Common On-line Data Analysis Platform (CODAP)

CODAPOur civilization now rests on a data foundation. A vast industry has grown up to turn raw data into useful information, and nearly every career on which a young person embarks requires data literacy. Just as language and numeric literacy involve understanding the world through words and mathematical constructs respectively, data literacy involves understanding the world through its data. Today’s middle and high school students need to work with data in every subject so that they will be able to participate as data-literate citizens and workers. CODAP’s goal is to help bring this about. Read more »

You can only learn about data by engaging with data. And you need good technological tools to do this. When designed with learning in mind, these tools draw you in with dynamic interaction; they encourage play and puzzlement. Curriculum developers want to embed data exploration tools in their online materials for student use but rarely have the resources to do so. Improving this situation is what CODAP is all about.

Through research on learning, collaborative software design, web application development and user testing, we’re developing a Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP) that will serve subsequent curriculum development projects as a basis for the technology with which students engage with data.

CODAP is open source software, free to use, adapt and extend. Students access CODAP with their web browser quickly and without the need for plug-ins. It’s available for classroom, library or home use. To increase the likelihood that CODAP software will meet the needs of a wide range of curriculum projects it is being designed and tested in collaboration with three existing NSF-funded projects: InquirySpace, Ocean Tracks and Terra Populus. These projects form the nucleus of a community of developers that will grow with time and lead to widespread use of CODAP’s data exploration and visualization tools in middle and high school classrooms in many different subject areas.

Principal Investigators

William Finzer
Dan Damelin

Project Inquiries

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1435470. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Research on learners’ conceptions of data has not kept pace with the increasing importance of data fluency in students’ education. CODAP is adding to our foundational knowledge in this area by undertaking to improve our understanding of how learners conceive of and work with empirical data that is structured hierarchically. The two graphs illustrate such a hierarchical structure in the context of multiple runs of a forest fire simulation. In the left-hand graph each point represents one simulation while in the right-hand graph each point is a measurement of the percent of the forest burned at a given time. These are, respectively, the upper and lower levels of a hierarchy.

This way of thinking about data is fundamental and ubiquitous in science and engineering. Yet how students come to understand the underlying data structure has yet to be researched, and thus there is a lack of empirical evidence to guide design of software interfaces to facilitate its understanding.

CODAP will research the ways learners perceive and learn to work with this type of data. Our goal is to add to knowledge to the field, to improve design of effective teaching strategies and to improve the design of data analysis learning environments. Research will be carried out through a series of qualitative studies using cognitive interviews with middle and high school science students in the first two years of the project, a pilot study in a summer class in year 2, and a larger, confirmatory study during field test in year 3. We hypothesize that user interface design of the representation of hierarchical data structures is strongly tied to the ability of learners to track levels of empirical data.

CODAP’s tool shelf, at right, shows some of its basic capabilities. Students can explore data with tables, graphs and maps. They can model data with plotted functions, computations and sliders. And they can document their work directly in CODAP or by embedding CODAP’s fully interactive components in their own web pages.

Watch a demo of CODAP’s capabilities and get a sense of what it’s like to really explore data!

Try CODAP yourself with a mass and spring simulation from the InquirySpace project. Press the Guest button to get started.

Design Principles

Here are some of the design principles underlying CODAP:

  • Make things interactive. Touching and dragging should cause change.
  • Animate for understanding. For example, when a graph changes, move the points to their new positions in a way that helps learners make sense of the transition.
  • Dynamically link selection. When a user clicks on a data point, highlight all representations of the data underlying that point.
  • Minimize cognitive load. Keep the interface clean while providing ways for the user to learn more.
  • It’s a tool, not a tutorial. Though CODAP collaborators may elect to embed the software in tutorials, CODAP itself is an open-ended tool for data exploration and discovery.

The CODAP community begins with four collaborating projects.

The Building Models project at the Concord Consortium is developing a systems dynamics modeling tool for secondary school students to construct dynamic models. They will validate and iteratively refine their models by comparing outputs from their own models with data from one or more other sources, including experimental data from probes or data generated by simulations. To facilitate iterative model development, the systems dynamics tool and the external data sources will be embedded in CODAP.

The InquirySpace project at the Concord Consortium develops digital software and curriculum that lead to scaffolded science inquiry. This project has been using CODAP’s predecessor software since 2012.

The Ocean Tracks project at EDC already has online software and curriculum materials immersing high school students in an interdisciplinary study of marine biology based on GPS data from elephant seals, tuna, albatross and other large sea animals. CODAP is using this project’s experience to inform the development of map and measurement capabilities. Amy Busey, Randy Kochevar and Josephine Louie join CODAP from OceanTracks.

The Terra Populus project at the Minnesota Population Center makes possible research that depends on integration of data for individual people drawn from censuses, area data that summarize demographics, environmental measures for states and environmental data gleaned from satellite photos. The collaboration with CODAP will lead to a website aimed at introducing students to this vast source of rich data. CODAP relies on participation of an ever-expanding community of multiple collaborators. Katie Genadek and Tracy Kugler lead this project.

Get involved!

Curriculum Developers: If you’re developing online curriculum materials that engage students with data, you belong to CODAP’s primary target audience.

Software Developers: If you’re creating software for learning about data, we invite you to leverage current work and add capabilities to the open source CODAP software.

Education Researchers: CODAP is already being used by researchers to visualize log data from online learning materials. Do you have data? CODAP could help you.

Teachers: The materials being developed by the CODAP community may help in your teaching. Try Data Games and InquirySpace materials. They’re free and ready to use in your classroom.

Students: As CODAP’s capabilities increase, especially as it becomes easy to import your own data, you may find it useful in your studies. It’s free and runs in your web browser!

Please contact us by sending an email to

Our Team

The CODAP team is distributed in both expertise and geography.

  • Principal Investigators: Bill Finzer, Dan Damelin
  • Research Team: Joan Heller, Nicole Wong, Cliff Konold
  • Project Manager: Rina Hoffer
  • Senior Software Engineer: Jonathan Sandoe
  • Software Tester: Evangeline Ireland


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