The Intersection of Data Exploration and Social Justice

In the fall of 2020, 100 students ages 11 to 15 years old in Bangalore, India, logged into Zoom to learn how to work with data—data that could change their lives and those of their communities. Halfway around the world, 20 students in Durham, North Carolina, also investigated data in an afterschool program in the spring of 2021. Data, they would learn, can have a social impact.

As the amount of data in our world increases at exponential rates, the ability to understand, work with, and problem-solve using data as both a medium and a tool has never been more critical, especially for our youth as they prepare for societal and personal challenges on local and global scales. NetApp, an industry leader in cloud data services and an advocate in the data science education movement, partnered with the Concord Consortium, TERC, and the India STEM Foundation to develop a program to engage underrepresented students in becoming more fluent with data.

TERC developed the 12-week NetApp Data Explorers curriculum, placing datasets from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at the center. The India STEM Foundation adapted the learning experience to be locally and culturally relevant. Designed to prepare students with data problem-solving skills that match the challenges of the world they will soon inherit, the learning journey integrates our Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP). We were delighted to train school and volunteer leaders in using CODAP to elicit students’ creativity and imagination as they merge datasets, filter data, calculate new data attributes, visualize information, and make other “data moves.”

After the first half of the program, students apply what they have learned by pairing off into small teams to take on their own social issue data project. They choose a societal issue, identify a question or a challenge related to the topic to study, and use local datasets to explore their own communities. Students focus on issues of poverty, health, education, equity, and climate. Young people identify their own research questions, organize and validate the data, and create data visualizations in CODAP. In the culminating activity, students present their work in a project showcase. NetApp employees volunteer to coach students during these projects. They also share personal stories of the different ways they use data in their careers to spark students’ curiosity and demonstrate how data science skills are critical across diverse career paths.

TERC evaluated the program and found that students’ sense of data efficacy—or their ability to work with and make sense of data—improved significantly, as they gained newfound abilities to gather data to answer meaningful and relevant questions, define their own questions when exploring data, describe data to someone else, and make charts, graphs, and other visual displays about data. The evaluation also showed that students increased their confidence in making a difference in their communities.

Based on the positive results of the pilot program, NetApp has engaged TERC and The Tech Interactive to refine the curriculum and develop a teacher training to scale Data Explorers to additional locations, including California, London, and Amsterdam—all locations where NetApp has offices—in the 2021-2022 school year. We look forward to continuing our partnership and bringing more data experiences to students around the globe, as they witness the powerful intersection of data exploration and social justice issues.