Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Books are where data goes to die!

Spatial Worlds website

Melbourne, Australia: S: 37º 47' E: 144º 58'

Left image: A shop just selling rocks in rural South Korea.
Right image: Some great visual art at the Seoul Tower

Thought I would share the quote,"Books are where data goes to die!", from Mark Sanders at The Learning Federation Data Visualisation workshop in Melbourne yesterday. It got me thinking about how much we now rely on technology to transform data into an understandable visual for us. The days of mulling over data tables in books is long past with the public expecting to be informed, if not entertained, by the data being represented in graph form, maps, simulations over time or other original ways on the Interent in particular. In a previous blog posting I have listed many excellent visual representation websites available to the public on the Internet. Sites such as Gapminder, Worldmapper and Wordle provide some great data visualisations. Before listing a few more great sites for developing the visual and/or spatial literacy of your students (or yourself) I thought I would just examine the issue of visual literacy and spatial literacy and their relationship.

Many consider that visual-spatial intelligence is the new citizenship skill; the 4th R! Citizens of the future must not be helpless blind users of technology. The writings in this area go on to say that for a young person to acquire visual-spatial intelligence they need to develop/acquire visual and/or spatial literacy.

"Young people learn more than half of what they know from visual information, but few schools have an explicit curriculum to show students how to think critically about visual data"
Mary Alice White, researcher, Columbia Teacher's College

Visual literacy is the ability to evaluate, apply, or create conceptual visual representations. To use visualisations to create and communicate knowledge, or to devise new ways of representing insights.

To be considered ‘spatially literate’, an individual must have the ability to capture and communicate knowledge in the form of a map, to understand and recognise the world as view from above, to recognise and interpret patterns, and to comprehend such basic concepts as scale, projection and spatial resolution.

Such spatial literacy is even more important in the modern world because the spatial information revolution has resulted in eighty per cent of all information gathered today has a spatial or geographical component. This means that most information is tied to a place. To read, interpret such visualisation of data requires a high degree of visual literacy.

Some commentators consider that there is no education available which prepares children for the world of images, how to understand their meaning and judge their value. “Spatialogists” suggest that with visualisations which are increasingly prevalent in the media, on the internet and incorporated into everyday technologies (mobile phones, cars, prisoner tagging) there is a special way of thinking. This is called spatial thinking or spatial literacy, which isn’t a way of thinking that is naturally gifted to everyone and needs to be taught and facilitated.

Proposition: All spatial literacy requires visual literacy skills but not all visual literacy requires spatial literacy skills???

As a way forward Goodchild advocates a visual-spatial approach with data that enables us to find meaning in pictures, images, and maps. Visual-spatial intelligence is more important than ever, as life itself becomes more and more an image in television, video games, and virtual environments.

Here are some fascinating sites related to data visualisation and its potential:
* Some great spatial simulations of Swind flu, Melbourne trains and weather at Flinklabs (beyong the bar chart)
* The Durham University has developed a freeware software though its Smart Centre
* Have fun with the Baby-name Voyager facility. The graphs produced (although not maps) give an interesting usage perspective of names across time.
* For those wanting some engaging statistics for students to use relating to crime go to the Australian Institute of Criminology site.
* The suburban profiler site in the UK.
* The Surname profiler site for the UK (about to go global!)
* Using data visualisations via spatial technology to show climate change data.
* A Youtube video on the great Gapminder site.

Natually, there are tons more visual representation sites on the net. What it shows us is that as time goes by, the general public and students will just expect to see data represented as a graph with an associated map! There will be a need for citizens to have high level visual and spatial literacy to interpret this new form of data presentation.

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