W12: Critical Thinking with Data Visualization

With Leanna House (Virginia Tech)


Big Data are thrilling when we think about how information gained from the data may result in positive changes in industry, government, education, etc. However, raw data alone, do nothing for society. Datasets are just tables of numbers without humans to assess, process, discover, and communicate information in the data [Thomas and Cook, 2005]. That is, only when humans think critically with data can we capitalize on opportunities offered by data. Alas, the unfortunate truth is that teaching critical thinking is not necessarily a byproduct of teaching analytical methods [Jablonka, 2014]; masters of technical methods for summarizing data are not necessarily responsible, capable consumers of data. With this in mind, we at Virginia Tech bring our visual analytics research to the classroom. With the software that we developed, we synchronize teaching visual exploratory data analyses (EDA) with critical thinking. We refer to the software as Andromeda and it offers a way for analysts (e.g., students) to explore data visually and dynamically - in response to personal curiosities or feedback about the data - using multiple linear projections of high-dimensional data based on Weighted Multidimensional Scaling (WMDS) [Kruskal and Wish, 1978]. Crucially, students do not need to master WMDS to learn from high-dimensional data and create new visualizations. Rather, Andromeda enables Visual to Parametric Interaction (V2PI) [Leman et al., 2015; House et al., 2015] which means that when students interact directly with data visualizations (e.g., re-locate observations in a projection), Andromeda has the technology to interpret the interactions parametrically and update visualizations accordingly. Depending on the level of the course, students may or may not learn the details of WMDS. But, regardless of level, students have repeated opportunities to make conjectures, discover information in data, and process any implications of these discoveries.

In this workshop, we will have open discussions about critical thinking, the role EDA and visualizations can play in developing critical thinkers, and the advantages interactive data visualizations may have for practicing critical thinking. We will also discuss methods for assessing 1) student critical thinking and 2) the approaches we take to foster critical thinking within EDA. This discussion will be inspired by the activities, lesson plans and recitation assignments we share, as well as the results we obtained from controlled and observational studies. Throughout the workshop, participants of the session will also use Andromeda for short exercises and we will take time to reflect on personal experiences with Andromeda.

Requirement: Please bring a laptop with Chrome downloaded or pair with someone who does. Andromeda is a web-based software and we will use it during the breakout session.