Friday, October 4, 2019

Why I require students to blog about visualization

Comic by, showcased in a blog post by one of my students
One of the main changes I've made in my classes in the last year is to ask students to launch their own blogs and write in them at least once a week. Here's why:

(A) Too many students don't read their textbooks and other recommended readings unless they know they'll be tested.

I hate tests, quizzes, and exams; they encourage students to do their readings all at once at the very last minute, instead of spreading them out and developing a disciplined reading routine. I want students to learn, not to pass an exam.

(B) A blog can be a great addition to anyone's portfolio. It's a place where potential employers can assess whether a student is not just a good designer or coder, but also a thinker. I ask students to write while imagining that it won't be me who's reading, but a professional peer, their boss, or the visualization community in general.

(C) You can't be a good visualization designer without being a decent writer. This is a hill I'm willing to die on. Writing aids thinking.

I teach two classes at the University of Miami. One is an introduction to data visualization and infographics, and the other is called Data Visualization Studio, which is more advanced. Students in the intro class must read 2-3 book chapters from The Truthful Art or other visualization books per week and write a blog post (a) summarizing what they've read, (b) connecting it to examples of visualizations they've seen.

Students in my advanced class are also required to do some readings every week, but I give them more freedom to choose what to write about in their blogs. This class is for students who've already been through a couple graphics courses: my intro course, our interactive data visualization class—which focuses on Javascript and d3.js—or other coding, GIS, and 3D modeling and animation classes we also offer. Here you have their blogs (you can also find them in the #AlbertoCairoDataVizClass hashtag on Twitter):

Qinyu Ding; her most recent post is about empathy in visualization.

Alyssa Fowers; don't miss the first part of her 2-part series about minimalism in visualization.

Yuan Fang; she's interested in immersive technologies in visualization.

Deb Pang Davis; her latest blog post discusses several visualizations about bird extinction.

Leila Thompson; in a recent post she describes the project she's planning to design for the class.

• Grace Snyder; she's a marine science PhD candidate. In her blog she's chronicling her efforts to learn code and visualization. She has very interesting thoughts about teaching styles.

Yutong Han; her writings are often gentle critiques of existing visualizations.

Jinqi Li; she's planning to make a project about the Marvel Universe. Her blog reads like a long making-of article in progress, and it includes sketches, early prototypes, etc.

Zihao Zhong; he's planning to design an animated infographic about soccer. In his blog he's posting references that inspire him,