Geographers rely heavily on visual representations of information. Maps are a prime example of this, but photographs, charts, diagrams and field sketches are other examples. Data visualisations are a more complex (but also more engaging) way for multiple data to be represented as a figure or an animation.
When interpreting data visualisations, students are identifying patterns and relationships within and between different data. Where suitable visualisations are available, they make for great tools to use at the beginning of a geographical inquiry when students are still analysing their issue and examining patterns and relationships. Effective infographics can assist students to make the connections between different data. Data visualisations are also useful as stimulus items.
Today we have a variety of digital media (such as video, web animations, web tools and a wide range of software tools) that allow geographers to visualise complex patterns and relationships easily.
Applications of data visualisations
Data visualisations are used in society as a means of analysis. They also provide a way of communicating a story or message.
As a means of simplifying complex data, the use of data visualisation flourished in newspapers and other popular media throughout the late 20th-century. As our understanding of the value in different learning styles increased, along with our ability to use technology to communicate complex data visually, visualisations have become easier for individuals to create and share. Now they can be seen in print media, films, research, online news, government publications and websites, and in the commercial world wherever information can be conveyed in this manner. Their increasing use reflects the increase in availability of simple tools for their creation.
Data visualisation tools can cover a broad range of levels across Bloom's Digital Taxonomy. Where students show evidence that they have interpreted a piece of data they are 'understanding' or 'applying'. Where students connect multiple pieces of information in a data visualisation to reach a new conclusion they are able, depending on the specific context, to demonstrate 'analysis' and 'evaluation'. Contour Education's Data visualisation website contains real-world sources of infographics and resources that may be of use in the classroom and for professional development.
Infographics (or information graphics) are visual explanations of data, information or knowledge with visual, content and knowledge elements. The term is broadly used and can include simple data visualisations or animated visualisations through to complex interactive digital tools that present information.
The visual element includes the colour scheme and symbols applied to data.
The content element refers to the range of data elements presented in the infographics and the style in which they are presented. This includes statistics, facts, time scales, charts and graphs, and any information presented to the viewer.
The knowledge element refers to the connections that are made between data within the visualisation. When considering this element of an infographics, consider its purpose. What conclusions can your audience reasonably expect to draw after viewing the information? These learning outcomes (wherever they sit on Bloom's Taxonomy) encompass the knowledge element of an infographic.
The Data visualisation website contains resources on infographics that are suitable for the classroom and for professional development. It provides a range of resources that allow users to create their own data visualisations with statistics, charts, images and in some cases, maps. All of these sites contain freely available digital tools. Some have additional paid resources. Additional websites provide background information and real-world applications of data visualisation.
DataGenie is a unique online tool that combines data, charts, graphs and maps on the issue of Australia's international visitors. The data is presented in a format that mirrors a geographical inquiry which helps students answer fundamental questions about the people who visit Australia and their impacts on Australia.
There are resources available for teachers to support classroom use available via the National Digital Learning Resources Network. This requires an education authority portal.
Creating data visualisations
Data visualisations can also be used to monitor students' understanding of issues that involve complex connections between data. Students can make their own data visualisations using online tools.
The tools are powerful, yet simple to use. Students can upload their own data and create a range of infographics or data visualisations from line, column, pie and density graphs, maps, histograms, bubble charts, tree maps and word clouds.
In order to demonstrate higher-order thinking skills in creating their own infographic, students should select appropriate data to use, and display it in such a way that connections between the data can be easily recognised.
The Data visualisation website has a range of excellent infographic creation tools that are surprisingly easy to use.
Books and articles:
Churches, A. (2009). Bloom's Digital Taxonomy. Retrieved October 2012, from: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fedorigami.wikispaces.com%2Ffile%2Fview%2Fbloom%2527s%2BDigital%2Btaxonomy%2Bv3.01.pdf.
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Geography/Rationale.
DataGenie. Retrieved October 2012, from: http://ivs.datagenie.edu.au/.
Contour Education. Data visualisation. This site also provides resources for use in the classroom and for professional learning. Retrieved October 2012, from: http://geogspacedatavisualisation.blogspot.com.au/.
National Digital Learning Resources Network. Retrieved October 2012, from: http://resolver2.thelearningfederation.edu.au/ias/resolver.do?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&url_ctx_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&req_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:iasreq&rft_id=10257/5832754.
Other relevant resources are contained in the sections above.