Every now and then, I am seized by an idea or topic that really takes hold of me, piques my interest, and engenders new enthusiasm for learning and exploring. This year’s big idea has been data visualization. I had never even heard the term before last spring, when it cropped up in some conference presentations. I realized that I had been a fan of various presentations of data visualization without being aware of the term. Having it in my vocabulary enabled me to search for and find a great deal of information, along with many images, that just seemed to be right up my alley.
So what is data visualization? The term is really self-explanatory, yet it’s difficult to define without using either word in the definition. My favorite attempt is, “Data Visualization is the graphical presentation of multidimensional data so that viewers can understand the underlying structure and relationships hidden in the data” (http://processtrends.com/TOC_data_visualization.htm). In other words, data visualization refers to any of the many ways that people go about using graphic images to present or describe information. This includes but is not limited to graphs, timelines, and charts. The term seems to be particularly used for online representations. I think of data visualization as a subtopic under the larger umbrella of information that is called visual literacy.
Teachers have been showing, and kids have been creating, types of data visualization representations as long as there have been bar graphs, pie graphs, and other pictorial creations that are meant to help a reader or viewer understand a concept or collection of data. Elementary teachers have always recognized that visual literacy is an important reading skill. Helping kids to translate words into pictures and vice versa has been going on in schools for a long time. But data visualization seems to me to be a term that has taken off with the advent of the internet.
The Visualization Imperative
This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-to-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.