Power BI for Schools
by Ed Cadwallader
How to get data, build a model and start visualising
Explore and adapt a sample school dashboard
Browse posts on specific DAX challenges
Why use Power BI?
Microsoft Power BI is a tool for collating and visualising data. It combines the big advantage of Excel - you can analyse your data exactly how you want, but at the same time it solves many of the problems of Excel analyses. BI Dashboards are designed and published to users - so they can't delete a formula or use an out of date file with old data - and they are interactive in ways that allow your staff to ask questions about what's going on behind the topline numbers. Power BI desktop, the program used to design dashboards is free to download and you can publish to the secure webservice for free as well. Sharing published dashboards requires a powerbi pro licence but these are relatively inexpensive for education users.
A good fit for Schools?
Power BI is a good fit for schools in that dashboards can be made by one tech savvy user then shared with other colleagues who may not have those statistical/modelling skills but who nevertheless need to interrogate and engage with the data. The fact that on the BI webservice users can add comments and call out colleagues is also useful for organisations embed data analysis in plans for action, rather than seeing it as a separate, stand-alone activity.
As more school activities have an online dimension and the yardsticks by which schools are judged change there's an advantage in having a tool that can combine data from multiple sources. Power BI can query your MIS, records on your school servers, web service APIs and published national data and bring them all together, reducing the time your staff spend looking for data so they can increase the time spent acting on it
How long to learn?
I was an experienced school data manager and Excel user when I first used Power BI and within a couple of days I was able to make useful reports on attendance. More complex analyses looking at different data areas, comparing different time periods etc require more knowledge of DAX (the coding language of BI) and (three years later) I'm still learning that. My advice to a school leader thinking of investing in BI would be that if you have a competent data manager than they will be able to learn BI, but they'll probably need training and they'll definitely need time to practise and experiment so you should factor that into your cost calculation. If part of your data cycle involves producing the same excel/pdf reports again and again you should definitely look closely at the potential of BI to give you something better that's less costly per cycle in terms of time to produce (after the upfront investment of getting it set up right).
Pros and Cons
- Built to share
- Combine data from anywhere
- Fast & Responsive
- Automates data processing
- Needs time & skills to set up
- Requires maintenance
- Costed per data consumer