Initial Publication Date: March 16, 2018

Fostering Strategy #4: Learners use visualizations to persuade or convince others (e.g. peers, stakeholders)

(most recent update 24jan2018) (return to workshop front page)

Contributors: Alexey Leontvey, Melissa Zrada, Vetria Byrd, Gayle Bowness, Bob Kolvoord


  • Learners use visualization(s) to try to persuade others to accept or consider an idea or hypothesis, or change a behavior.
  • Visualizations can be concept-driven or data-driven.
  • Visualization(s) can be self-created or other-created; however, if other-created, the learner should be responsible for finding/selecting the visualizations and building the argument around them.
  • Means of persuasion can be purely visual, or may also involve written or oral components.


  • Students create a one page infographic to make a persuasive case to the stakeholders - student peers are the audience and provide feedback.
  • Mock trial or review panel - construct visualization as evidence to convince or persuade (lots of scaffolding required)
  • Provide students with bad examples that are meant to persuade/convince, but don't (helps students develop their own sense of effectiveness)
  • Take one case and develop visualizations for 3-4 different audiences with different characteristics/background (e.g. Urban Heat Islands at Science Museum of Virginia)

Affordances of this strategy/what it is good for:

  • This strategy generalizes well across disciplines.
  • This strategy ties to learner interest in advocacy and societal issues.
  • Students can collect data from current events to build their visualizations. This offers the chance to have different groups do pro/con of a particular issue.
  • Creating a line of argument using a visualization as evidence forces learner to really focus on key elements in the visualization.
  • There is an opportunity to deepen learners' understanding of what persuades/convinces in visualizations. This helps everyone be a more informed consumer of visualizations, and for some students provides a new or improved tool in their communication toolkit.

Potential pitfalls & challenges:

  • Strategy can take substantial time and effort to organize, and substantial instructional time to implement.
  • It takes time for learners to develop some sense of what persuades/convinces in visualizations before they can effectively use them for this purpose.
  • Learners may consciously or unconsciously think that once a persuasive visualization is made and shown, everyone will of course change their mind to agree with the viewpoint of the visualization creator. On the contrary, belief revision is a complex process.
  • There may be generational variation in what persuades or convinces. Do you need to work through multiple, different stakeholders (peers, supervisors, younger/older)?
  • The strategy could be used to persuade in an unethical or harmful way, using information that is known to be inaccurate or that persuades towards an undesirable goal.

Emergent insights:

  • This strategy could be combined with any of the other Fostering strategies. When this strategy is combined with one of the others, the requirement to develop a persuasive line of reasoning provides a motive for engaging with the visualization or the visualization creation process.
  • In actual usage, all of these fostering strategies are likely to be combined and mixed and matched. However, it is still valuable for both teaching and learning to separate out the different strategies to make them easier to talk about, teach, and assess. An analogy could be made to the practices of science and engineering which are called forth in the Next Generation Science Standards; the NGSS practices are also mixed and matched in actual practice, but it has proven helpful to pull them apart for instructional design and teaching.
  • The power of this strategy may be because the process of creating a persuasive line of reasoning engages the student in thinking about both their own thought processes (metacognition) and about the thought processes of others (theory of mind). The line of reasoning will be most effective if the persuader constructs a mental model of the viewer and thinks about what the viewer will get out of the visualization.

Researchable questions:

  • How can we assess learners' ability to deploy visualizations effectively in scientific argumentation?
  • How can we assess learners' ability to deploy scientific visualizations ethically and persuasively in the context of societal issues?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of having the learners create their own visualizations versus using those created by others to develop their persuasive argument?
  • Are interactive visualizations more effective in persuading than static--and does this vary by identity (age, background, training, etc.)?

References & Credits:

  • Bowen, G. M., Roth, W. M., & McGinn, M. K. (1999). Interpretation of graphs by university biology students and practicing scientists: Toward a social practice view of scientific representation practices. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 1020-1043.
  • Latour, B. (1986). Visualization and cognition: Drawing things together. In H. Kuklick (Ed.), Knowledge and Society Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present (Vol. 6): Jai Press.
  • ESRI Story Maps (