Affordances of narrative and numerical data: A social-semiotic approach to data use
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Data use in education is a sensemaking process in which practitioners and researchers interact with different systems of meaning such as anecdotes or spreadsheets. The representational qualities of data and their influence on practice are critical but less well-discussed aspects of data use. Drawing on social semiotics, this theoretical article proposes that data should be discussed in terms of narrative and numerical modes of representation. Narrative data typically consist of protagonists and actions organized in a temporal structure, while numerical data typically consist of mathematical notations and visual representations such as graphs and figures. We argue that the representational properties of these two modes affect how data are interpreted and acted upon. We then present two contrasting cases from New Zealand and Norway of how affordances affect teachers’ data use processes. Finally, we discuss five challenges arising from our theorization about the affordances of data.