Educating Skillful Visualizers: Overview

THIS WORKSHOP HAS PASSED. A public website synthesizing insights emerging from the workshop can be accessed here.

This is a pre-conference workshop which precedes the 2017 Gordon Conference on Visualization in Science & Education (GRC/VSE). Visualizations can be a powerful tool for both thinking and communicating. Improving the effectiveness of this tool requires building a bridge from two directions: Creators of visualizations must make better visualizations, while viewers of visualizations must increase their ability to "read" in this special "language."

This workshop is working on the latter side of the bridge, improving the "visualization literacy" of learners. Because it's hard to improve what you can't measure, the workshop has two strands: one focused on fostering visual literacy and the other on assessing it.

Leader Workspace

Overall Workshop Goals

For workshop participants:

  • Participants will appreciate (or come to appreciate) that is there a set of practices, understandings, and habits of mind that are used by proficient users and creators of visualizations. From their prior education and experiences, learners come to us with widely differing levels of visualization competency, separate from their level of knowledge of the content domain of any specific visualization.
  • The group will begin to articulate a set of shared learning goals, that span across disciplines, which together would constitute a set of visualization competencies of value in today's visualization-rich media environment.
  • Participants will advance in their ability to diagnose common mistakes or misunderstandings that learners may be struggling with as they learn with and about visualizations. At the same time, participants will be able to recognize learner accomplishments in visualization competency across a range of levels of mastery.
  • Participants will leave with a toolkit of strategies for building students' proficiency in creating and interpreting visualizations. Ideal strategies would simultaneously foster learning about the referent/target of the visualization, and about how to learn from visualizations.
  • Assessing strand participants will leave with a plan for assessing what learners are understanding and inferring from specific visualization(s) of interest to them. Fostering strand participants will leave with a plan for creating a visualization-rich instructional module in a domain of interest to them.

For the broader community:

  • The community will gain access to a compilation of instructional and assessment strategies that are independent of discipline and show promise for helping to build learners' proficiency with data-based and concept-based visualizations. The compilation will be fleshed out with examples from multiple fields and made accessible through a widely used and freely-available website (
  • This workshop will provide planning input into the 2019 Gordon Research Conference, which is tentatively planned around the same theme: "Educating Skillful Visualizers." Themes, lines of research, puzzles and challenges emerging as of high interest and importance from this workshop will be further explored through the selection of speakers and topics for the 2019 conference.

When & Where?

Dates: August 5-6, 2017. Participants should plan to arrive by the evening of Friday August 4, for an 8:30 start on Saturday Aug 5. The workshop will end at 3pm on Sunday, after which bus transport will be provided up the to GRC venue at Bates College.

Venue: Housing and work sessions will be at the South Portland campus of Southern Maine Community College. Our local host is the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and they will host us for Saturday dinner at their harbor side facility.

More details: Please see the Logistics webpage.


By applying to the workshop, participants agree to do the following, if accepted:

  • Prepare in advance for the workshop discussions. Pre-work will include providing two visualizations from your area of expertise, and answering some questions about instructional strategies that you have used as a teacher or encountered as a student. More to follow on this.
  • Participate fully in the entire workshop and attend all workshop sessions. Some participants will be invited to make presentations or serve as discussion or working group leaders at the workshop, or contribute ideas or resources to a website.
  • Attend the GRC/VSE, as well as the Educating Skillful Visualizers workshop.


There is no registration fee for this workshop. Meals and dormitory lodging are provided, as well as bus transfer up to Bates College at the conclusion of the workshop.

Travel funds are available to support travel to the workshop for participants who do not have access to institutional or grant funding to attend the meeting and who work/study at U.S. institutions. Participants are responsible for making their own travel arrangements; those who have been awarded travel grants will be reimbursed for up to $500 after the workshop. Please indicate in the cover mail with your application whether you will be needing travel funds.

Application and Selection Criteria

  • This is a pre-conference workshop for the Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science & Education. Only people registered for the full GRC/VSE can attend this workshop.
  • Applicants will be selected on a rolling basis until the capacity of 30 participants is reached. We are looking for participants from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds, and a balance between people interested in "Fostering" and those interested in "Assessing."
  • Download application here, (Acrobat (PDF) 105kB Jun16 17) and email to As of 21 june 2017, the workshop is close to capacity, but we think a slot or two might open up. We suggest emailing to inquire about space available before filling out the entire application.

For More Information

If you have questions about logistics, please contact Mia Velazquez at For questions about programming, please contact Kim Kastens at


Funding has been provided by the National Science Foundation through grant DRL-1743234 to Temple University, and by NASA through grant NNX15AG04G to James Madison University. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.