Teaching Tableau

by Hanna Nykowska

As you may (or may not) know, one of the tasks that data schoolers are exposed to is teaching others. I have done it a few times now in different settings and thought I’d share my observations for the benefit of future cohorts and those who are just interested.

I’ll describe each of my experiences separately and then summarise with lessons learnt.

Teaching the Public in Person

In the previous week, there were two events called Learn what the Data School Learns where my fellow cohortians and I were teaching the public. One day was dedicated to Tableau, the other one to Alteryx. In the Tableau Session, we covered Table Calculations, LODs, Parameters, Alternative Charts and Interactivity. I was teaching the LOD expressions. (Check out our meetup group for upcoming events)

The Good

It was really fun. Once we managed to create a nice atmosphere in the room it was very enjoyable! People wanted to learn, asked questions and seemed engaged. It was also a nice change in the curriculum.

Some of the attendees expressed their appreciation of the session which is always nice. It was great to hear that they realised how important and powerful some of the techniques are. It’s also nice to help people understand something that they previously weren’t so sure of.

Another plus is that you truly have to master the topic to teach it to others. At least in my opinion. Well, actually I don’t think it’s only my opinion…

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Albert Einstein

And you can’t teach others in anything else than simple terms. Hence, to teach something, you really need to know what you’re talking about.

I also wanted to look at the topic in a different way than I was taught and break it down to small chunks so that it’s digestible. It’s a bit difficult but it was fun trying to think of LODs in a different way.

The Bad

It’s really difficult to know what to plan for. You don’t know who’s coming to the session and thus you can’t predict the level of the attendees. We had 20 people, some of them used Tableau daily, some of them hadn’t used it before. That made it difficult to tailor the session level.

It’s very stressful (for me). That probably comes down to impostor syndrome, but I also think that you need some level (preferably high) of expertise to teach something to others and I didn’t think I was there. The problem here is that teaching others takes practice, so you have to start somewhere…

Even though you can try and read the expressions of the audience, it may be really difficult to get verbal responses from them so you’re not sure how things are going until you walk the room and see what people are actually doing.

Technical Issues. We had quite a few. It just adds stress that is usually pretty high anyway. To deal with it, make sure that your agenda has some spare time in case things go wrong. We had some extra time included in our plan which I think helped to keep the stress level as low as possible.

Make sure the attendees have the correct version of Tableau Desktop (not Public) and prepare all available laptops just in case. We originally needed four laptops for the session but ended up using eight or even more – make sure all of the laptops are ready to go. If you’re sharing some files, test the links are working correctly, preferably from other laptops than your company network.

This might be a minor issue and I feel like something went wrong since I’m saying this in my twenties, but my oh my, a whole day of standing up and walking the room is quite exhausting for my back…

Source: GIPHY

Teaching the Younger Cohort (aka DS14) in Person

After teaching the public I felt the buzz and wanted more. Surprisingly, the timing was great because DS14 had an intro to LODs the next day and Andy let me have a go at teaching them.

The Good

I was really excited. Mostly because the group was smaller than during our public session. 9 instead of 20. (Although I didn’t have much time to change the materials so I used the same ones with minor changes.)

The level was much more evened out compared to teaching the public. At least I knew that my audience is familiar with Tableau and calculations.

It wasn’t easy at first to get some verbal responses but the process of having people answer my questions using actual words was much quicker. The lesson here is that whatever the group you need to build a relationship where they are happy to talk to you. (It was DS14’s second week and my social skills could be much improved. I hope that should I teach them now, the dynamic of the session would be much better from the start.)

Walking the room was much easier with the smaller group and I could actually easily check what everyone was doing. Since all of my audience had experience with Tableau, the exercises took less time than during the public session.

And in the end, I actually helped one person with understanding LODs! (That’s my small success right there.)

After this session I also got some feedback from Andy which was very helpful.

The Bad

The panic in the eyes. I realised pretty quickly that my content was not as good as I initially thought and my worries that I might have jumped to too advanced parts proved to be correct. My only hope was that maybe with more explanation and exercises things will clear up. I’m not sure that it happened. Thankfully, after I was done, Andy took over and started from the beginning.

My Impatience. During the exercises, because my audience had more experience, they tried to solve the problems themselves first. I had a really hard time estimating how much time I should give them for the exercises and even though I said ‘5 minutes’ I actually didn’t wait that long. The cause of it might be the fact that I was still a bit insecure about my teaching and was really hoping they would magically pick things up and solve my exercises quickly.

This was also very stressful because I knew I wasn’t doing a great job and I was worried that I was not helping DS14 but rather doing the opposite. (It seems that I’ve actually induced fear of LODs in Jenny. Sorry!) I can only hope that Andy fixed my wrongdoing with his experience in teaching.

Source: GIPHY

Teaching the Public via Webinar

As a continuation of our Learn what the Data School Learns we were all going to run webinars and teach the same topic we did in the in-person session. I decided to go first and be done with it.

The Good

Now I knew I had to do some more explanation of LODs so that people can understand it more easily. I also knew that my webinar will be recorded and so people will be able to go to that recording and recap some parts. This made the content planning much easier. I knew what the scope was and that I could go a bit quicker but still make things useful for the audience.

I could actually practice the session in pretty much the same condition I would have during the webinar. The only things I couldn’t include were technical problems and questions from the attendees. Since Robert was joining me for the webinar to answer these questions, I decided not to worry about them.

It seems the webinar actually went well and the chat option helped a lot with getting responses from the audience. I actually got some comments saying the webinar was useful which I was very happy to learn.

The Bad

You can’t check the conditions for everyone and it may be that some people will have technical difficulties. Some attendees were complaining about the background noise but after asking the audience to let me know whether they had any problems it seemed that it was split pretty evenly so I decided to continue. Since I was already using a headset, couldn’t do anything else really.

It’s a bit weird talking to your monitor and my throat went dry pretty quickly. It may also be difficult to keep your voice loud enough during the whole time. That’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Up until the end, I didn’t know what the reception of my content was. I hoped it was ok but I didn’t have the facial expression or screens to check whether things got through as I wanted them to.

Lessons Learnt

Slow down and keep things easy. This is very difficult for me because I don’t want people to feel like I’m treating them like idiots. But I also have to remember that they came to learn as they are not familiar with the topic or they want a refresher. You can always go through things quicker if the audience wants to. It’s so much more difficult to explain things you planned to skip.

Give people time for the exercises. If you say 5 minutes, then wait 5 minutes. (I might need to get a watch…) The exercises will take for what may seem like forever. But that’s because some people may not be familiar with the interface, so they have to look for things. The exercises are not something they worked on for the past two weeks but rather something completely new and thus they will have to take a moment to make sure they understand the question correctly. Just chill out, and let them do their thing for a while.

Turn on the mouse location in your computer settings (it will show circles around you cursor after hitting ctrl) and change the size of the cursor to bigger to make it easier to locate.

Use magnifier: zoom into your content so that people can see what you’re talking about.

Use descriptive language: left, top, centre, column shelves, etc. instead of here and there. Keep your language consistent: use the same terminology for the same thing.

Explain every thing you’re doing, sometimes more than once.

When you write a calculation zoom in (ctrl + scroll) to make the text bigger. Add a comment (after // in Tableau) to your calculation so that your audience can easily check what you’re doing if they missed it. They will know what the purpose of the calculation is and how to write it! (I did it in my webinar and I think it helped massively.

Change the font in your Tableau Workbook to 15 or bigger so that it’s easier for the attendees to see what is on the screen.

Don’t worry if you can’t go through everything you prepared. It happens. Just say there’s more to the topic and give directions to extra resources and contact info if the attendees want to reach out with questions.

Don’t panic and enjoy yourself! People will be more likely to loosen up and talk to you when you’re not just a bunch of stress.

Teaching is another thing you can learn. It just takes practice. Don’t stress out if things don’t go well, learn from it.

Now that I think I got my LODs sorted, I’ll write a blog with my explanation so make sure to check it out if you want some clarification or maybe an introduction to the topic. Thanks for reading, byeee!


Hanna Nykowska

Fri 24 May 2019

Thu 23 May 2019

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