Two years ago, I didn’t even know that data visualization was a thing. I had just started a new job where I was asked to make charts and graphs for my school. I went looking for ways to make my graphs and charts better. Throughout my search, the phrase “data visualization” kept appearing, so I decided to dig a little bit deeper. Once I had a better understanding of what data visualization was, I started searching for some specific resources to level up my skills.
Stephanie Evergreen’s website came up in my searches along with a few others. I noticed the Data Academy piece, but I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment or investment yet. After a bit more research, I found her books on Amazon. I took the plunge and purchased her book, Effective Data Visualization.
I had a hard time putting the book down. I wanted to get going right away. The book walks you through a step-by-step process on how to set up and use Excel to make specific chart types. I was learning all kinds of core data visualization components such as color schemes, what types of information to use, what not to use, and what your titles should say.
(In fact, Stephanie’s Quantitative Chart Chooser was something that I printed out and still have up on my office wall.) I was learning design elements and practical uses of charts while going through the guides in the book and I wanted to know more and more. Eventually, I decided to join the Data Academy for access to the video tutorials and because I wanted to take a more systematic approach to my learning. In this article, I want to share my evaluation of the course to help those of you considering it.
What skills do I need to get started?
While it would be helpful to have some foundational spreadsheet knowledge and experience working with numbers and data, if you are right at the beginning of this journey, you can still benefit from this program. The course contains multiple levels within the tutorials, everything from a Rockstar Level 1–the easiest–all the way Rockstar level 10–the most challenging.
The course design supports a range of learning styles. There is a suggested starting point. You also have the option to jump around and complete whichever tutorial you like. I blocked out an hour each week to devote to Evergreen Data Academy.
I especially value the support for multiple platforms. You have the choice of going through the same tutorials in Excel, Tableau, R, and–a recent addition–Google Sheets. They are constantly adding new content. Having this variety is a huge bonus. I started out learning Excel because that was the platform with which I was most familiar, but I started to dabble in Tableau as well. I was able to jump into using Tableau, which was new to me, within the same Data Academy course.
The course tutorials guide you step-by-step through each module. You also get the template files and final products. Each tutorial contains supplemental research articles related to the type of chart or concept being taught. There are also real world examples of how these charts are being used in various industries. They’re not just hypothetical. You can track your progress within the course under the progress menu in your account.
Who takes this course?
In addition to the course content and flexibility, another unique benefit is access to the Data Academy community. Your membership includes a private Slack Channel or Facebook Group. They also offer monthly office hour sessions where you can listen, offer advice, or even have your own work critiqued and questions answered.
The level of dialogue and the interaction that takes place within these groups has helped me further develop my skills. I do not feel intimidated by the other members in this risk-free environment. Subsequently, I started to ask questions and receive thoughtful input that I was then able to put into practice right away.
Another standout community option available to Data Academy students is Accountability Buddies. In this system you are partnered with another member. Through this partnership, you work on meeting explicit goals you each have set for yourselves. I was partnered with someone who was in a completely different industry. We agreed upon a set time to meet online once a month.
The people in the course with you are from all walks of life. I have met many educators, people in marketing, people in the healthcare industry, as well as those working in federal and national organizations. It’s amazing what you can learn from people in different industries!
My Accountability Buddy and I explored ideas, critiqued each other’s work, and also set a goal for each session. We would work with a common dataset that was not related to our fields. This way, we could really focus on the actual visualization techniques.
It’s up to you and your Buddy to establish the time commitment. The experiences and insights gained from working one-on-one with another person were fascinating and invaluable. Here is a resulting visualization from one of the datasets we used that was related to data from the motion picture industry.
How has the investment paid off?
When I joined, the cost was $999 per year. As an educator, I received a 20-percent discount, which brought the price down to around $800 for an annual subscription. That investment served as motivation to get as much out of the course as possible. Now, there is an option to purchase a lifetime membership for $1500. I want to show you some before and after data visualizations to show you how my skills have progressed. Below are a couple of examples of charts that I used to make before the course. In the examples, you can see that I have no idea about the importance of text direction, or titles in the chart. Someone seeing these for the first time would have little understanding of what the data is about. The table is also hard to interpret. There is no real takeaway and it requires too much cognitive load.
The example below is a report I created for classroom teachers at the beginning of the school year. The objective was to provide them an overall view of the cohort that they would be getting for the upcoming year. The only prompts I gave them were: “What do you see?” and “What do you wonder?” (Here is a great Youtube video of Anne Fetter on the topic of wondering.) Those two prompts generated authentic dialogue about the data and helped form potential academic focus areas for the upcoming school year. I was particularly happy with the dumbbell dot plot and the waffle chart as they were the first tutorials I learned in the Academy.
Eventually, I decided to join the data academy because I saw value in video tutorials and I wanted a systematic approach to my own learning. At the time, the cost was $999 per year. As an educator, I received a 20 percent discount, which brought the price down to around $800 for an annual subscription.
Because of the price tag, I was motivated to get as much out of the course as possible. Now they have actually changed the price plan so instead of having to pay $999 annually, you can get a lifetime membership for $1,500. Based on my personal experience, I find this to be an unbelievable value. So, if you are on the fence, this might help.
I am currently completing my second year in the course and I can honestly say I have learned so much. I have improved in my skills for creating graphs and chart abilities, seeking feedback, and sharing feedback with others. I apply these skills that I have learned nearly every day in my current role. One of the biggest benefits from the course has been my increased confidence for effectively communicating data.
Before enrolling in the Data Academy, I had limited knowledge about effective charts and graphs beyond simply making them. Now, I put more thought into communicating data as information. As a result, I’ve been recognized for this in my job and I am frequently asked to create or modify visualizations for others.
If you’re considering investing in yourself via improving your data visualization skills, here is a summary of what an Evergreen Data Academy membership includes:
- Flexible course design for a range of learning styles and availability
- Training for a variety of platforms (Excel, Tableau, R, and Google Sheets)
- Support for a range of experience levels
- Access to both 1:1 and group community support that offer accountability and exposure to a range of industry perspectives
- Synchronous and asynchronous learning environments
- Progress tracking
- Step-by-step tutorials with related articles and real-world examples
So, if you are looking to improve your data visualization skills through a self-paced course where you have lifetime access to tutorials and a helpful community, Evergreen Data Academy is a great place to find all of that. I hope to see you on the inside!