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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On The Drilldown

Introduction - History
At AllofE, we have clients in fields ranging from K-12 to higher education, from trucking to sports branding analysis. Every sector has its own challenges, and every project we complete gives us new perspectives on how to solve complex problems. The problem of aggregating massive amounts of data and displaying it in an understandable and intelligence-focused fashion is one of the hardest problems we've come across. After a lot of scrap pieces of paper, dried whiteboard markers, and long discussions, we came up with a solution that is easy to use, fast, and brings to light intelligence from data: the Drilldown. Although it was originally developed to solve a problem completely unrelated to student growth, the Drilldown is the best way to display a district's worth of information in an understandable and intuitive manner.

What the Drilldown Shows
Imagine a district's data as one giant table of raw data. Its columns would number in the hundreds, and its rows would number in the thousands. Because of the massive amount of data, extracting intelligence by looking at each and every piece of data is an impossible task. Different groups and cohorts of the data need to be displayed for the data to be truly understood.

The group people are most familiar with is the gender group. Matrix goes through every record in the data warehouse and places the record into one of two cohorts: male students or female students. The average scores for each type of test are then calculate across multiple years, and displayed for analysis. Being able to see the performance of males vs. females for an entire district, from clicking on the Drilldown to seeing the data, takes a matter of seconds. Matrix gives users access to all of their data, and allows them to understand all their data without having to wait hours or days.

The gender group is just one of many different groups the Drilldown uses. The ethnicity group breaks down data into even finer cohorts. Lets say a district administrator wants to know which ethnicity their teachers need to focus on more than others. By building a cohort for each ethnicity, Matrix can quickly show the performance for each ethnicity, and allow that administrator to quickly find which ethnicity teachers need to focus on.

The gender and ethnicity groups are two of the groups Matrix shows based on student demographics. Our data warehouse also connects together schedules and enrollments with students, and allows the Drilldown to show groups based on grade level and school. The district administrator from the ethnicity group may also want to know how much students are growing as they progress through the district. By looking at cohorts in the grade level group, they can see if there is positive growth through each grade level. They can also see the growth in each particular school to get an even deeper sense of how students are moving during their time in the district.

Combining Groups
Up to this point, the questions asked of the Drilldown have only been asked at a district level. Questions like "how well are we reaching 3rd grade males vs. 3rd grade females" or "which ethnicity is performing the best in an elementary schools" are questions that the Drilldown can also answer. Every cohort is clickable and allows you to zoom in or drilldown (where the name came from) to see a more focused picture of the district.

The first question, "how well are we reaching 3rd grade males vs. 3rd grade females," can be answered by one click of the mouse. By going to the grade level group and clicking on the 3rd grade cohort, the Drilldown refreshes itself to show data tied specifically to 3rd grades. Middle and High Schools will no longer show up under the school group, and 3rd grade will be the only entry in the grade level group. The data in the gender group shows performance of males and females in 3rd grade. In a manner of seconds, the Drilldown has answered a question some districts have spent days trying to answer. The Drilldown also allows for the performance of 4th grade males vs. 4th grade females to be answered in a similar manner.

Clicking on a cohort in the Drilldown allows the lens to be focused on specific parts of a district. It's easy to see that this method of filtering allows for finer and finer views of a district to be constructed and understood. Moving between cohorts like 3rd and 4th grade is also an easy process. Each filter is shown at the bottom of the Drilldown, and can be removed by clicking on it. The answer the previous question to about gender performance in 4th grade can be found by clicking on the existing 3rd grade filter, then filtering by the 4th grade cohort. The process of adding and removing filters allows users with any level of technical experience to understand student performance in their district in a manner of seconds.

Exports, Printing, and Detail Data
Matrix is an application that is accessible by anyone that has a computer and an Internet connection. It is also an application that recognizes the value of extracting data out of it. Being able to print a grid or save what's visible on the screen into a spreadsheet is possible throughout the system. The Drilldown takes the guesswork out of saving information for a presentation or for later analysis by offering both Export and Print buttons.

Along with printing and exporting, the Drilldown has the ability to display all of the underlying data used to create its filtered view. By clicking on the Detail Data button, users are shown the student level data used to create the Drilldown. Matrix makes it possible to move from a view of the entire district down to a set of 10 students within four or five clicks. The Detail Data is also exportable and printable, and can also display a student's entire history with just one click.

Conclusion - Answering Questions
The Drilldown was designed to answer questions a user may have about the performance in their district. Questions an administrator, principal, or teacher may have about student performance are answerable with a few clicks. Thanks to the Drilldown, the long, cumbersome process of answering one question at a time from a spreadsheet thousands of lines long is now fast, efficient, and possible for any user within a manner of seconds.

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