Open Thinkering


Tag: visualization

Education Eye: an RSS reader for those who don’t feed-read…

I’m a big fan of Futurelab‘s work. I’ve used their resources, been part of their Teachers as Innovators project, and even helped Dan Sutch (legend that he is) run a Futurelab seminar at BETT.

When they launched Education Eye I didn’t really get it. Now I do. RSS feeds pulled in from blogs and news outlets (including, yes, this one) and presented in a very visual fashion. I love the way that the dots are colour-coded according to ‘inspiration’, ‘Policy’, ‘Practice’ and so-on, with certain posts starred as Futurelab staff favourites. Awesome.

I mentioned on Twitter to Dan that this would make an amazing screensaver (like the Digg ones). Turns out they’re already working on it! And not only that, but they’re working on an Event Eye, ‘an indexed, searchable, content aggregator that pulls together the best content from the web about a particular conference or event.’ Double awesome.

Logging in gives you extra features. Check it out and share it with someone today! 😀

PS Dan had a bit of a disaster with his Twitter account! Help him rebuild his network by following him: @dansutch

Education is easy – in theory! [visualization]

I can see now that it takes more than having passed through school as a student to understand the education system.* After all, it looks something like the diagram below, right?

Of course those who have worked in educational institutions know that the above is far from the truth. Instead of, for example, research being the bedrock of all that goes on, it is marginalized and distorted. The issues** along the lines linking the elements together show how it’s a messy picture – not in itself a bad thing – and it’s distorted by politics (which is a bad thing) :-p

* Not that you’d know that from talking to your average member of the general public! 😉

** N.B. The reason I didn’t add ‘time’ as a factor in the second diagram is because, as I’ve said to a few people this week, time itself isn’t an issue. It’s priorities – which is a different matter.

LastHistory: a great way to generate visualizations

(click image for larger version)

As you can see from the above visualization of my history I’ve been using it for a fair while (since 19 March 2003 according to my profile). Recently, as I’ve gone Spotify-only, everything that I listen to is ‘scrobbled’ to Which makes the data from the latter part of 2009 onwards much more representative of my listening habits.

The time of day is down the side and putting your mouse over each ‘node’ links to other times you played that track. Sweet. 🙂

You can download LastHistory, the free Mac OSX app used to create this at:

(via FlowingData)

A brief history of infographics.

I recently picked up the classic Designing Infographics: Theory, creative techniques & practical solutions by Eric K. Meyer for an absolute song. Published in 1997, the ‘practical solutions’ part is dated, but the theory and techniques section is as relevant as every. What really interested me was the opening section on the history of infographics, some of which I’d like to share with you.

If heiroglyphics count as infographics, then of course they are around 5,000 years old. Sumerian ‘letters’ were combined with pictures to explain concepts, provide explanations and tell stories. A little more recently in the western world, graphics have been used to represent quantitative data. One of the first examples of this is Nicole d’Oresme (1352-82), Bishop of Lisieux, who combined figures into groups and graphed them. Leonardo da Vinci was fond of mixing graphics and text, especially in his Treatise on Painting.

Modern infographics can be traced to William Playfair’s ‘information graphics’ for The Commercial & Political Atlas, published in 1786 and containing 44 graphics (mostly line, ‘fever’ or bar charts). Subsequently, Otto Neurath (1882-1945), a sociologist, developed the ‘Vienna method’. This stressed the importance of simple images to explain data. Neurath documented everything in graphic form that he researched statistically,  founding the ‘Isotype’ movement (International System of Typographic Picture Education) – an attempt at a world language without words. This, coupled with Modernism, had ‘a profound impact on graphics and design world-wide’. The London Underground map is a product of this movement:

The USA took longer to start using infographics, with the early adopters being Fortune magazine, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times (the latter now being a leader in the field). Researchers Turnbull and Baird in 1962 realised the importance of infographics – in a world before the internet, 24-hour news and cable television:

Tests have proven that material of the same content has been received, read and acted upon in one form, but discarded in another. These examples, coupled with the knowledge that every reader is offered much more than he can ever assimilate, assert that graphic techniques are too important to be ignored.

By 1981 other newspapers were using infographics but it was the launch of USA Today in 1982 and its commitment to using graphics every day that started the real trend. Some of these, however (the types of bread – white, wheat or rye – preferred by members of Congress) were merely filler. In Germany, Der Spiegel had been experimenting with more artistic infographics since the mid-1950s.

The dawn of computers had a massive effect on infographics. ‘Desktop publishing’ became more than just a casual phrase when desktop computers, partnered with the first laser printers, led to reductions in newspaper department workloads by 15-20 hours per week. This freed up time to experiment with infographics. With programs available for the Apple Mac such as MacDraw, newspapers no longer required skilled artists laboriously hand-drawing each infographic.

As the processing power of computers grew, so did their ability to represent complex data in a visually-appealing way. In 1990, research carried out by the Gallup Organization showed that graphic elements possessed greater power than originally thought. They used computerized headgear to record what readers saw on a page, noticing that visual elements received a great deal of attention. Follow-up studies confirmed this and that readers were left with more memorable impressions than when presented with words only.

The dawn of the internet has led to an explosion in interest and use of infographics. Many and diverse software packages and web applications are available to represent your data visually. If you’re interested, try the following three:

How I put together ‘Things I Learned This Week’ [visualization]

Last week, Mark Warner asked how I put together my Things I Learned This Week posts every Sunday. It’s a week-long process, really, and one that benefits both author and reader. You get links that you may have missed, whilst it motivates me to read more than I would otherwise (and to bookmark and reflect upon it).

You may recognise the middle part from My Digital Reading Workflow. 😀

So, to summarize in bullet points:

  • I use a template to make sure I lay them out in a standard way (and to make it easier for me)
  • I read things via RSS (email) and ‘favorite’ things on Twitter, add to Instapaper, etc.
  • Interesting stuff is bookmarked with the week’s tag on Delicious (in this case TILTW9)
  • On Saturday evening and Sunday morning I choose the most interesting for each section to share in the post

Hope that helps! 🙂

Exam performance of looked-after children in England [infographic]

This story pretty much tells itself. We. Need. To. Do. Better.*

Performance of children in England in KS1 SATs

Performance of children in England in KS2 SATs

Performance of children in England in KS3 SATs

Performance of children in England at GCSE level

* For the benefit of those not in England:

To get any kind of decent job, young people would normally require 5 ‘good’ GCSEs (i.e. A*-C)

Definition of ‘looked-after’ (City of Westminster):

The term ‘looked after’ was introduced by the Children Act 1989 and refers to children who are subject to care orders and those who are voluntarily accommodated. Wherever possible, the local authority will work in partnership with parents. Many children and young people who become looked after retain strong links with their families and many eventually return home.

Initial thoughts on Digital Competence/Literacy/Flow

Experience / Use / Access

Sometimes things come to me. Sometimes these things are garbage. Sometimes they’re insights. I’m not sure which category this taxonomy fits into, but it represents a very abstract overview for the next section of my Ed.D. thesis… :-p

(icons courtesy of Jason Cho)

GCSE results by location/ethnicity [visualization]

The consistently helpful Nathan Yau at FlowingData posted a brief tutorial this week on how to make heatmaps quickly. I had a play given that the UK government launched the surprisingly useful and well thought-out recently!

Here’s what I came up with:

Proportion of students gaining 5 or more  A*-C GCSE grades in England, 2006-9

(yes, I too was surprised that the North East leads the way in number of students gaining 5 or more A*-Cs!) :-p

How I deal with email.

I get quite a bit of email. Even more, now that I’ve pretty much abandoned RSS and subscribed to news sources and blogs via email.* There’s various approaches to dealing with email (e.g.s – Inbox Zero, GTD, etc.) but, for what it’s worth, here’s my ‘system’. I haven’t read or watched videos of the others – they may be similar, they may not. My system (if I can call it that) depends on a GMail-like ‘star’ feature, so may not be useful for everyone:

How to deal with email

* Why don’t I use an RSS feed reader much any more? Getting update via email forces me (under the system outlined above) to read new stuff at least once a week. It’s also rather depressing when you see you’ve got literally thousands of unread items in your feed reader… :-p

The future of my Ed.D. thesis.

A couple of people have very kindly been in touch privately to offer their thoughts on my Ed.D. thesis. Both expressed concern that I don’t seem to be up-to-date with my research! Whilst that’s very kind of them, I’d like to reassure both them and everyone else that I (think I) know what I’m doing. 🙂

Here’s my roadmap, if it helps:

My 2010 Ed.D. thesis roadmap

As you can see, I’m delaying writing about digital literacy until next summer. Why? Things move fairly quickly in this field. I want to be as up-to-date as possible when I submit!

In addition, I’m in the bizarre position of doing a vocational doctorate in a non-empirical, purely conceptual fashion. How odd. :-s