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.

http://www.designyourway.net/blog/inspiration/
when-infographics-go-bad-or-how-not-to-design-
data-visualization/
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.

http://www.noahdanielsmith.com/pulp-fiction-infographic/

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).

http://www.seo.com/blog/infographics-vs-infocrapics-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly/
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).
http://terribleinfographics.tumblr.com/
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.




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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

4 October 2014

Banner Creation

A project for my MEd this week, was to explore banners and free tools that can be used to create them. I was to create a 650x50 banner advertising me. I found this size outdated and small, so played around and added the one you can see in my Blog above!

I decided to use the images I have for my educational 'brand' across Twitter and Blogger and email; to ensure colour matching,  I used eye-dropper to select the exact shades for continuity.

First I went to Bannersnack, which allowed me to create an animated banner:-



Next, I went to BannerFan to create a simple static version:-


Finally, I had a lot of fun on PicMonkey creating a few different versions:-

Version 1
Version 2: added squiggle at the top
Version 3: added background texture of bubbles
Version 4: added a scrunched paper texture
Version 5: added a striped texture


1 October 2014

How much is the medium the message?

Marshall McLuhan (1969) claims that, as humans, we are only aware of changes to our environment when the new “supersedes” the old and that we are actually “always one step behind”. If our survival is “predicated on the understanding of new media” (McLuhan, 1969), we have a responsibility to consider the future of educational learning within a digital realm and make learners aware as much of the medium as we do of the message.

Often, we are presented with a dichotomy of Utopian and Dystopian representations of technological advancement, and McLuhan’s assumption suggests we may be doomed unless we adapt to new media. If we can do what all good pedagogy does and bring what we know to the table as a starting block, we can draw comparisons between the unfamiliar and the familiar, and the abstract and the concrete, as a way to try and understand the assumptions made about new media and ways of delivering learning.

A Utopian perspective presents technology as our salvation - transformative and revolutionary; a Dystopian perspective sees technology as destruction - as attacking and supplanting. Separation of the two is not easy, in fact they seem almost mutually inclusive, particularly in terms of the future of technology and where we are going with it in education. On one hand, we want technology to take us forward and help us out - and there is no denying that the advent of technology makes life easier in some respects. For exampl, Corning's video advert, 'A Day Made of Glass', suggests a future where technology will be fully integrated into our every task and is an interesting view that posits a possible future where every part of our life will be linkable, sharable, reachable. It is a bright, clean, gleaming world that allows seamless integration of technology to transform and revolutionise. This 'Utopia' is taken one step further however in the short film 'Sight' (Sight Systems, 2012), where the gleaming world presented in 'A Day Made of Glass' becomes sinister, clinical and empty. The emptiness and isolation that is portrayed in 'Sight' goes against what I currently like about my technology; the fact it lets me engage and interact with my environment, friends, family and PLN rather than separate me from it by replacing that reality with the virtual. Equally, the notion that our lives may become so much about technology that the line between the virtual and the real is so blurred, our entire existence becomes a game, dictated to by machinery, is more Dystopian - attacking and definitely supplanting.

The integration of the technology over our actual view of the world presented in 'Sight' goes beyond interacting with and using tech for communication; it becomes our actual world. It becomes us. It is us. It reminds me of people I saw once whilst on a safari in Sri Lanka. We had a little camera and captured a few shots of the elephants we were lucky enough to encounter for prosperity, but the real joy came from being in the elephants' environment, in their environment with them, and in seeing the joy on the faces of my children in being so near to them. We came across another jeep containing a couple with expensive looking cameras that did not once leave their eyes. Their experience of the elephants was veiled virtually through a lens; they were so concerned with capturing the experience they never really saw it, they never were really there. In fact, they experienced it so much through a viewfinder they may as well have watched a documentary. Their holiday memories (message) were recorded and experienced through a lens (medium). Their blinkered narrowed focal point meant they missed the baby elephant who ran through the grass right past the jeep; they missed the lone elephant hiding behind the tree to one side; they missed so much in their endeavour to preserve the experience that I wonder how much of the experience they actually remember, compared to how much will comes from their 'preserved' images. It seems so false, preserving images only seen through a lens and not really experienced. There is medium empty of message. The message is the medium. 

What worries me about a future as presented in 'Sight', is that right now, I can often feel empowered by technology, for example going out running with my iPhone and GPS so I don’t get lost, but am not reliant on it, whilst the main female character in 'Sight' is not able to 'see' or experience her run at all - because her tech failed. What worries me is that my experience is the thin edge of this wedge. Do we see through the lens of technology already - how much is real, how much is manipulated, how much are we reliant on it for our experiences each day? Has my day really happened if I have not preserved each significant event (message) in a Tweet (medium)? I don't like the robotic look in 'Sight'; I don't like the clinical feel, the lack of homeliness or emotion, the blankness of the world populated mainly by the virtual. I don't like the idea that tech goes beyond support into control. I want my life to be enhanced not replaced by the virtual world.

'Plurality' takes McLuhan’s media environment to the next level - and I am not sure how he would explain this - by tying tech to our very essence, our DNA, which can be read anywhere by anything - hands on railings, hair against shop-window glass.  Set in 2023, it suggests that we will be safer by control; we lose our right to privacy yet gain a life of safety, a state challenged by 'plurals' who return from a future to challenge this 'ideal'. Many allusions to Dystopian futures abound in this short film that lead us to question the future road our technology is taking us down. The Inspector working for 'The Grid' is named Jacob Foucault - an interesting choice if we consider that the Biblical Jacob's renaming to 'Israel' when translated sees him as one "to rule, be strong, have authority over" but also as a "God contender", particularly thought-provoking when mixed with the French philosopher's ideas of panoptic surveillance to 'discipline and punish', both of which hark back to points I made in a blog post about technology as the new religion. Posters in the background of the film warn of 'Big Brother' alluding to Orwellian surveillance purported in 1984, and the helicopters circling nod to Philip K Dick's 'Eye in the Sky'. Pluralism theory acknowledges diversity of interests; Pluralism as theory considers it imperative that members of society accommodate their differences by engaging in good-faith negotiation. Interestingly however, the 'Plurality', the one who returns to warn and acknowledge difference is the one who does not belong to 2023. Named Alana Winston, nodding again to Winston Smith in 1984, whilst combining with Alana, meaning 'precious awakening', her statement that 'The Grid', the Panoptican state, the all seeing eye has "replaced freedom with the illusion of safety"and her dare to challenge, earns her a sentence to time on Ellis island - ironically, a penitentiary of the future, now living up to its past nickname, "The Island of Tears".

All these films made me question what it is these future states suggest we need to be safe from. Utopian ideals of protection quickly have become Dystopian states that need to be broken down - proving perhaps McLuhan’s point about survival and adaptation. What is it that needs us, in the future, to be hardwired into 'protective grids' and constantly monitored? Each other? Freedom? Choice? What are we being protected from exactly? The message or the medium? Are they the same, or are they different? It brings to mind Dystopian futures portrayed in films such as The Matrix or iRobot, where the machines we create take us over. The lines are greyed; tech needs to be part of what we do NOT what we do. The technology we create - the medium - becomes more than its creator and takes over the message. But is this what McLuhan meant? The idea that technology is what moves us forward is didactic; we create the technology; the technology creates us. How we manage and adapt to this creation will be significant. The machine is us.


“The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan”, Playboy Magazine, March 1969 © Playboy
Retrieved September 24, 2014, from NextNature Web site: http://www.nextnature.net/?p=1025

The CGBros. (2012, August 1). Sight: A futuristic short film HD: by Sight Systems [Video File]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/lK_cdkpazjI

Corning Incorporated. (2011, February 7). A day made of glass… [Video File]. Retrieved from
http://youtu.be/6Cf7IL_eZ38

Lui, Dennis (Dir.). (2012, October 1). Plurality [Video File]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/IzryBRPwsog