Data visualization is an excellent way for students to engage with course materials in ways that open interpretation and lend themselves to original discoveries. The same information when displayed as a graph or map often reveals new and unexpected features.
There are several web applications to create simple visualizations such as:
Raw Graphs, https://rawgraphs.io/
Plotly Chart Studio, https://plotly.com/chart-studio/
Data Wrapper, https://www.datawrapper.de/
As part of several courses, Jake Culbertson (Anthropology) asks his students to contribute to a collaborative spreadsheet of the people, places, key topics, and debates that students encounter in course readings. This provides a tangible task for students as they read, to highlight significant ideas and entities, and to report their results to the class. The spreadsheet provides a common pool of references to significant information that can be used for papers and class discussions. The spreadsheet also provides opportunities to discuss how best to transform the information in the texts into structured data.
With the spreadsheet and a tool from Stanford called Palladio, students then create maps, graphs, and facets that allow them to identify significant patterns and features in their data. The spreadsheet exercise offers project-based collaboration with outcomes that benefit students’ engagement with readings and builds a shared knowledge base for faculty research that continues to be developed with students from semester to semester.