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Information … graphically? August 18, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, Resources, Teaching Idea.
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byod infographic

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/7803317018/

I outlined in the preceding post the results of a survey of our students; one aspect of the preparation for our forthcoming BYOD programme. But how to reflect the outcomes back for the various constituents? A report for the Senior Leadership Team? A blog post for the staff? A poster for the students themselves?

And that’s when I realised here was the authentic opportunity I’d been looking for to create my first infographic. A single output suitable for all audiences … and therefore a challenge indeed. So what would be my weapon of choice for such an undertaking. Well the data was already in a Google form, which has its own output option; whilst this isn’t too bad for the numerical aspects of the survey, it’s less than good in showing the free-text responses. Of the other tools, Infogr.am has been stealing the march on generating data visualisations just recently, but didn’t quite offer the features I needed to display the two different data types. In the end another imperative drove my choice and nudged me towards the ‘old-school’ approach with an offline application. A good few years ago, I became quite adept in using vector graphic applications and specifically CorelDraw (if I tell you I was using version 8, this article will give you a clue as to when that was!). I’ve allowed those skills to decline, am in great need of a refresher and recently became aware of Inkscape, an open source vector graphics editor. Reasons aplenty then.

Then reality kicked in! My ‘designer gene’ has always been somewhat dormant and inspiration often eludes me, though as I learned on “edtechcc“, having never really studied nor mastered the design process, there’s an awful lot to it (kudos to Design Tech teachers!). In the end then, it was more a matter of synthesising the data, translating into a more visual form and reducing its complexity somewhat, rather than making it as beautiful as David McCandless might. I hope however that I’ve at least started my journey towards making data more accessible by thinking about:

the creative organization, styling and presentation of information with the goal of increasing interest, readability and comprehension beyond that of pure text.

Joshua Johnson

Knowing the time it took to put together even this simple affair, the skills I had to develop with Inkscape, the interpretation and reimagining of the data and especially the creativity (albeit limited in my case!) involved in choosing and deploying a design, making an infographic would surely provide a worthy challenge for our students?

9 out of 10 cats . . . October 28, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in TELIC, Tools.
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1 comment so far

As I mentioned in earlier post, we’re starting our second year of TELIC with an examination of learning spaces and what that means for the learner.  By way of introduction we’re analysing a paper – ‘Rethinking the Virtual’ by Nicholas C. Burbules, following an introduction from @GuyMerchant.  People approach this type of exercise in different ways, but we wondered whether some of the visualisation tools might offer a different perspective.  Each of the following accepts free text, then performs some black magic in which some element of visual importance is generated as a result of the frequency of occurrence of a word or phrase.

The popularity of Wordle continues to grow, so that seemed like a reasonable place to start

Wordle: Rethinking the Virtual

No surprises, given the title of the paper, that ‘virtual’ features prominently, but we can also see other patterns beginning to emerge. ‘Space’ is clearly of major significance here, with ‘experience(s),’ ‘sense,’ ‘people,’ ‘time’ and ‘learning’ all clearly important too.  Given that we’re studying learning spaces, this paper clearly has something to offer then and perhaps the other terms imply that the human dimension cannot be ignored.

Many Eyes is an online tool which enables visualisation of both numerical and textual data.  In addition to Wordle, Many Eyes provides three additional visualisation techniques:


The Tag Cloud is similar to Wordle in that frequent words from the text feature more prominently in the cloud.  So the words mentioned above are the same ones which stand out again, however because the words are arranged in alphabetical order, plurals for example (experience/experiences) are more readily seen.  So the word ‘experience,’ occurring more frequently through its plural may now be considered more significant.  Additional features that this visualisation offers are through its interactivity – hovering over a word produces a pop-up which provides some examples of phrases within which that word can be found i.e. some measure of context.Tag cloud

We can also dig down for more detail by making use of the Search facility – from an examination of the main cloud, we can see more words starting with ‘i’ than might usually be anticipated, so we can focus on that area for further analysis.

Tag cloudWe can then go one step further and make use of the ‘2 word’ function which produces a cloud based on occurrences of pairs of words:

And at once see the emerging significance of ‘interest, involvement and imagination’


The Phrase Net produces visualisations based on words linked by a conjunction; some presets are offered, but there is also the facility to provide your own custom phrase.

Having a space as the conjunction between two words produces quite a rich net which shows the words with which ‘virtual’ is closely linked – space(s), environment(s) and learning and how they in turn are linked with other words.  Interesting that the significant words (the ‘i’s) which emerged from the Tag cloud don’t carry the same weight here.

The Word Tree allows us to explore the beyond simple word and phrases, whilst still drawing significance from frequent words.
78d95492-c1a7-11de-a580-000255111976 Blog_this_caption
Clicking on branches within the tree narrows down the focus and allows to analyse the context within which important phrases can be found.  tree2From the main tree, ‘virtual space and time’ clearly plays an important role, so we can investigate why this might be by exploring the sentences which both commence with and terminate in that phrase.

So what has all this told me about ‘Rethinking the Virtual?’  Well it’s provided some targets I’d want to explore further: the relativistic link with space-time sounds intriguing and the ‘i’ words are clearly important.  The question is though, have I got more from this than simply reading the paper?  Well no, certainly not, but this is a 9000+ word paper which takes some reading. What these tools might be able to do then is to allow significant aspects to emerge more quickly.  A more experienced user would doubtless be able to pull greater detail and richer information than from my tentative exploration.  But textual analysis in this way is, for me an infant discipline.  As such I guess it’s no worse than the often rudimentary way numerical data is presented – 9 out of 10 cats . . . !