Ngee Ann Polytechnic immerses students into the world of data visualisation using Tableau

Ngee Ann Polytechnic is one of Singapore’s leading institutions of higher learning with more than 16,000 full time students. At Ngee Ann, students in the School of Business & Accountancy’s Business Information Technology diploma learn about business intelligence, web marketing and many business-oriented IT concepts and skills. They are also immersing themselves into the world of rapid-fire data visualisation using Tableau.

The Diploma in Business Information Technology, offered under Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business & Accountancy, has a strong focus in business analytics. The course is designed to equip students with essential business knowledge, and a good grasp of accounting and economics concepts. Students also learn about information processing and design, data analytics, mobile applications and database systems.

To better engage students and introduce business analytics in a more lively and relevant manner, Jamie Teo, Senior Lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business & Accountancy, has adopted Tableau as a classroom tool. She believes Tableau is ideal for her students as it provides a simple introduction to data analytics for beginners. She wants to offer her students practical experience in data analytics and visualisation. Tableau’s easy-to-use features have also changed the way her course is structured, as it now allows students to have a more hands-on approach to analysis.

“We noticed that our students are more confident in analysing data sets.Their ability to grasp theoretical concepts on OLAP has also improved because they can relate it to the user interface of the Tableau Desktop,” said Teo.

Introducing students to data

Teo and her fellow instructors at Ngee Ann Polytechnic realise that it is crucial for their students to get a good grasp of data analytics early as there is a growing demand for talents with data analytic skills across industries. They also know that they have to make their data analytics classes interesting to keep students engaged. At the same time, students need to be able to gain real-world data analytics skills that they can use in the workplace.

However, the team faced some difficulties when they first started the business analytics module.The analytics tools were complex and not suitable for classroom use. Some tools also had incompatibility issues with students’ computers, hindering the teaching process.

This meant that 80 percent of the lessons were theory-based, and the instructors had to rely on case studies to explain concepts in business analytics. Students got limited hands-on experience and insufficient practical exposure to data analytics tools.

A teaching tool

In 2010, Teo learned about Tableau through Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. She downloaded the free trial and familiarised herself with the software using the many online resources available on the Tableau website. Through these, she found Tableau easy to learn and quite suitable for the Business Analytics module that she was teaching.

The fact that Tableau offered free licensing for academic use was a huge draw for Jamie. Another reason was that Tableau can be installed directly onto a desktop computer without any need for additional hardware or software.

She felt that Tableau’s intuitive design and drag-and-drop usability allow students to work with data with confidence. Furthermore, the rich learning resources and sample dashboards available on Tableau’s website can be used immediately in the classroom.