Tableau is unique and a valuable teaching tool because it provides an easy interface for the creation of charts, graphs and even maps. Students can explore data in sophisticated ways with only a short training session. Even better, as students they can get free licenses for the software, allowing faculty to use it for classes without ensuing large financial commitments.
What sets Tableau apart from other data visualization or business intelligence software is its intuitive, user-friendly drag-and-drop interface. For more sophisticated applications this is supplemented by a variety of easy to understand menus. By using contextual menus and panels instead of typing in code, Tableau lowers the learning curve needed to create visualizations. For example, creating a line graph or a map is as easy as selecting the variables in question and selecting the appropriate type of visualization.
Classic tables like the one below are easy to construct and can also be augmented with color-coded hotspot analyses.
Tableau provides the opportunity to construct data visualizations that are more complex than those generated by most traditional statistical packages. For example, the graphic below compares the number of conflicts over time for four North African countries in a fairly normal plot, but add an additional variable, the number of fatalities by varying line thickness.
For classes working with data, Tableau presents a significant opportunity for instructors to integrate more data into the classroom, especially with students who might not have experience with more advanced statistical software. Making it easier for students to explore and understand data, as well as to ask their own questions through investigative learning, encourages them to gain a deeper appreciation for data as it relates to their discipline. In fact, as of the time of writing, Tableau is currently being successfully used in several of our classes at Grinnell College.