system.

Institutions should consider developing in-house expertise through two channels. Take advantage of the consulting offered by the software vendor during the development phase. That expert, on-site assistance can foster the knowledge needed to sustain the project moving forward. Supplement that with online courses, training classes, software manuals and programming guides.

Universities and colleges typically have an office of institutional research that executes and manages all data management, reporting and analytics activities. But this isn’t always the case for K-12 districts. Yet it is vital for school districts to have at least one person who is dedicated to becoming an expert in data visualization software, developing and executing strategy, creating reports, educating people, answering user questions and more.

(Next page: Data visualization tips 3-4)