From the start, teachers expressed concerns that too much focus on data is getting in the way of teaching.
On the panel of experts was Simon Warburton, deputy headteacher at Hitchin Boys’ School in Hertfordshire. He wrote: “We are awash with data but we don’t always see the interrogation of it that can lead to effective intervention and support.”
Others, such as Rachael Lizzie Harper, agreed. She wrote: “Data is of course important in telling us what is going on but it doesn’t say how or why.”
In other words, data by itself can’t tell the full story.
The discussion was interesting because while it was happening, some similar conversations were taking place in a pub at King’s Cross Station.
A few of the Interhacktives had gone to the journalism.co.uk social to mingle. Some questions were raised over whether the type of data journalism that places a heavy focus on charts and figures, such as that produced by Ampp3d, can sometimes miss the mark in terms of telling the full story.
Of course, Ampp3d’s mantra is around exploring key facts and figures from the day’s news agenda and so telling the full story isn’t necessarily its goal. But thinking about the full picture is crucial.
A shocking statistic can often seem like it must be the story, but without finding out the reasons behind it or seeing what effects it might be having on people, it can be meaningless or even misleading.
As an example, take the Daily Mail’s September announcement that we’re now facing “Global Cooling”. It suggested that because the Arctic ice cap had grown by 29% in a year, global warming predictions were wrong.
But environmental journalist Tom Yulsman wrote a detailed blog post demonstrating how focusing on one big figure at the expense of context completely changes the story. The article had not taken long-term trends into account which have seen year-to-year variations but still an overall decline in sea ice extent.
What we can all take away from this is that we should never rely on the key figure to tell a story. We should still be speaking to the right people and delivering whichever contextual information is needed.
Data is a powerful tool in a journalist’s arsenal, but it must never be the only one.