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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Geography: More than meets the eye!

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Left image:From the Seoul Tower: Issues of pollution and urban design.
Right image:Cultural place amongst the beauty of the South Korean countryside.

Cairns, Australia: S: 16º 57' E: 145º 45'

This weekend I have travelled to Cairns to attend the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) Council meeting prior to the IAG conference. The program of the conference started me thinking about the question of what fields of endevour gather under the banner of geography and what gives them the credential to consider themselves geographical.
One of the great misunderstandings about the discipline of geography is that it is only about the environment and the earth sciences. Naturally geography involves the study of the environment but in a very multi-dimensional and diverse way – everything is geography if it is studied in a geographical way. That is, the study is undertaken through the spatial lens with the associated connections and inter-dependencies. It is not such much the topic that identifies a geographical study but rather the parameters within which it is studied.
Just looking at the IAG conference program show the diversity of topics which are connected as geographical studies. They are identified as such because the geographer will ask spatial questions over and over as they examine and unravel the inquiry.
For example the topics listed below are all geographical studies presented at the conference. To the outsider they would not immediately identify themselves as geographical studies – but they most certainly are!

* Human rights in place? Anti-racism, exports, damage limitation, choices
* Stewardship among lifestyle oriented rural landowners
* Regional sustainability and the Great Barrier Reef
* Creativity without borders? Re-thinking geographies of remoteness and proximity
* Aid cultures: Chinese aid to Cambodia
* Fired up? Understanding the disconnect between bushfire awareness and preparedness amongst diverse rural landowners
* Building resilience to coastal hazards and climate change: Lessons from post-tsunami efforts in the Indian Ocean
* State housing authorities and natural disaster preparations and response in Australia
* Traditional knowledge systems and climate change in the Torres Strait
* Using visual methodologies to study abject non-heterosexual performativities
* The self as informant in geographies of remembering
* Engaging the community in social research using data visualisation techniques
* How do you discover the nuances of social networks? A case study of Sudanese refugees in Colac, Victoria
* Tasmania’s ageing population: Non-metropolitan patterns and trends
* The meaning and importance of 'place' for older people living in rural areas: A WA case study
* Reconsidering financial globalisation in the developing world during the global financial crisis
* Anti-racism: Building evidence and utility for “what works”
* Everyday multiculturalism, Islam and the politics of ‘mixing’
* Leveraging sustainability: Communities of knowledge in the architecture industry
* Creative cities making a major contribution to urban sustainability
* Stepping out: A study of how urban design affects walkability in Sydney
* Environmental justice, ethical construction and gender
* Scrap: The revaluing of used household goods
* “Somewhere nice to go”: Garden making and home making in Hamilton South
* “A bottle of wine in front of the TV”: Material geographies of domestic alcohol consumption
* Masculine meanings of home: Preliminary results from an inner Sydney case study
* Mapping truffles in Australia
* Mapping historical tropical successional forest cover with satellite imagery
* Implications for the second Kyoto Accord and land-use/cover change geography
* Multispectral remote sensing applications for live fuel moisture content estimation in Sydney Basin bioregion
* The settlement geography of African refugee communities in Southeast Queensland
* Harmony, trust and participation in culturally diverse cities
* Exit strategies for ageing male farmers in Australia
* Identifying and meeting the care needs of older Indigenous people in a remote setting
* Gambling venue usage and problem gambling amongst grey nomads and itinerant construction
* Workers on the Sunshine Coast
* Using the coupled ‘human-environment systems framework’ for exploring issues of hazard and risk
* Groundwater fees in the North China Plain and its impact on irrigation practices
* Measuring potential of a residential neighbourhood for local food economy
* Urban food security: Community strategies and alternative food networks enterprises
* Sacred landscapes in secular society
* Designing sustainable cities using information technologies: Building information modelling and geographical information systems
* Teachers and the emotional dimensions of class in resource affected rural Australia
* The Pacific as a ‘development disaster’: New Zealand’s retrograde constructions of Pacific problems and solutions
* Invasion and spread of Australian White Ibis in south-western Australia
* Exploring the effects of 'sea- and tree-change' phenomena in far North Queensland
* Can tree-change development and rural production values co-exist?
* Refugee dispersal: Burden sharing, exclusion, or opportunity?
* Invisible Australians: The female Chinese in white Australia
* Migrancy, mobility and diasporic travel
* Curves of the lifeline: A drawing of the betweenness of place
* Can you interview my husband?: The problem of trusting one’s spouse in a tourism locale
* Intimate geographies of touch
* Sustaining tourism to diversify the local economy
* What makes a rural community resilient?
* Complex entanglements: Race, gender and spirituality in Aotearoa, New Zealand
* “Thai men no good”: Exploring representations of Thai and Western masculinity among women on Samui Island, Southern Thailand
* Towards a critical geography of gambling in remote Australia
* Health tourism as a discursive resource in the fostering of post developmental healthcare-consuming subjects in Malaysia
* The making of moving pictures: The rickshaw art of Bangladesh
* Regulating Rover: Legislating the public place of urban pet dogs
* World heritage listing: Blight or blessing? Three examples from Western Australia

All of these topics can be classified under the broad 'schools'or branches of geography identified by the discipline. These branches are often listed under hte broad headings of Physical and Human Geography. These divisions of Geography are quite false in many ways because due to the inter-connectedness of the discipline of geography it is impossible to study just one branch in isolation because they are invariably connected to other branches through 'the tree of geography'. How can one study pedology without looking at the relationship with agricultural, cultural, geomorhological and biogeographical impacts of soil on a place?
Here is a list of some of these branches – by no way the definitive list!
* Cultural Geography
* Social Geography
* Environmental Geography
* Biogeography
* Hydrology
* Demography
* Coastal Geography
* Transportation Geography
* Geomorphology
* Oceanography
* Industrial Geography
* Economic Geography
* Historical Geography
* Spatial science
* Geotourism
* Climatology
* Regional Geography
* Hazard Geography
* Urban Geography
* Development Geography

In fact, to demonstrate to students the diversity of topics in geography it would be an interesting task for a geography class to classify the IAG conference workshops into the various branches of geography listed above. In 2008 the Geography Teachers Association of South Australia (GTASA) produced a CD called Surfing Geographical. The CD organised over 1000 Internet sites under the main branches of geography. Go to to the GTASA site to view the information on this excellent resource for students to use in their geographical research.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Visualising data: making data spatial

Spatialworlds website

Left image: The Wordle visualisation of this entry.
Right image: The visual representation of the Spatialworlds blog hits via Clustrmaps. Hits on 264 computers across 11 countries in 2009.

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

An important aspect of geography is the geographer’s ability to visually represent data and to interpret such representations. The geographers’ graphicacy and mapping skills are critical components of the geographer's toolkit. With over 80% of data now being attached to place, the growth of visual representation technology and their presence on the Internet is amazing. People expect to see data represented visually when they visit a website and/or view documentaries and news reports on the television. Via Internet based technologies and spatial technologies we are seeing a revolution in how we view and process information and data. The opportunities provided by geography and geography related technologies and skills are central to this revolution! The work in Neuroscience on the processing of such visualisations and its impact on learning and perceptions is a rich field of research. Such research is critical to our understanding of what is happening in regards to how people view the world and their spatial thinking. More about that later!

The following websites are great examples of how data can be represented by spatial technology and other forms of visual representations.

An interesting program which turns a piece of writing into a visual representation is wordle. What wordle does is give the words a spatial dimension to allow the reader to see where the emhasis in a piece of writing is. For example the wordle art of what the piece of writing on this posting looks like is shown at the beginning of the posting(interesting you turn words into a "looks like" context)

National Geography Curriculum keeps moving forward

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Images: AGTA at work

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Things have been moving forward over recent months in relation to the development of a national geography curriculum in Australia. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) process is well underway and on track to implement the national geography curriculum into Australian schools from 2012. This article will give a brief background to the work of the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project in 2008 and 2009 and the on-going work of ACARA in developing a national geography curriculum for Australian schools.

The ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project

As you would be aware the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project was established in October 2009 to inform ACARA of the views of geographers around Australia prior to the commencement of ACARA’s work to develop a national geography curriculum. The project involved the Australian Geography Teachers’ Association (AGTA), Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) and the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland (RGSQ). The project aimed to develop a united and coherent statement from the Australian geographical community’s that provided a rationale, possible curriculum structures, preferred pedagogies and suggested implementation strategies for a national curriculum in geography.

Between November 2008 and May 2009 the project undertook extensive consultation across Australia involving input from teachers, students, academics and other community members. The project would like to take this opportunity to thank teachers, academics and community geographers for their participation in the consultation forums and comments posted on the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project website. The enthusiasm of those attending the forums and the number of on-line responses was very encouraging for the project and showed the depth of interest and concern for geography in schools across Australia. The results of the consultation and supporting literature reviews and research by the appointed project writers Rob Berry and Roger Smith were presented as a background report to the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project steering committee in May 2009. In turn, the steering committee synthesised and added to the background report, resulting in a final paper titled ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum for Australia’ which was presented to ACARA in June 2009.
For more information on the work of the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project and copies of the two papers go to the projects website at

ACARA’s curriculum development process

In May 2009 ACARA commenced its work on the Australian Curriculum: Geography when it appointed Lucie Sorensen as the Senior Project Officer Geography. In July 2009 a Geography Reference Group was appointed and met for the first time on August 25th, 2009. Lucie and the reference group used the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ reports as part of their literature review as they worked on identifying key issues needing to be addressed prior to the substantive work on the geography curriculum commencing. Following the second meeting of the reference group on September 14th, 2009 the ACARA Board was presented with a Geography Position Paper on October 6th. In October the lead writer for the Australian Curriculum: Geography and an Advisory Panel were appointed by the ACARA Board. On behalf of geography teachers and students in Australia we wish those involved all the best with their work on the shaping phase of the Australian Curriculum: Geography.

The following draft ACARA timeline will give an idea of the 2009-2011 progression with the writing process for the national geography curriculum. Naturally, the timeline may change as time goes by but at this stage these are the dates, events and milestones ACARA has mapped out for the curriculum development process.
o October – December 2009: The appointed writer and advisory panel develop an Initial advice paper for the national geography curriculum.
o February 2010: National Forum to gather responses to the Initial advice paper.
o February - March 2010: Development of The Shape of Australian Curriculum: Geography paper.
o April 2010: National consultation to gather responses to The Shape of Australian Curriculum: Geography paper.
o June 2010: The release of the final The Shape of Australian Curriculum: Geography paper.
o June – December 2010: Appointment of writers and an advisory group to develop the scope and sequence for the national geography curriculum. The writing to be accompanied by a consultation process for the scope and sequence document.
o January – June 2011: Course writing in line with the final scope and sequence document for national geography curriculum.
o June 2011: Publication of the national geography curriculum.

We encourage all Australian geography teachers to keep informed of the ACARA process by registering on the ACARA website at and take advantage of the opportunities provided by ACARA and geography teachers’ associations to feed comments and ideas into the process.

An opportunity

Over the next few years, issues associated with the implementation of the Australian geography curriculum are likely to dominate the work of AGTA and affiliates. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop a ‘state of the art’, contemporary, ‘worlds best practice’ geography curriculum for the 21st Century. Exciting times are ahead for geographical education in Australia!