To&Through Project Launch

We’re proud to unveil the To&Through online data tool, designed and built by Inquirium. The first of its kind, this interactive website was created to help every degree-seeking Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student achieve their goal by helping educators, parents, and policy-makers understand the factors that impact academic attainment from freshman year through college graduation. The site launched to the public on Sept. 20.

Check out the To&Through online data tool here.

One of the key goals of the website is to make data on educational attainment available to everyone, not just data nerds. Parents and students can use it to compare high schools, teachers and school practitioners can use it to measure their performance, and college counselors can use it to help students choose colleges where they are more likely to receive the support to graduate.

The website highlights the key milestones that matter most for students’ high school and college success: Freshman On Track, high school graduation, college enrollment, college persistence, and college graduation. Users can visually follow the outcomes of each milestone, examine trends, and explore breakdowns by demographics, qualifications, and risk & opportunity levels.  They can also compare the results for their school to schools with similar characteristics and to district-wide benchmarks. Filtering allows users to dive into even more detail, breaking the data down by gender, race, GPAs, etc.

An example page showing CPS's high school graduates.

An example page showing CPS’s high school graduates.

Interactive graph showing a school's college enrollments rates over the last 10 years.

Interactive graph showing a school’s college enrollments rates over the last 10 years.

Breakdown of CPS's college persistence rates.

Breakdown of CPS’s college persistence rates.

The launch was covered by Crain’s Chicago, who wasted no time sharing insights based on their own data digging:

“While graduation rates were rising, college enrollment rates for CPS students increased to 42 percent from 33 percent (vs. a 44 percent national average) between 2006 and 2014. Among CPS graduates who started college, the college graduation rates inched up four points to 50 percent (vs. 60 percent nationally).”

Beyond end-users, the tool also supports the ongoing work of the University of Chicago. The website has special staff tools to support the import and validation of new datasets, the management of downloadable reports, and the ability to author customized interactive tours, which guide users through “narrative dives” through the website, tailored to specific topics of interest.

This project was a perfect fit for Inquirium. Since our founding in 2001, one of our primary missions has been to help students, educators, and educational policy makers find meaning in complex data. We integrate the power of data visualization with techniques in narrative storytelling to help make otherwise invisible patterns visible. The To&Through data tool gives people, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to this powerful research, information they can use to make informed decisions that directly impact students’ educational progress.

The To&Through Online Data Tool was designed and developed by Inquirium for the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI) and UChicago Impact in conjunction with the Network for College Success. We worked closely with our clients and school-based educators to create a user interface that presents the research in ways that practitioners find actionable, including custom visualizations that tell meaningful stories. On the back-end, we developed a technical infrastructure that supports the client’s ongoing research.

We plan to continue refining the site as UEI and CPS stakeholders find new ways to use the data to help students achieve their educational goals. Read more about the To&Through project goals, and if you’re interested in trying out the data tool, we recommend taking a tour by clicking the friendly red button on the bottom right here of the data tool’s landing page (you can even customize the tour to a school of your choosing).

Questions about our role with To&Through? Want to get in touch with us? Send us an email at info@inquirium.net.

MacArthur showcases its “new media and learning” initiatives

Last Thursday, The MacArthur Foundation put on a showcase of its recent efforts to re-imagine learning. The event highlighted Katie Salen’s Quest to Learn, a school built on the principles of game design, as well as three initiatives by former Inquirium founder Nichole Pinkard: the Digital Youth Network, a program through which mentors engage young adults in interest-based digital media projects, the Remix World social media platform to support those projects, and the highly successful YOUmedia learning lab, a space at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library where teens can explore their interests using state of the art digital media facilities.

It’s exciting stuff, and we at Inquirium couldn’t resist getting involved. Last year, we helped redesign the teacher planning and design component of Remix World, and recently we began helping MacArthur expand it’s YOUmedia initiative by designing an online toolkit to support the creation of new sites.

The MacArthur event also featured a special appearance from Chicago’s Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who seems to have his pulse on this movement — which is reassuring for those of us in Chicago.

The centerpiece of the event was a new PBS documentary, Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century which highlights these projects along with interviews from a number of educational experts.

Watch the full episode. See more Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

Current events and Inquirium projects

What I like most about my job are the opportunities we get to create learning environments that are relevant.  So I’m always pleased when I hear a news story on a topic related to one of our projects.  This morning, while driving the kids to school, I had the opportunity to hear two such stories on NPR.
The first story was about a program to address bullying in a Maryland school. The program targets “the circle of bulying,” helping kids understand that bullying can involve a host of roles: passive supporters, followers, the bully, the victim, and possible defenders. This was one of the primary aims of the “Take a Stand”:”http://www.inquirium.net/portfolio/takeastand/” interactive exhibit we created for the Illinois Holocaust and Education Center. This physically immersive game-like social simulation gives kids the opportunity to choose whether they want to be bystanders, supporters, followers or defenders. While bullying was just one of the “universal lessons” of the holocaust we targetted, it certainly is the one that resonates most with the largely middle school audience.
The second story was about a fossilized pinky found in Siberia that points to a previously unknown human ancestor– a hominid that’s neither Homo Sapiens nor Neanderthal. The story documented the new questions raised by this find, as scientists grapple to reshuffle their understanding of human ancestry.  This was the goal of “Bones of Contention”:”http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/interactives/bones-of-contention/” an online interactive activity for high schoolers we recently created for WGBH/NOVA. Like the story, the activity encourages students to explore the callenges scientist face when classifying hominid fossils by investigating a database full of unlableled hominid fossils, thus taking part in the ongoing scientific process of discovering human origins.

What I like most about my job are the opportunities we get to create learning environments that are relevant.  So I’m always pleased when I come across a news story on a topic related to one of our projects.  This morning, while driving the kids to school, I had the opportunity to hear two such stories on NPR.

The first story was about a program to address bullying in a Maryland school. The program targets “the circle of bulying,” helping kids understand that bullying can involve a host of roles: passive supporters, followers, the bully, the victim, and possible defenders. This was one of the primary aims of the “Take a Stand” interactive exhibit we created for the Illinois Holocaust and Education Center. This physically immersive game-like social simulation gives kids the opportunity to choose whether they want to be bystanders, supporters, followers or defenders. While bullying was just one of the “universal lessons” of the holocaust we targetted, it certainly is the one that resonates most with the exhibit’s largely middle school audience.

The second story was about a fossilized pinky found in Siberia that points to a previously unknown human ancestor– a hominid that’s neither Homo Sapiens nor Neanderthal. The story documented the new questions raised by this find, as scientists grapple to reshuffle their understanding of human ancestry.  This was the goal of “Bones of Contention” an online interactive activity for high schoolers we recently created for WGBH/NOVA. Like the story, the activity and web-based software we created encourages students to explore the callenges scientist face when classifying hominid fossils. By investigating a database full of unlableled hominid fossils, students take part in the ongoing scientific process of discovering human origins.

I also frequently come across news related to the work we did a few years back for the My World GIS project, using current geospatial data on the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet in a classroom climate change activity (scroll midway down the page) that studies the risks posed by decreasing salinity levels in the North Atlantic on the climate of Europe. Let’s hope the news on that one changes for the better!

Inquirium’s “Take a Stand” exhibit makes Time Out Chicago’s Top 8 highlights for kids in 2009

Time Out Chicago highlighted the Miller Family Youth Exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in its list of 8 Highlights of 2009 for Chicago Families.  Inquirium’s Take a Stand exhibit occupies 30% of the exhibition, using virtual reality technology to provide kids with an immersive social experience in which they encounter the challenges and rewards of standing up for others and taking action to benefit society.

YouMedia: Youth Media done right

For an example of the right way to create an after school environment supporting youth media, check out the YouMedia space that opened this summer in Chicago’s Harold Washington Library.

The space affords many types of interaction from casual hangout, to media production, to presentation. The program makes good use of mentors too.

YouMedia is a collaboration between the Chicago Public Library and Digital Youth Network (founded by Inquirium Alum Nichole Pinkard). Check out this spotlight from the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning initiative:

YouMedia from Spotlight on Vimeo.

Take a Stand & the Youth Exhibition Dedication at the Illinois Holocaust Museum

The IL Holocaust Museum dedicated their youth space this last weekend. We finally got a bit more coverage than we had in the past by the Pioneer Press. An excerpt:

“So here on a Sunday afternoon were the invited guests to the dedication, many of whom brought children and grandchildren to experience the offerings in this unique space. State-of-the-art technology is reflected in familiar computer screens as well as a not-so-familiar movie theater-size screen in a separate room. The all-enveloping screen is a part of an exercise that allows children to take on the role of frogs and make important decisions along their journey.

Still, even with technology that would rival the best of Nintendo and X-Box games, it would be a serious mistake to suggest that the exhibit serves simply as another venue for children to play with computer toys.

“The space we’re dedicating today is not a game room,” Harvey Miller said. “It is not a demonstration of the latest computer graphics. It is not a space for relaxation and resting. It is a teaching experience. It is meant to help provide the skills that parents, teachers, caregivers and the children themselves need in order to understand and use the lessons of the Holocaust. “

So it’s great to hear that our technology wowed the reporter. But I’m really glad Harvey Miller (the donor) was there to set the record straight.

The exhibit is admittedly hard to pin down in words.  Even docents can have a hard time with it. On the surface, it looks and feels like a video game: you control characters on a screen, you have some goal that you’re trying to achieve in the space (catching flies), and you have a score that tells you how well you’re doing.  But our goal was to deliberately use people’s expectations against them.  And not so much “teach” per se, but to provide a touchstone experience that could spark conversations about the universal lessons of the holocaust.

Now that the exhibit is open and I have a little more time, I hope to spend the next few weeks relaying some design stories from our experience.