What is Visual Data Analysis?

Visual data analysis blends highly advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphics engines to tap the extraordinary ability of humans to see patterns and structure in even the most complex visual presentations. Currently applied to massive, heterogeneous, and dynamic datasets, such as those generated in studies of astrophysical, fluidic, biological, and other complex processes, the techniques have become sophisticated enough to allow the interactive manipulation of variables in real time. Ultra high-resolution displays allow teams of researchers to zoom into interesting aspects of the renderings, or to navigate along interesting visual pathways, following their intuitions and even hunches to see where they may lead. New research is now beginning to apply these sorts of tools to the social sciences as well, and the techniques offer considerable promise in helping us understand complex social processes like learning, political and organizational change, and the diffusion of knowledge.

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Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - alan alan Jan 27, 2010

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • I think that being able to use visual approaches towards rendering and exploring data will be an increasingly desirable skill for graduates who are expected to work with "data". Whilst the tools for generating visualisations are increasingly easy to use, I think a 90-9-1 rule (or whatever it is) will mean that the biggest payoff will actually be in developing visualisation "reading" skills so that folk at least know how to extract meaning from increasingly complex and powerful visualisations. Within the educational sector, using visual analytics techniques to engage with data will become increasingly relevant. As administrations start to look to their data as an asset e.g. in regard to student tracking/performance, as well as forecasting (e.g. where putting on the courses that pull the punters in becomes a necessary business consideration), visual tools may play a role in making sense of the data. At the student level, we may start to see personal performance tracking, eg, with the institution providing visual reports back to the student about their progress. Expecting students to make use of this information - and make it personally "actionable", should not be taken as a given and help may be required in teaching students how to use the data to monitor and moderate their own actions... - tony.hirst tony.hirst May 14, 2011
  • There's a clear connection here with the 3D topic as visualisation in 2-D is now common but 3D models offer more power and depth :-) - bill.thompson bill.thompson May 15, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • "visual literacy" - in the sense of being able to extract meaning from increasingly powerful visualisations. - tony.hirst tony.hirst May 14, 2011
  • another response here
  • Need to recognise the dangers of a 'technological fix' here. The idea that the visualisation will offer considerable promise in helping us understand processes such as learning/politics etc shouldn't be conflated with the idea that the tech/visualisation on its own will be sufficient. There will need to be a discussion of how these approaches are located in a wider context, a discussion of what a visualisation DOESN'T show, of the other factors that need to be taken into account. There is a risk of a new orthodoxy - because we can see a pretty pattern, we take this as the truth. One component of the 'visual literacy' - therefore - will be understanding its limitations, its delusions and its seductions. - keri.facer keri.facer May 18, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, research or information management within the next five years?

  • I'd like to see courses that blend skills development in using visual analysis tools with the teaching of analytical and statistical methods, in the hope that people continue to use the tools that embody statistical methods even if they never think of themselves "using stats" in the future. - tony.hirst tony.hirst May 14, 2011
  • Increased skill in visual communications - visualisations are one aspect of this - is going to be increasingly important in all areas as we become a more screen-based culture - bill.thompson bill.thompson May 15, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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