Visualizations and Pedagogy

One of the questions I that I feel has been lurking at the back of my mind over the course of this project, but that hasn’t really gotten much screentime, is that of pedagogy. I’ve thought about how visualizations inform and engage their viewers, but that has been fairly tightly focused on Creator+Image versus Image+Viewer, rather than the question currently on my mind: how exactly can we use visualization in the classroom?

The impetus for thinking about this question comes from an article I read last week: Five-Picture Charades: A Flexible Model for Technology Training in Digital Media Tools and Teaching Strategies. It posits a certain kind of visualization production known as playing charades–using cameras and photoediting software, much of which is free, to give future teachers a way to integrate both technology and exciting activities into the classroom.

I was taken with it as it represented yet another way to create images out of literature but in a manner that seemed to embrace some of the…let’s call them features of visualizations that I have been struggling with. As you may recall from previous posts, we’ve all thought about the problem of meaning making in visualizations and how the images we create always tell us far more than they tell the viewers. The act of creating the visualizations educates far better than the seeing of it. The game of charades is predicated on this point. First of all, it involves the students (or, in this case, teachers experimenting with it) in the actual production in a way that is fun and that forces them to think about how to translate their impressions of the work into another medium. But, perhaps more importantly, it actually takes advantage of the disconnect between the creator and the audience. Charades is focused entirely on conveying information through a visual format, so the creators need to think about whether they’re doing the best job they can at conveying information, while the audience also needs to work to understand the visualization. By turning visualization into a game, the viewers become participants.

So does this help bridge the gap between creator and viewer, introducing this new kind of ludic element into the mix?

And what do you think about these kind of classroom visualizations? Are they helpful education tools or gimmicks to replace engagement with entertainment? (And does that question depend on how old the class is?)


I'm a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My interests lie in the field known very broadly as the Digital Humanities and I focus on reading digital books (what happens to books as they become not merely digitized, but digital) and reading books digitally (how can we use computers to learn new things about literature). In what spare time I have, I read speculative fiction, transform long strings of yarn into apparel and decor and play with my friends' dogs while eagerly awaiting the day when we move to an apartment complex that will allow us to have one.

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One comment on “Visualizations and Pedagogy
  1. meagfitzska says:

    And what do you think about these kind of classroom visualizations? Are they helpful education tools or gimmicks to replace engagement with entertainment? (And does that question depend on how old the class is?)

    These questions you are asking are very valid. I have also been wondering about what it will look like if/when I present some of the tools I’ve learned to my students. In regards to the question of whether we are talking about education tools or gimmicks, I think there is almost no difference. Having taught seventh grade and college level students, I am a firm believer in anything that engages/amuses/annoys the students into doing more than slouching in the back row (actually, let’s just get rid of rows all together). That said, I am not sure how I could use any of my own work from this quarter with students. I do think that tools like TaPoR are very good for classroom settings, although I hope the interface continues to improve. I also think Many Eyes could be excellent. Has anyone had any experience in classroom settings that could speak to any specific types of software?

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