Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Do You See What I See? Every Now and Then, I Am Seized by an Idea or Topic That Really Piques My Interest and Engenders New Enthusiasm for Learning and Exploring. This Year's Big Idea Has Been Data Visualization

Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Do You See What I See? Every Now and Then, I Am Seized by an Idea or Topic That Really Piques My Interest and Engenders New Enthusiasm for Learning and Exploring. This Year's Big Idea Has Been Data Visualization

Article excerpt

EVERY now and then, I am seized by an idea or topic that really takes hold of me, piques my interest, and engenders new enthusiasm for learning and exploring. This year's big idea has been data visualization. I had never even heard the term before last spring, when it cropped up in some conference presentations. I realized that I had been a fan of various presentations of data visualization without being aware of the term. Having it in my vocabulary enabled me to search for and find a great deal of information, along with many images, that just seemed to be right up my alley.

So what is data visualization? The term is really self-explanatory, yet it's difficult to define without using either word in the definition. My favorite attempt is, "Data Visualization is the graphical presentation of multidimensional data so that viewers can understand the underlying structure and relationships hidden in the data" (http:// processtrends.com/TOC_data_visu alization.htm). In other words, data visualization refers to any of the many ways that people go about using graphic images to present or describe information. This includes but is not limited to graphs, timelines, and charts. The term seems to be particularly used for online representations. I think of data visualization as a subtopic under the larger umbrella of information that is called visual literacy.

Teachers have been showing, and kids have been creating, types of data visualization representations as long as there have been bar graphs, pie graphs, and other pictorial creations that are meant to help a reader or viewer understand a concept or collection of data. Elementary teachers have always recognized that visual literacy is an important reading skill. Helping kids to translate words into pictures and vice versa has been going on in schools for a long time. But data visualization seems to me to be a term that has taken off with the advent of the internet.

THE VISUALIZATION IMPERATIVE

Some aspects of data visualization are fundamental and should be covered with students of all ages. Even young elementary students are exposed to charts and graphs, and they will encounter them on state mandated tests. Students are likely to first be exposed to bar and pie graphs early in their school years. Today, technology is readily available to assist users in generating compelling visuals for projects, reports, and other assignments and to help users view and learn from incredible examples online.

Why should educators spend time teaching students how to create and interpret visual presentations? First of all, it is mandated by state and national guidelines. In my home state of Texas, there are clear benchmarks that cover students' abilities to interpret and understand visual representations. Second, data visualizations have amazing "Wow power" and are very likely to capture the interest and imaginations of students of all ages. Finally, creating and using visuals can be tons of fun!

WHERE TO LOOK, WHAT TO SEE, HOW TO USE

One way to get an overview of the many types of visuals that exist, both in print and online, is to go to a site called A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods (www.visual-literacy.org/periodic_table/periodic_table .html#). This is a fun site that resembles the scientific periodic table of elements. Each square on the table stands for a type of visual. Hovering over a square causes the name of the particular tool and an example to appear in a pop-up window. The sheer number of possibilities for presenting information through data visualization is impressive and challenges the imagination.

One way I plan to use this site is to tell students they are to report on a certain topic, using any visual or visuals from the site. Depending on the assignment, I might ask them to also provide text that elaborates on the topic. In a time when the cut-and-paste mentality displayed by many students is a problem, giving students an assignment that requires them to be creative is an excellent antidote for plagiarism. …

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