Telling data stories

I have long been interested in the idea of ‘Trace Ethnography’ – the process of documenting digital traces from the web and APIs. It seems that following an individual data packet through our schools’ networks is could be a fascinating (and important) element of exploring how data is being ‘done’.

One way of telling the story of a trace of data is in the form of a data narrative or data story. For example, here Scott B. Weingart offers an amazingly evocative, thick but appropriately complex description of how a single text message is sent and received (and finally displayed).

Similarly, this Carnegie Mellon syllabus for a course on Data Stories supports students in unpacking the socio-technical assemblages that go to make up the ‘life’ of mundane data that flow through mundane infrastructures. As the course rationale puts it, focusing our attention on making sense of “the people, standards, technologies, and infrastructures responsible for collecting, maintaining, and transmitting data”.

These examples offer a basis for us attempting a similar exercise in our research study – perhaps in the form of retrospectively telling the stories of how one student ended up being ‘flagged red’ on the LMS dashboard, or the consequences of a late-arriving student logging into the late-admittance register. Even partially describing the technical journey of these individual data actions should be able to tell us plenty …