Wading In: No Time For Paddling

I’m up to my neck in books on visualisation and data analysis at the moment. So up to my neck that this post is going to be pretty short – and you know how much I love to talk! I’ve spent most of the evening preparing for tomorrow’s visualising data tutorial for Grand Challenges and one of the things I was looking for was bad visualisations. I took a lot away from Mark’s worked examples posts, and I look forward to seeing the presentation, but visualisation is a particularly rich area for worked ‘bad’ examples. With code, it has to work to a degree or manifest its failure in interesting ways. A graphic can be completely finished and still fail to convey the right information.

(I’ve even thrown in some graphics that I did myself and wasn’t happy with – I’m looking forward to the feedback on those!) (Ssh, don’t tell the students.)

I had the good fortune to be given a copy of Visual Strategies (Frankel and DePace) which was designed by one of the modern heroes of design – the amazing Stefan Sagmeister. This is, without too much hyperbole, pretty much the same as being given a book on painting where Schiele had provided the layout and examples. (I’m a very big fan of Egon Schiele and Hundertwasser for that matter. I may have spent a little too much time in Austria.) The thing I like about this book is that it brings a lot of important talking and thinking points together: which questions should you ask when thinking about your graphic, how do you start, what do you do next, when do you refine, when do you stop?

Thank you, again, Metropolis Bookstore on Swanston Street in Melbourne! You had no real reason to give a stranger a book for free, except that you thought it would be useful for my students. It was, it is, and I thank you again for your generosity.

I really enjoy getting into a new area and I think that the students are enjoying it too, as the entire course is a new area for them. We had an excellent discussion of the four chapters of reading (the NSF CyberInfrastructure report on Grand Challenges), where some of it was a critique of the report itself – don’t write a report saying “community engagement and visualisation are crucial” and (a) make it hard to read, even for people inside the community or (b) make it visually difficult to read.

On the slightly less enthusiastic front, we get to the crux of the course this week – the project selection – and I’m already seeing some hesitancy. Remember that these are all very good students but some of them are not comfortable picking an area to do their analysis in. There could be any number of reasons so, one on one, I’m going to ask them why. If any of them say “Well, I could if I wanted to but…” then I will expect them to go and do it. There’s a lot of scope for feedback in the course so an early decision that doesn’t quite work out is not a death sentence, although I think that waiting for permission to leap is going to reduce the amount of ownership and enjoyment that the student feels when the work is done.

I have no time for paddling in the shallows, personally, and I wade on in. I realise, however, that this is a very challenging stance for many people, especially students, so while I would prefer people to jump in, I recognise my job as life guard in this area and I am happy to help people out.

However, these students are the Distinction/High Distinction crowd, the ones who got 95-100 on leaving secondary school and, as we thought might occur, some of them are at least slightly conditioned to seek my approval, a blessing for their project choice before they have expended any effort. Time to talk to people and work with them to help them move on to a more confident and committed stance – where that confidence is well-placed and the commitment is based on solid fact and thoughtful reasoning!


One Comment on “Wading In: No Time For Paddling”

  1. T says:

    It will be interesting to see if future cohorts have an easier time committing to a project, given that they needed to commit to a full year project in the new Year 12 SACE curriculum. These will likely be people that have chosen good and challenging projects before (they must have as it puts in a fair chunk of grade) so may be more able to do so again.


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