Visualizing Visualization: What’s Available for Your Subject Matter?

A picture can be worth a thousand words, and that picture can help make a connection or help you remember a concept. Visualization is defined as any technique used to create images, videos, diagrams, or animations to communicate a message. Education and visualization have gone hand in hand in classrooms for decades. Graphs, images, diagrams, videos have all integrated themselves into curriculi and syllabi, but with access to personal computers and hand held devices, an educator may ask themselves, what tools are out there for me to create a new generation of visualization for my class? What tools can I use for my subject?

If you are an educator that uses charts, diagrams, and mindmaps, you may be interested in services like Google Charts API, Freemind,, and Prezi. Charts, diagrams, and mindmaps, may seem like simple tools, but they are great and simple visualization tools that help drive points home that simple text can not. Prezi is a more animated solution to a mindmap or simple diagram (for example, you can zoom in on a section of the diagram, add video, add images, or jump from section to section on the mindmap or diagram).

If you are an educator (say in History), that uses a lot of dates, timeline visualization tools may help your class remember the order of events discussed for a certain subject. Timerime is a web based application that allows you to not only input dates, but also add images, online videos, Google Maps, and music that go along with the dates on the timeline. You can interact with the time line by scrolling back inside the web browser. Dipity is a web based timeline creator that allows you to add images, video, and RSS feeds to your timeline. What is also another nice feature about some web based applications is that you can publish your timeline on different services like Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress (blogging site).

If your discipline calls for text analysis, like text clouds, tools like Wordle may be up your alley. To create a word cloud on Wordle, you copy in your text to Wordle, then Wordle makes an image of all the words that are in the text you provided. The more frequent a word is mentioned in the text, the bigger the word is in the word cloud. Another web based tool that scans text is Newsmap. Newsmap is different in the sense that it grabs the most recent news stories from Google News. It groups news based on subject (National, Word, Sports) and gives each subject a color. The news story that appears larger, is the news story that is receiving the most coverage at that time. You can turn on and off different subjects and even add different countries’ current news (to compare what’s top news in the US versus another country). Newsmap may be a big benefit for anybody studying Political Science. Different science disciplines may benefit from visualizations created by Google Earth (Geology), or the WorldWide Telescope site (Astronomy). Google Earth gives the student a 3D look at the geography of the world, something its sister, the 2D Google Maps can not provide. You can tag places in Google Earth the same way you would in Google Maps. Not only will the student experience the natural geography in a 3D model, but cities with buildings and landmarks will be represented in 3D space too. Google Earth is a free download is is available for mobile devices. Google Earth introduces the class to the concept of geolocation (identification of the real-world geographic location of an object.) The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) can run as a cross platform web based application (or as a stand alone client using Microsoft Silverlight) That allows for a student to virtually view space through their computer. The application includes 3D models of the planets, constellations, Hubble telescope images, radio studies of the sky, and even multimedia guided tours of different topics like galaxies and supernovas by leaders in the astronomy field.

Disciplines like digital arts and architecture have many visualizations that demonstrate to a student a space or model either on paper or a virtual 3D space. Free visualization tools like Blender 3D (3D modeling and
animation tool) and Google Sketchup breathes 3D life into a 2D sketch. Google SketchUp’s layout is more for the architecture student (a very simple CAD alternative and measure objects and space in different units), than Blender 3D. Blender 3D can produce detailed 3D models and animations, but lacks simple features like units for measuring. These tools are not limited to just the subjects of digital arts and architecture, they can be used to build 3D models and spaces for many other subjects.

All the examples that have been presented above can always overlap into different disciplines. Visualization of any information for any course is beneficial to everyone.

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