VIRTUAL SUCCESS in Design Education: Synchronous Data Visualization

Bianca DiPietro RGD, Program Coordinator and Professor at Humber College, shares her success with a virtual teaching strategy to learn about data visualization and data humanism in design.


What is “Synchronous Data Visualization”? 
This virtual teaching strategy is for beginners who are learning about data visualization and data humanism in design. I executed this in the Winter of 2021 with Humber College Bachelor of Design students where I have a very intimate class of 16 students. The concept is to have the students collectively create a data visualization based on common experiences of data. 
The exercise illustrates how data can be pulled from anywhere, even common experience. What made this even more interesting was the formulation of the design right before our eyes: Students were instructed to drag elements related to a certain topic into position to communicate a simple idea with a complex representation of the relevant data. This exercise was made possible by Miro, an online collaboration tool that allows multiple people to work on a document at one time. The live aspect, along with all the features and functionality made this software a winning application for this exercise. What makes this exercise/activity even stronger is the ability to change the topic and visualization method easily to address something new.
What inspired the creation of this exercise?
Giorgia Lupi was the inspiration for my exercise. She published a book called ‘Dear Data’ that uses simple visualization techniques to represent data in more humanistic ways. She executed her project by sending postcards on very mundane topics to her friend through the mail. This project was executed for a year, so the techniques and ways of visualizing are diverse and remarkably interesting. I also pulled inspiration from one of her workshops that showed the importance of collaboration when visualizing and executing humanistic data.
What made this exercise successful?
The exercise provided a very concrete demonstration of a visualization method and technique, but did not require much previous knowledge. I used this to introduce the course, encourage engagement and get students working together as a group. The final visualization was both interesting and complex, but the effort to get there was minimal and effective. 
Could this exercise be expanded or adapted for other design education applications?
The tools that made this exercise possible can be used to introduce more dynamic and inclusive teaching methods for students. The synchronous data visualization concept and exercise is something I wish to build on in future courses as a series of projects to encourage students to continue engaging in data visualization and report how they are feeling about course content and their experience with the curriculum. The beautiful thing about data is that it exists everywhere. Devices store data, but our experiences are also data that can be tracked. Data humanism is about telling stories about our personal data through simple visualizations. The students appreciate that this can be done easily, remotely and with a low effort tool that creates interesting results.
Can you recommend any resources to help educators who want to incorporate data visualization into their teaching?
What role do you see virtual platforms playing in the future of post-secondary design education?
Virtual platforms are going to make tedious classroom work more flexible, inclusive and engaging. Tools will allow for easier application of concepts, easier access to content on-the-go and more flexible engagement for students with varied schedules and learning preferences. Teachers will be able to reserve in-person meetings for work that requires organic connection, collaboration, creative thinking and other activities that require open dialogue and conversation. Learning is not going to be restricted to the classroom, but is going to exist in a variety of flexible and engaging digital spaces. We will no longer have to travel to a location to achieve learning in the traditional way, which will open up time and space for more social and collaborative types of learning. 
A special thank you to Rob Blain!
Bianca DiPietro RGD is a designer and educator who is interested in discovering meaningful work and finding ways to uncover true personal impact. She has deep expertise in design thinking process including research and prototyping, as well as strategic thinking, critical thinking, systems thinking and storytelling through design.
The thoughts and opinions contained within this article do not necessarily reflect the affiliated institution.
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