How do you change minds?
My brother and I huddled in my basement, putting the finishing touches on our analysis. The sun had set and our presentation was the following morning. We had spent the last month gathering data about student retention at online schools. We wanted to know what caused students to leave and what kinds of students tended to stay.
We had the slides to share with the executive team. The presentation summarized an attrition model, segmented the student population, and offered recommendations. Yet we felt something was missing.
How could we teach people to care?
Behind our numbers were individual students who chose the online school, took out student loans to pay for their education, spent hours with the online coursework, consulted with teachers, and tried to keep up with the schedule. Our analysis flattened the individual stories, successes, and struggles of these students. How could we bring real life back into our presentation?
As the clock ticked toward midnight, we got an idea: We’d create an animated movie. It would show how every student found their way into the school from different points of origin, how they progressed through their schoolwork, and how they eventually made the decision to stay or leave.
The movie-making was more quick and dirty than elegant. We constructed images showing where each student existed on their journey then joined them into a single image for each day of the school year (Figure 1). The students were positioned ...