What is Data Visualization?

data visualization campaign graphic

"Good data visualization is all about telling a story." J. Steele & N. Iliinsky (2011)

According to De Mars and Kadu (2011), Steele and Iliinsky make three great points:

  1. Data visualization is all around us.
  2. Visual representation in one context is often misapplied to another.
  3. Data visualizations is really about telling a story -- that is Question + Data + Visual = Story

In preparing for the Engage Innovation Engaging Data Visualization for Teaching and Learning Award, Engage has performed a multidisciplinary literature review, and has met with experts across campus to define what the term "data visualization" means to us. Two guides have been developed to assist applicants in describing their idea(s) in the context of this award:

  1. Five Elements of Data Visualizations; and
  2. Five Research Questions

Five Elements of Data Visualization

The working model for data visualizations within the Engage Innovation Engaging Data Visualization for Teaching and Learning Award includes the Five Elements of Data Visualization, listed below. These elements help define each project.

Elements within a project are not sequential, as there may be multiple, iterative paths. For example, a student inquiry made by interacting with a data visualization may lead to collection of more data, different methods for manipulating the data or the visualization type, or a need to study a different phenomenon. The elements of each project will differ in emphasis and relationship to each other. For example, a project idea may involve students collecting data, and using that data within established disciplinary conventions of data manipulation or visual representation. Another project may explore visualizing existing data, and developing new ways for students to interact with representations of the data.





The occurrence, process, action, concept, or idea being studied The collection of information (words, numbers, formulas, etc.) that represents, describes, or quantifies the phenomenon The rules or models by which the data will be processed The depiction of the transformed data The process by which students gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon

Five Research Questions

Evaluation is a key part of Engage award programs. Both the Engage program and each project in the award include ongoing evaluation that is designed around the project goals and these Five Research Questions below. Through exploration and evaluation of all the projects, we aim to address these questions:

  1. Under what conditions can data visualization encourage deeper learning and inquiry?
  2. What are the key attributes of quality data visualizations designed for a specific teaching and learning situation?
  3. What are the key processes that contribute to the development of effective data visualizations?
  4. How is the course designed to incorporate data visualizations in the classroom to ensure the greatest impact on learning?
  5. What are the challenges for instructors in analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, evaluating & sustaining data visualizations?