Thursday, February 24, 2011

Visualization Tools for the Classroom

The ability to communicate digitally is becoming a much sought after skill.  For the last couple of years, I've facilitated a workshop called "Intro to Visual Communication" which explores ways to use Web tools to convey information to students.  See the slides below:

Adobe, undoubtedly looking to sell some product, recently released a white paper (free registration required) on the evolution and impact of digital communication skill development in post-secondary education.  The report discusses the United States National Technology Plan , the International Society of Technology in Education's National Educational Technology Standards, and models and technology initiatives from across the world.   

From the introduction:

This paper explores the evolution of digital communication skills development in post-secondary educational institutions around the world. It considers how expectations of and opportunities for effective digital communicators extend well beyond the domain of graphic and visual artists, videographers, and web designers.
Today, competencies that have traditionally been expected from art and design professionals are now expected from professionals working in such disciplines as journalism, education, and medicine. The emergence of new post-secondary fields of study such as informatics, medical imaging, instructional design, and educational technology, featuring digital proficiencies as core components of discipline-specific epistemology, further extends the notion of what it means to be a proficient digital communicator. 

There are many tools which assist with visualization.  I'm not going to get into the super technical ones because their learning curve is quite steep.  However, I'd like to use this post to discuss a few that are not only highly functionable, but easy to use.  

Many Eyes Screenshot
1. IBM Many Eyes:  Allows you to upload a data set and view the results using IBM's visualization tools. You can also choose pre-existing data sets and use the tool to explain various phenomena via visualizations as opposed to long winded, wordy explanations.
[Honorable mention: Kidspiration or InspireData, two products by Inspiration Software which are marketed to the K12 market, but can be utilized in any classroom.  These software tools are not free, though you do get a 30 day free download to test it out first.].  Webspiration, a tool for concept maps and other visualizatons is one of my faves.  It's mentioned in the Poweerpoint above.  The online version is free, while the downloadable software is not.
2. Inanimate Alice: This is an initiative that started in England which uses digital storytelling to teach 21st century skills.  Complete with a free teacher's pack, educators can use the service to invite students into the world of digital storytelling. 
3. Piggy Bank:  Created by MIT, Piggy Bank is a Firefox extension that turns your browser into a mashup platform, by allowing you to extract data from different web sites and mix them together.
Piggy Bank also allows you to store this extracted information locally for you to search later and to exchange at need the collected information with others.
Capzules screenshot.
4. Capzules: Allows you to mesh video, images, sound, blogs, and documents to share a dynamic multimedia experience with students.
Here are a few examples: 
     a. A Brief History of Apple
     b. Paul Revere's Ride
     c. A History of Distance Education 
5. National Library of Virtual Manipulatives: Provides math based simulations for K-12.  Kudos to Utah State University and the National Science Foundation for pulling this together.

Hopefully this post has whet your palette when it comes to visualization tools.  For more cool web-based tools, see this post.

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