What’s new for 2017

by Mike Gleicher on December 28, 2016

The Spring 2017 edition of the Data Visualization Course is the 4th time I’ve taught it. At some point, I will have to stop saying it’s an experimental class – but not this time.

The class will be pretty much based on the 2015 edition. I think overall, the class worked well for most people. I want to keep the things that worked, and fix the things that didn’t.

What will be different this time?

  1. You (the students). A cool thing about this class is it gets a broad range of students. Each time, we get students from all over campus. Each time it’s a different mix. Each time there are people with different ideas, interests and abilities – and the class gets pulled in all kinds of directions by this.
  2. It has a real number. It’s not a special topics class anymore. This is mainly symbolic, except that it leads to #3.
  3. It is a graduate level course. In the past, it was a mixed level course (grads and undergrads). This is less that grad students are different than undergrads, but rather that all students in the class will be treated the same – no different assignments and policies. This should simplify things. Also, as a graduate level class, we can have high expectations for everyone.
  4. Simplify the assignment structure. Last time, there were discussions and readings twice a week for each lecture, seek and finds, other assignments, other discussions, challenge assignments, 838 only assignments, … It was hard to keep track of it all! This time, we’ll organize things by week, rather than by lecture – so there will be one reading assignment each week (potentially with multiple parts), and one discussion.
  5. More in-class exercises. Last time we did a few. People got a lot out of it. It was less boring than me lecturing. While we’ll still be a long way from a “flipped class” I want to keep moving in that direction. The room that the class is scheduled for may contribute. We’ll also see about me replacing lectures with videos or something.
  6. More practical aspects (implementation). In the past, I’ve avoided spending time on how to make visualizations – it was about how to design, critique, and understand them, and to appreciate the range of methods. The problem is that once I taught people what pictures to make, they wanted to make them! So we’ll have a bit more “practice” as part of the class. It still won’t be a lot. And it’s hard because we have a range of skills in the class. Implementation might mean different things if you’re a CS student who likes to program, or a humanities student who doesn’t want to learn how. I want to make this class work for both kinds of students.
  7. More emphasis on critique. It’s an incredibly valuable skill – not just for becoming a visualization designer, but in general. We’ll use critique as a way to be more example-based in learning about visualization.
  8. More emphasis on learning by doing (and critiquing). This kindof goes with 5&6&7, but I want to find ways to let people try things more.
  9. Improve the readings that people didn’t like. I think I got rid of the really bad ones from 2012.

A lot will stay the same. We’ll have the same basic schedule and list of topics. A lot of the readings from last time were good. Many of the assignments worked well.

At a high level, the emphasis on foundations (understanding the basics of tasks, design and perception) will remain. I think this is the right place to start – whether you are going to be a vis practitioner, research, or even just a vis reader.

The seek and finds will continue – these worked great. For a while, people thought they were silly. But after you’ve done them a bit, you realize that it does force you to see how the ideas do get used in practice. You’ll have to trust me.

The readings and discussions will continue – these also (generally) worked well. It depends on the students – some groups have more interesting discussions than others. I believe that if people participate in the conversations around the topics, they can’t help but learn them.

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