iSchool graduate student Sahil Rambhia discusses his data visualization project on global alcohol consumption at the class poster session.

By: Diane Stirling
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How do you create interesting and accurate graphic representations of datasets that address specific questions?

That’s the objective of the School of Information Studies (iSchool) course, Information Visualization, where a poster session was held last week to provide a forum for students to show how they’ve learned to convert raw data into meaningful, informative, and visually interesting graphic displays.

The course begins with the basics, says instructor Dr. Jaime Snyder. “We focus on the foundations needed to get started with visualizations–Python to scrape data from the web, R to explore the data and generate basic visualizations, and Adobe Illustrator to refine the final product.” She said students need a few weeks to work in three very different environments, then they learn coding, graphic design principles, and how to tell stories with data through statistical relationships. Even though data visualizations are more and more prevalent in our society, they are still difficult to create, she noted. “Students gain a real appreciation for the work that goes into creating complex visualizations because they experience the process themselves from start to finish,” she added.  

Poster Displays

At the poster session, Information Management graduate studet Uma Deskmakh’s visualization illustrated the economic impact of media mentions about the five tallest skyscrapers in the world, showing the correlations between the numbers of media mentions and the levels of revenues generated, differentiated by whether the building uses are primarily office or tourism facilities.   

Student Tuo Wu charted the differences that gender appears to make in the way people use the social media site Twitter, and said he liked the class because, “Every time we finished a project it was a sense of accomplishment.” Guest speakers who visited also “gave us an idea of how professionals do visualizations in the real world,” he said.

Sahil Rambhia's poster presented a view of global alcohol consumption–and comparisons between various countries’ consumption levels. Using colorations as well as bar charts, Ranblia also correlated the health impacts of alcohol use country-by-country. “This is the most interesting class I’ve ever taken at the iSchool,” he stated, noting that while other courses provided opportunities “to do data analysis, this is the next step in visualization. Usually when you think of graphing information, you usually just use one or two dimensions on a graph. With data visualization, it’s possible to use multi varied data and to illustrate many more dimensions.”

Many Ways – Same Story

IM graduate student Martha West created a poster showing resources allocated for Syrian refugees. She observed how, “you see visualizations all the time, but you really don’t understand what goes into making them.” She noted how “it’s important to pick a story for the data to tell”—and that there are many different ways to represent the data story through bar graphics, geographs, and Nightingale graphs. “It’s interesting how the exact same information looks different based on the graphs you use. You need to think about the way the audience will be looking at the information, matching the tools to the audience,” she added.

Other students had created graphs that visualized “NBA MVP Players’ Performance” throughout a season’s games; “Natural Gas Production and Consumption in the U.S.,” “Making Sense and Use of School Testing Data in New York State;” “Growth of the Windows Phone;” “Active Social Network Users; (and their demographics) and “Girls Education Stories in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) and Non-OECD Countries.”