15 February 2009

Applications and Innovations

One of my professional goals this year is to explore information visualization as it applies to educational settings. I tend to think and express myself more with words than with pictures---so this is a stretch for me. I am doing some reading and have added some new blogs to my Reader feed, most notably Digital Roam, The Center for Graphic Facilitation, Full Circle Associates, Slides That Stick, and Neoformix.

I was intrigued to discover that I'm not the only one thinking about how these ideas could be best used for the classroom (both for teachers and students). The 2009 Horizon Report "identifies and ranks key trends affecting the practice of teaching, learning, research, and creative expression...The trends are ranked according to how significant an impact they are likely to have on education in the next five years." The report identifies the following:
  • Increasing globalization continues to affect the way we work, collaborate, and communicate.
  • The notion of collective intelligence is redefining how we think about ambiguity and imprecision.
  • Experience with and affinity for games as learning tools is an increasingly universal characteristic among those entering higher education and the workforce.
  • Visualization tools are making information more meaningful and insights more intuitive.
  • As more than one billion phones are produced each year, mobile phones are benefiting from unprecedented innovation, driven by global competition.
As I push forward with social networking, viewing my cell phone as a tool instead of "toy," and now exploring the realm of visualization, I feel like I'm on the right track. Others are moving in those directions, too. I don't know where things are headed...what the outcome will be. I just like the ideas involved and believe that something powerful will emerge from the murky mess.

The image below is from a paper-based visualization competition. The work is by Charlene Lam, who says this about her piece: "I currently live in UmeĆ„, a city at latitude 63° 50′ N in northern Sweden. Our winter days are short and summer days are long. Using the actual and predicted lengths of daylight for the first of each month in 2009, I created a visualization with 12 "petals". The outer loop of each petal represents the 24 hours in the day; the inner loop is the length of daylight, ranging from 4h 33m on January 1 to 20h 34m on July 1. The simple lines suggest the passing of time, as well as the promise of spring to come."

Such an elegant visual, don't you think? Here again, I'm not sure of the practical applications of these sorts of things. I admire their artistry and in some cases, humor (e.g. a pocket pie chart). Are there reasons why we might want students and/or teachers to have bar graphs as real world manipulatives? Would a three-dimensional representation of war dead be more purposeful than a 2-dimensional one?

In education, we seem to be focused in moving in the one-way direction from pictures to words. We look at data, charts, and graph and write about them. What are you doing in your classroom or with your staff to make the move from words to pictures? What applications and innovations are moving you the other way?


Hugh O'Donnell said...

I heard somewhere that a picture is worth a thousand words. ;)

So, how come "education" is always dragging so far behind? (Rhetorical question, of course.)

I share your enthusiasm for new visual applications. I love my iPhone 3G (a birthday gift this year), and still love to browse the two volumes of "How Things "Work."

I'm not sure I'm into too much pictorial symbolism, though. One wonders how much can be communicated subliminally through that medium, and the possible accompanying fallout attributable to misapplication or mental/emotional manipulation.

Just some thoughts. Probably not where you were heading! :)

The Science Goddess said...

Ah, if I only knew where I was heading! At this point, I'm just rolling around in the mud(dled thinking).

I agree that there could well be some pitfalls with the pictorial symbolism. On the other hand, maybe that emotional connection is what we need? Lots to consider here for me.

EkC said...

That's a really cool visual! Thanks for sharing. I myself am a visual person, i.e., it helps me to learn how to do something if I can see it being done instead of just having it explained to me. Or, I'm able to figure out a new website/social network better by exploring it myself and having the visual in front of me. I found the list of key trends very interesting. The way that learning, culture, and education are ever-evolving shows that we never stop learning. In terms of the importance of learning via an education, EducationDymanics has a new video that encourages people to go back to school and continue their learning process. This video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDfew0YcDTo.


Emily (EducationDynamics)