Microsoft Power BI Preview

Microsoft Power BI—Microsoft’s latest suite of online tools and services for visualizing data, sharing discoveries, and collaborating intuitively in several new, exciting ways—is the Holy Grail of educators seeking the best online experience.

Watch this video to prove our claim for yourself.

Video Highlights

0:00:05 New product release by Microsoft

0:00:33 Microsoft Power BI Preview

0:01:00 Data sources

0:01:28 Links to all the data

0:01:46 What are the things that can be done with this suite of online tools and services?

Transcript: Microsoft Power BI Preview

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Mike: So, I’m really excited about this new product that’s being released by Microsoft tonight. I know that you’ve got a demonstration account of that which really does help you look across your whole school at a range of different things, whether it be analytics on attendance, home works submitted, all sorts of things like that in terms of what’s happening into teaching and learning. So, do you want to just throw your screen up and maybe give us a quick look through that?

Blake: Let’s look at this Power BI stuff, because this stuff is really cool! I’ve just started working with this probably, what, two days ago—so very new. So, excuse the brevity here, I might make some mistakes, or not get things to work. But, effectively, this is a Microsoft product that runs on the Web. It leverages spreadsheets—so, Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets. You can also plug it (Microsoft Power BI) into a whole range of other data sources. Google Analytics is one of them.

I just show all the data sources to use so you canyeah, we call it data workbooks, SQL servers. So, if you have a local database that runs with SQL, you can actually query that directly. You’ve got Google Analytics, you got all sorts of stuff. But for the most part, I think the Excel stuff would be the simplest way to get going.

What I’ve done is imported a workbook that has some kids’ NAPLAN data. Attendance data are in there, and some reporting data. And what it will do is actually link all that stuff together for us. So, if we look here, I’ve got attendance summary. And then there are the fields that are in that workbook. I’ve got NAPLAN data. And then I’ve got reporting data. So, they’re the three kind of areas that I’m looking at. And I haven’t quite got this perfect yet, but I’ll just show you what can be done with this and why I think it’s so, so important.

So, you know, a lot of tools have graphing engines. A lot of tools can do visualizations of data. But the problem is, to do that. If someone says to me, “Can you go and figure out which teacher has the most students in their class?” How do I do that? I’m going to sit down for bloody hours and scroll through all this information to make a graph and, you know, filter out the spreadsheets. That’s just a nightmare!

But with this, I just click on all data here and it pulls in that big spreadsheet that I had full of all this data and I just say in natural language, you have this natural language processor. It figures out what I’m talking about: Which teacher has the most students?

Mike: Well, that’s awesome!

Blake: That happened in real time. Nothing had to load. It’s just “Bang!” Straight, like that. So, I can see who has the most students. That’s interesting.

So, let’s try something else. Let’s try “Count students per teacher.” This is where you can see that natural language algorithm coming over. It’s the same thing that I’ve asked it to do—and I’ll ask it a totally different way—and this is the tower of it right, so that an average teacher can actually get in here and do something and not go “Holy crap! This is so complicated. I have no idea.”

So you know, that can rest on us as the administrator—to get the data in there in a way that’s query-able. And then if we want to say count students per teacher, what if one drilled down and said teacher in year nine? And I can see the count of students per teacher in year nine. Suddenly it’s changed. You know? So, I mean, this for me, this is like Nirvana. You know, this is the Holy Grail-kind of material. So that’s some examples.

You know, we can do other things, like total student ID results together. So, it’s sort of totaling the student ID’s results. We can do that. It sort of draws a graph of the excellence—how many people got excellent, how many people got very good and how many people got eight. We can drill down into that even more if we want. We can do another thing, like we can look at you know. Just bear in mind: It’s all happening while I haven’t pre-cached of any of this. 

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Total outclass, which is a field I setup (I should really call that truancy or absence or something like that), by student ID—and that would show me all the student IDs by absences. So, I can see here who hasn’t been here this year. The next person, you know, down the track. And I can do that at a per-year-level basis if I’d like to. So, if I do total outclass by forms for instance, that’s an interesting one. It will tell you which forms have the most truancy. You know, 9D is leading the pack there. And, so, that’s really easy for me to do.

I can also look at it by subject—Now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?—for which subject has the most truancy mass. And then you might want to say, which subject against another topic, against student ID? And I can see which student ID was actually absent out of that subject by a graph here. So, yeah. I mean, you can really see the power of that. I mean, it’s crazy. I can even drill into one of those specifically.

I can say, you know, instead of by subject, I’m going to say, the total absences by 09 mass, year nine, like I’ve just read off one of those classes, and it will pull that up for me and show me the total outclasses in the list. So, yeah, it’s pretty much sky is the limit sort of stuff, isn’t it?

Mike: Yeah, that is so good. And what I love about that is, you can start to track multiple variables and you just start to wonder, I wonder if this is an influence on that. And then you just type it in, and boom! There’s the data right in front of you. So, in terms of being able to start to measure and track, I mean, this is just something new. I’m quite excited about it; I think it’s fantastic.

Blake: Yeah. And I can change that from a bar graph and say, show me a line graph. Obviously, that doesn’t work for that data. But show me a scattered plot, it will do that as well. I mean, this is Holy Grail material, and it’s very, very exciting. And, obviously, I’m brand-new to it; I’m still figuring it out. I’m just using some dummy data in there at the moment, but it would be interesting to see how big you can go with this. You know? I think, for us the Holy Grail is going to be: I teach math. I want to see just those kids. I don’t want to see their last three years of reporting data mapped against their behavior and against their reading and NAPLAN data. Bang! You know?

Mike: Absolutely, yeah.

Blake: Yeah, if you can do that at the tip if your fingertips—yeah, that’s pretty wild stuff.

Mike: Yeah, and I’ve been saying for probably a year now, someone is going to crack this, because this is where teaching and learning is getting to. It’s all about data-driven stuff. You know, NAPLAN tests, national curriculums, reporting data. That’s all the talk. Everyone wants to have a report that students have progressed and so on.

They’re wanting it to go from this gut-check kind of reality to having some hard numbers, and I’ve been saying for about a year like someone needs to just crack the fact that we need to get this data but not have to be, you know, mathematical wizards to make it happen. And I’m so excited that Microsoft has got this coming out. I just think it’s fantastic.

Blake: Oh it just blows me away, and I think,like, how many people in the school could probably put that data together? Maybe five or 10 out of the teacher base of 180. And it would probably take them days and days. And then you look at what you can do there, with just typing a few keys. I think that natural language engine that they got here is the key thing here. It’s not about the data. We’ve got all the data. How do we get it out? How do we extract it? I think that’s where they’ve done a great job

And BI is actually business intelligence, is what it stands for—power BI. And it’s been in business for a long time, you know, mapping sales charts and doing retail analysis and things like that. You know, bestselling categories, bestselling items. And what we’re doing is, we’re taking that and we’re remapping it into an education context. And it works surprisingly well.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing, but it works surprisingly well taking that same model and looking at it over different pools of data and pulling together saying, “Here’s this one student ID. I want to find out all of these things and connect the dots.”

Mike: Yeah. No, that’s very good.

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