Initial Publication Date: February 3, 2005


Primary Outcomes

  • New Understanding of Issues Related to Teaching with Visualizations Drawing Perspectives from Education, Geoscience, Cognitive Science, and Technology
    A major highlight of the meeting was the opportunity for faculty who teach geoscience with visualizations, cognitive scientists and educators doing research on teaching and learning with visualizations, and developers of visualizations to interact. There was tremendous value in becoming aware of the major issues from all three points of view. Cognitive science provides a strong framework for thinking about design, geoscience education provides important information about intended use of visualizations and the issues that arise in the classroom, while developers understand the range of uses for a single visualization and the time invested in creation.
  • High-Level Design Principles for Effective Visualizaitons
    While each visualization is a unique creation for a particular range of uses, several overarching themes emerged from the workshop that can help us in both creating new visualizations and selecting from existing ones for use in teaching.
    1. The same things that work well in designing a class or educational activity work well in desiging or selecting a visualization.
      In particular, it is important
      • to know what you are trying to accomplish with the visualization: what are you trying to teach? What do you want the students to learn?
      • To ascertain what the students already know as this will determine what they see and learn from the visualization
      • To obtain feedback on how the visualization is working: does it convey the intended information? Work in the desired way? Enable the desired learning?
    2. Students don't always see what faculty are seeing when viewing a visualization.
      Just as in other aspects of learning, what students see and learn from a visualization is built on what they already know. Understanding what students know and see can be addressed on three levels:
      • Cognitive: what do students focus on in a visualization?
      • Educational: how does the visualization promote generation of new questions?
      • Geoscience: how do students understand and interpret the processes that are represented?
    3. Simple is usually better.
      The power of visualizations comes from their ability to clarify relationships rather than from reproducing exactly the natural world. Thus, a design which emphasizes the desired relationships or information is likely to be more successful than one that makes every effort to be realistic. Students can become confused when elements of a diagram closely resemble the actual entity they represent in the real world (Uttal).
    4. Context is important and is easily lost.
      Visualization need to be designed to maintain the context between different parts of the visualization and with the larger world. For example, when a series of diagrams are used to explain a scientific concept or process, it is important to keep the student aware of how a detail, or specific step in a progression, relates to the larger context of that concept or process.
    5. Guidance helps.
      Visualizations present a large number of relationships at a single time. Visual or textual clues can focus attention on meaningful items or guide the learner through the visualization in a particular order.
    6. Visualizations are most effective if their organization reflects the mental organization that the student is creating.
      For example, if students create a series of still images in their mind to represent a geologic process, a series of still images will be most effective in conveying information. Similarly, if students create a mental movie, an animation may be more effective. (Tversky et al., 2002).

Developing Resources and Activities

Workshop participants spent much of Saturday developing resources and plans for on-going activities. Activity focused on

  • Research projects
    • A list of research questions related to using visualizations in geoscience education is available
    • plans for a project aimed at understanding what students see in specific geoscience diagrams are underway
  • Collections of teaching resources
    • A list of topics where visualizations would be helpful in teaching geoscience is available
    • A collection of videos showing physical demonstrations that can be used to help students visualize geoscience concepts is in development
  • Support for development of visualizations
    • An annotated collection of tools for creating geoscience visualizations is under development
    • Guidelines for developing and assessing visualizations were developed
    • Discussions of technology platforms and interoperability are underway.


Tversky et al., 2002 , Animation: Can It Facilitate?: International Journal of Human Computer Studies, v. 57, p. 247-262.