Visualizing Content Knowledge

My #Currins545 Students (Reading in josh hthe Content Areas) have just completed their visualization projects for the semester.  Having used this assignment for three semesters, I’ve noticed how this project really tends to signal a turning point in the course, a moment in which the students experience hands-on a deeper understanding of their content.

It seems that so much of the semester is spent walking around the content, through readings and discussion that attempt to list and emphasize what the disciplinary content is and how to scaffold learning of that content. While this is important and creates a necessary space to identify key pedagogical content knowledge, the visualization project seems to cut straight to the heart of how we use visualization to build knowledge in the content areas.

KevinThe visualization project requires students to make a visualization, using a web 2.0 software of their choice, to visualize an aspect of their discipline. Thus far in the semester, the students have been maintaining an inquiry blog about some topic in their discipline so selecting an idea to illustrate or visualize follows easily from this inquiry project.

What impressed me most this semester is how deeply the students were able to analyze their own processes of visualization and then connect it to either their own learning or student learning. Below are some of the visualizations that the students created as well as a selection of their insights on visualizing content knowledge. (Click on links or images below to view complete visualization.)

Visualizing abstract concepts as events

In the examples below, students have taken an abstract concept from their discipline and turned it into an event to be represented either on a timeline or infographic.  First listed, Zak uses the interactive timeline software Dipity to visualizes the notion of authorship and its evolution over time. Similar in approach, Kevin also uses Dipity to illustrate the largely unknown relationship between Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X, exploring how the two hardly knew each other were both such key players in the Civil Rights movement. Next Josh uses the infographic software Piktochart to illustrate the notion of “urban” as it was first enacted by Rome, the first urban city.  Finally, Erin  uses annotation software ThingLink to explore the elements of emotion, color, and form in the work of Wassili Kandinsky.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 11.36.55 AM

“In Grey” by Wassily Kandinsky

The Evolution of Authorship” – Interactive timeline created by Zak Koehn

MLK & Malcolm X” – Interactive timeline created by Kevin Dyke

The First Super City: Rome” – Infographic created by Josh Luterbach

Emotion and Color in Kandinsky” – Image annotation created by Erin Rademacher

Using visual design to organize information from several sources

Many of the students commented on the affordances of visualization and graphic design as vehicles for spatially organizing their thoughts.  Emphasizing more the canvas of the screen instead of the page, several students the spatial assets of visualization, which allowed them to explore the deeper nuances of ideas through purposeful selections of color scheme, font, spatial formatting and blank space. To begin, both Angela and Steffanie use Piktochart to tackle gigantic content topics. Angela takes on the Great Depression, breaking it down to the dust bowl as a lens into daily life, while Steffanie takes the many works of Shakespeare, looking specifically at the female roles. Josh researches the mining induced mudslides of Indonesia, using ThingLink to annotate the activist artwork of Justseeds.

The Dust Bowl” – Infographic created by Angela Gerloski

The Women of Shakespeare” – Infographic created by Steffanie Rowinsky

We Agree: A Crisis In Common” – Image annotation created by Josh Heinrich

Visualizing process

Another set of projects used visualization to distill and prioritize the core aspects of various processes.  To keep this blog entry from becoming too long, I will just include one example of this type. Here tracy uses still photography and movie maker to make a how-to video for making murals.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 12.43.09 PMMake your Mark in Milwaukee: Episode 1: Make a Mural” – digital video created by Tracy Rolkosky

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