22 October 2014

Split Screen for Multi-Tasking

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about Split Screen, as a way of making notes from online reading. This involved having one screen as notes and the other as the source material.

Recently, I have been using it in my role as Project Manager of Global Youth Debates, a Flat Connections project (read more about this here).

In Global Youth Debates, teams from all over the world take part in an asychronous debate about a current issue - this year's theme is Global Peace and Security and the topic is, 'Revolution a Justifiable Means for Global Peace and Security'. Using Voicethread, learners record their arguments in stages; the opposing teams can then listen and respond, recording their opposition in the same place.

Part of my job is to organise the brackets - who argues against whom - in each round. To monitor the progress of each team, I have been using Split Screen as a management tool:
Tracking Debate Progress
On the left is each bracket's Voicethread, and on the right, is my Google Doc, which has team information. I can go through each Voicethread (I do also get notifications when a team has recorded) to listen to the recording and, simultaneously, mark their progress on my management Google Doc.

My next job is to create new brackets for Round 1 proper and again, Split Screen has been really helpful:
Organising New Brackets
On the right are the brackets for the practice round; on the left is my planning for Round 1. Having both screens next to each meant I could ensure that each team debated against a different team of a similar age, and that every team was on a different side of the argument than in the practice round.

I could have completed both these tasks without Split Screen but this would have meant flicking between two windows - this is much quicker and easier.

Split Screen is free from the Chrome Store as Chrome extension.

Presenting Data

For the lastest assignment of my MEd, I had to take a large amount of data and make it presentable and understandable to parents. This used all the learning I have undertaken about data and graphics - see also, Infographics: Good & Bad, and Banner Creation.

We had to go to the National Center for Education Statistics and choose an area of data that interested us in order to create the document.

I chose information about reading and the impact it has on achievement.

I took this large amount of data:
NCES, 2006
 and created this:

13 October 2014

Infographics - good and bad

This week in my MEd, we are exploring the heady world of infographics with the objective of learning how visual representations of data can enhance and distort data. The aim is for us to think carefully about the use of graphics in our teaching in order that we use visuals to effectively deliver information rather than distort it and confuse our learners.

After reading three articles by Edward Tufte, I summarised some basic principles to form the basis of my explorations and use them to evaluate the infographics I found.

According to Tufte (1983), graphical excellence happens when graphics:
  • show data
  • make viewers think about content not presentation/design
  • avoid the distortion of data
  • present many numbers in a small space
  • make large data sets coherent
  • encourage the eye to compare different pieces of data
  • reveal data on different levels - from broad to fine
  • have a clear purpose: descriptive/explorative/decorative/tabulative
  • be closely correlated with statistical and verbal descriptions of data set
He also states that “words and pictures belong together” (Tufte, 1990) and developed six principles of graphical integrity (1983):
  • the representation of numbers as physically measured on the surface of the graphic itself, should be directly proportional to the numerical quantities represented
  • clear, detailed and thorough labeling should be used to defeat graphical distortion and ambiguity. Write out explanations of the data on the graphic itself. Label important events in the data
  • show data variation, not design variation
  • in time-series displays of money, deflated and standardized units of monetary measurement are nearly always better than nominal units
  • the number of information-carrying (variable) dimensions depicted should not exceed the number of dimensions in the data
  • graphics must not quote data out of context
Using these principles and guidelines, I searched for two good and two bad examples of infographics.

This first infographic, “How Baby Boomers Describe Themselves” immediately caught my eye because, at first, it appears simple and adheres to Tufte’s principles that “clear, detailed and thorough labeling should be used” and that the designer should “Write out explanations of the data on the graphic itself” (Graphical Integrity, 1983). However, within a short space of time one realises that this designer has not in fact used his labeling to “defeat graphical distortion and ambiguity” or indeed “avoid distortion of data” as the baby boomer adds up to 243%! I do not think either that this graphical representation has a “clear purpose” (Graphical Excellence, 1983) and there is ambiguity in the presentation of the data - some have explanations, others don’t.

I love this Pulp Fiction infographic. It reminds me of the story I heard about a projectionist who re-edited the original film when it arrived to be screened at the cinema because they thought it had got messed up! I am not sure if that is a true story or not but Pulp Fiction was the first film I recall being told in a non-linear way. I love how the space-time sequence of the original has been reduced to a linear, chronological pattern - which of course all non-linear narratives can.


I like the simplicity of presentation of the complex task and believe this to be successful infographic according to Tufte who suggests that graphical excellence makes make “large data sets coherent” (Graphical Excellence, 1983). It has a “clear purpose” and whilst it is well presented, certainly makes the viewer think about the content not presentation or design (Graphical Excellence, 1983).

Equally, Smith has used “detailed and thorough labeling” - speech bubbles show important and well-known quotes, colours depict different character’s paths, he has labelled “important events in the data” with simple graphics to illustrate them because “words and pictures beling together” (Tufte, 1990); Smith also has a legend, providing clear and simple “explanations of the data on the graphic itself”.

This next graphic is interesting and creative in its presentation of data and appears on a page called Infographics vs. Infocrapics: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (SEO.com).

It states that many bad graphics are simply caused by the fact that designers try “to create an infographic without any information” or have designs that are “entirely divorced from the data they were presenting” - citing this as an example of one that is “designed around the data” and linked creatively to the data it is presenting (Graphical Integrity, 1983). This fits with Tufte’s principles that “the representation of numbers as physically measured on the surface of the graphic itself, should be directly proportional to the numerical quantities represented” and that the graphic be “closely correlated with statistical and verbal descriptions of data set” (Graphical Excellence, 1983).

Compare this then, using the same principles, to the following graphic, which appears on the Terrible Infographics Tumblr. The site claims that this graphic appeared in Newsweek with the caption “The majority believe Japan is an innovative country”. Surely, this is a perfect example of how not to follow Tufte’s principle that “graphics must not quote data out of context” (Graphical Integrity, 1983).
Finally, a bonus graphic - simply because it is incredible. From Information is Beautiful, an interactive graphic, created for the BBC to show ‘Flight Risk - Every Major Commercial Plane Crash of the Last 20 Years’, this graphic “shows data” and “presents many numbers in a small space” making “large data sets coherent”(Tufte, Graphical Excellence, 1993). Whilst it displays an incredible amount of information about causes of plane crashes since 1993 in a way that can be filtered by the user, there is no actual timeline, which I think might have been useful. However, “clear, detailed and thorough labeling... defeat graphical distortion and ambiguity” create an amazingly data-dense graphic that is easy to read and decipher.

How Baby Boomers Describe Themselves. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2014.

Smith, N. (2012, July 1). Pulp Fiction Infographic. Retrieved October 13, 2014.

Infographics vs. Infocrapics: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - SEO.com. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2014.

Terrible infographics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2014.

Flight Risk - Every Major Commercial Plane Crash of the Last 20 Years - Information Is Beautiful. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2014.

Flight Risk Exploring fatal commercial passenger plane incidents since 1993. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2014, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbc.com/future/bespoke/20140724-flight-risk/

Tufte, E. (1983). Graphical Excellence. In The Visual Display of Quatitative Information, (pp. 13-15). cheshire Connecticut: Graphic Press.

Tufte, E. (1990). Narratives of Space and Time. In Envisioning Information, (pp. 96-119). Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press.

Tufte, E. (1983). Graphical Integrity. In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, (pp. 53-77). Chesire, Connecticut: Graphic Press.

WALK THE TALK! Lesson Study as Action Research for Leaders

Lesson Study as a research concept is a new idea to me - however, the elements of what comprises it are not. I am an advocate of peer observations and feedback as an invaluable tool in improving teaching and learning. However, in the 12 years I have been teaching, I have found that the majority of teachers do not want to engage in this kind of professional learning.

I think there are a number of reasons for this but the main one being trust. I have found, in international schools, where your position is never tenured and you are always a guest in a country meaning your status often feels unstable, there is an underlying feeling of mistrust around observations. Rarely are they seen as tools for improvement but instead are viewed as ways to ‘catch you out’ and make you lose your job. It often doesn’t matter if you are an excellent teacher either, meaning even effective and experienced educators are not immune. It was with a refreshing air then that I read the article by Gebert and Ginsberg (2012) who, as leaders, wanted to use Lesson Study as a way to address improving teaching and learning with a focus on “creating for teachers, the same learning conditions they seek to create for students?” (p. 1), and who were willing to “take a risk in front of [their] staff and demonstrate that [they were] not asking [teachers] to do anything that [they] wouldn’t do” (p. 8). In hindsight, the researchers acknowledged that “this kind of leadership earns respect and builds trust” (p. 8) which is what is essential for innovations such as Lesson Study to work.

I find collaborative planning and peer observation a valuable method of ensuring our instruction is effective, and have worked in schools where the professional learning focus was on just this. However, again, what interested me about the Lesson Study method was very much focused on how teachers learn (Lewis, Perry, & Murata, 2006) but this was taken further by Gebert and Ginsberg (2012) who actually modelled the behaviour they desired. Too often, administrators spout theories at us, ask us to conduct action research, change our method etc., but never model. They seem to forget that they were teachers too, and they know how to teach (we hope). My problem has always been with leaders reading about a method and asking for it to be implemented without actually understanding it from a first-hand perspective. This attributes to the “faddism” mentioned by Lewis et al, Perry (2006) - administration never ‘walk the talk’ - whilst what I admired about Gebert & Ginsberg (2012) was that they did.

Another positive that I found was the element of choice. Providing a choice and voice to students is something we all know helps to personalise the learning and create the best outcome. When students can buy-in to their learning and take responsibility for it, they are more motivated and engaged. Yet again, admin seem to forget this and force upon us initiatives that are not required or needed for our learners in our classrooms - but are in fact, the latest fad. I believe Gebert and Ginsberg had almost a fifty percent take-up on the full Lesson Study because they did not force it on their staff, because they modelled it AND because they gave the resources for it to take place. And this is an unavoidable downside to this type of action research - the time it takes. In our already hectic and busy lives, being able to take time out to plan, observe and debrief is nigh-on impossible in many schools. Without backing, support and resources, it cannot happen at all.

Lesson Study seems an excellent way to “grow thinking” (The DSC Way, 2010) but there has to be a top-down approach that models the positive benefits, that provides options and choice for staff, and that allows time and resources for it to be conducted effectively.

Lewis, C., Perry, R., & Murata, A. (2006). How should research contribute to instructional improvement. Educational Researcher, Vol 35, No 3, 3-14.

The DSC Way. (2010, June 28). Lesson Study Overview: Introduction, from Lesson Study Support Kit. [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHHryuuohpM.

Gebert, John and Ginsberg, Margery. (2012). Lesson study as a form of action research for instructional leaders. Washington State Kappan. 6.1. Retrieved fromhttp://journals.lib.washington.edu/index.php/wsk/article/view/14188