Bristol Conversations in Education - Doing data differently: the creative use of data visualisation in opening spaces for professional dialogue


26 February 2020, 12.00 PM - 26 February 2020, 1.00 PM

Cathy Burnett, Professor of Literacy and Education, Sheffield Hallam University

Room 2.26, School of Education, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol, BS8 1JA

This event is part of the School of Education's 'Bristol Conversations in Education' seminar series. These seminars are free and open to the public.

Speaker: Cathy Burnett, Professor of Literacy and Education, Sheffield Hallam University

In England and elsewhere quantitative data, primarily drawn from standardised tests, is used extensively to inform educational decision-making and to hold teachers and institutions to account. This ‘data-fication’ (Williamson, 2016) of schooling has been critiqued for fuelling an over-emphasis on testing in schools with negative impacts on the wellbeing of pupils (von der Embse et al., 2017), on teachers’ professional and personal lives (Ball, 2003), and on the breadth and scope of educational provision. In exploring alternate ways of putting quantitative data to work in educational research and practice, this paper reports on a British Academy funded project that explored how quantification and teachers’ creative use of data visualisation might be used to foreground aspects of literacy provision that are commonly disregarded in statistical accounts. Specifically the project investigated: what teacher-generated quantitative data can tell us about teachers’ perspectives on what matters in everyday classroom literacy provision; how far quantifications and their visual representations can illuminate the complexity, context and humanity of everyday classroom literacy; and the kinds of professional reflection and discussion generated through producing and sharing such data.

The methodology combined creative approaches to data visualisation with a participatory approach that foregrounded the priorities and interests of the teacher research participants. The approach was inspired by Lupi and Posavec’s (2016) year-long postcard exchange which documented the minutiae of their everyday lives, combining creative, hand-drawn visualisations of data with brief commentaries and reflections. Their work exemplifies how data visualisation techniques can be used to capture context, personal experience and complexity. Over one academic year, seven primary teachers generated data on their everyday experiences of classroom literacy provision and represented these on postcards that were shared at half-termly meetings. Participants were therefore invited to generate data on what matters to them in everyday practice in literacy classrooms, and to open out notions of ‘mattering’ to include social, ephemeral, material and affective dimensions of classroom life. In this seminar, I share examples of the postcards and discussion and consider the kinds of professional dialogue generated through ‘doing data’ in this way.


  • Ball, S. (2003). The teacher's soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy 18(2):215–288.
  • Lupi, G. & Posavec. (2016). Dear data. London: Particular Books.
  • Von der Emsbe, N., Pendergast, L., Segool, N., Saeki, E., and Ryan, S. (2016). The influence of test-based accountability policies on school climate and teacher stress across four states. Teaching and Teacher Education 59:492-502.
  • Williamson, B. (2016). Digital education governance: data visualization, predictive analytics, and ‘real-time’ policy instruments. Journal of Education Policy 31(2):123-141.


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Sarah Cox


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