Data visualisation, like digital storytelling, is not a single tool, but rather a technique which can draw on a whole variety of different web 2.0 tools. Data visualisation involves displaying data sets in visual formats, which are sometimes static (such as images, charts or infographics, which typically combine text and images) and sometimes dynamic (such as videos or interactive animations).
The aim is to reveal patterns, or highlight patterns, by presenting the data in particular ways. Given the growing use of infographics, especially in the media, to communicate key information quickly in an easily comprehensible format, it is important for students to learn both how to read data visualisations (bringing digital literacies like multimedia/multimodal literacy, information literacy and critical literacy to bear in their analysis) and how to create and disseminate them (though the use of multimedia and networking tools).
While creating data visualisations traditionally required sophisticated technical skills, tools are now appearing which make it possible for non-specialists to create them. The options include:
- Services which provide infographics on a wide range of topics: some of these might serve as good stimulus materials for lessons, such as EdTech’s Best Education Infographics, Mashable’s Infographics Pinterest board, and Visual.ly’s Education Infographics.
- Services which provide large data sets, along with templates that can be used to create specific visualisations of the data: these include Better World Flux, Google Books’ Ngram Viewer and Google’s Public Data Explorer.
- Services which provide templates into which you can insert your own selected data: these include Easel.ly, Infogram and Piktochart, as well as the Education Infographic Templates on the design platform Canva. Dynamic data visualisations can be created without any need for coding using Infogram or Flourish. Other options include the generic multimedia creation and sharing services listed on the social sharing page of this website. For still more options, see The Edublogger’s Educators’ Guide to Infographics and MakeUseOf’s 5 Best Free Tools to Make Infographics Online.
For ideas on the kinds of data visualisations it is possible to create, take a look at the infographic A Periodic Table of Vizualization Methods. For guidance on infographics, see the infographic entitled The Anatomy of a Great Infographic. For more on educational uses, see Kathy Schrock’s Infographics as a Creative Assessment.
Examples of data visualisations include static images such as the Bluefin Labs TV Genome Visualization of social media conversations about television, as seen at the top of this page, and as explained in the Social TV Solutions YouTube video; and dynamic charts such as the Coupofy infographic showing statistics from Social Media in Real Time, as seen directly above. Other sophisticated examples worth checking out include:
- Pulse of the Nation: U.S. Mood Throughout the Day inferred from Twitter (Amislove, 2010) (video)
- A Time-Lapse of Every Nuclear Explosion since 1945 (Isao Hashimoto, 2010) (video)
- US Recorded Music Revenue (Business Insider, 2011) (static image)
- The Path of Protest (The Guardian, 2012) (interactive visualisation)
- Moments in Time (ABC Splash, 2013) (interactive visualisation)
- London 24: 24 Hours of London Air Traffic (NATS, 2015) (video)
- What Happens Online in 60 Seconds? (Smart Insights, 2017) (static image)
- The Deep Sea (Neil Agarwal, 2019) (interactive visualisation)
- Nominal GDP Cartogram (BlueBerry, 2021) (static visualisation)
- We Feel (CSIRO with The Black Dog Institute, Amazon & GNIP, n.d.) (interactive visualisation)
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