Data visualization is the study of the visual representation of data [i]. It is a means to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical representations. The map of the United States shown below [ii] is a very clear example of how data visualization can be used. The map represents the population of the United States and it clearly shows the most densely populated areas within the US.
Even though this field has been around for many years, it is only recently that it has been made easily accessible to the general population. The tools that were available earlier required a lot of special knowledge to be able to use them effectively, and in many cases knowledge of coding is necessary. This is no longer the case there are now many web 2.0 tools that allow users to do data visualization and give them the power to think about how they would like the data to be represented. Many Eyes and Dipity are two such tools.
Many Eyes was created by IBM’s Collaborative User Experience (CUE) research group. It offers more than a dozen ways to represent data. By keeping the site public and allowing users to share their data visualizations, the creators of Many Eyes have organized a community within the site. Users can view visualizations created by others, and datasets are also available for users to create their own visualizations. If the users sign up for an account (free) in the website, then they can also upload data and create visualizations from this data. As a general behavior of the website, the data you upload and the visualizations that you create are made available to the public. However if you are uncomfortable making your data public, you can delete it after creating the visualization.
When a student is writing his/her thesis or any other paper, it is often the case that the student’s proposal will say one thing, but their data will say something else. It is not that they are confused about the science, but rather about the communicating of the science. If they put their data in and then also put their abstract into Wordle — it could be very illuminating to see what comes out. [[ Example coming soon — data from Bio department ]]
Wordles can also be very useful in language learning. It provides a great way to help language learning students visualize meaning, improve vocabulary, and promote higher order thinking skills in a creative and engaging way. Their versatility allows them to be used in all proficiency levels and in a variety of ways. Some examples of pedagogical uses of a Wordle in leanguage learning include:
- Vocabulary development — Instructors can create Wordles from a text, such as a news article, and have students learn new words.
- Pre-reading activity — Students can engage in discussions using key words produced in a Wordle and make predictions about the content before reading the actual text.
- Brainstorming — Students can use Wordle to generate ideas for new writing topics and/or themes.
- Reflection — Students can use Wordle as a self-assessment tool for writing projects.
Dipity is a timeline tool. Users can sign up for an account and create timelines. The free subscription allows users to create up to 3 timelines; they also offer several different paid plans.
It is easy to think of the timeline as a way for a student to track their progress through an assignment, discipline, or even through their liberal education. Imagine that last category as a way for the university to also track a learner’s progress and use that data for a range of reasons — from simple communication goals to improving the curriculum if necessary.
A timeline could also be used to help students identify a goal and a logical sequence of pursuit. The timeline tool is an obvious way of making that process visible to a student and his/her mentor (or many students and their mentors). It is easily update-able, and holds everyone accountable. Imagine being able to simply post the result from a particular experiment on the timeline as an announcement that not only did they do the work but that is was successful and that they are moving through the process. This becomes a great way to show progress as well as communicate effectively.