In the past, data visualization was considered a specialist field, with certification being a requirement to make use of the tools. As technology has become more embedded in our daily lives, there is an expectation for researchers to integrate it into their professional practice (Weller, Stevens). However, outside of the computer science program, there are limited training opportunities available as part of the curriculum in post secondary institutions. Researcher support in GIS and data visualization is an area of growth in academic libraries (Kern; Neville; Pagowsky; Saba), with the University of Manitoba Libraries having defined it in their strategic mandate. The university of Manitoba libraries has been offering data visualization workshops and support to members of the university community for three years. It is therefore necessary to evaluate the effectiveness and learners’ perceptions of these workshops to further improve on them.
This exploratory study sough to evaluate the effectiveness of using GitHub Pages to support learning during data visualization instruction, and to identify gaps in Library support particularly in the current online learning environment.
Attendees at past data visualization sessions delivered by University of Manitoba Libraries were sent the links to the survey. I9 people responded to the survey, with 18 giving complete responses. Respondents included faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from various departments within the university of Manitoba. The survey included questions about demographics, the reasons for choosing and using data visualization resources, and questions concerning user-experience.
Key findings of the research include:
Implications of online learning: Respondents believed that online learning provided opportunities for enhancing their knowledge of technological tools, provided flexibility, and encouraged independence. For example, one person noted that "I think it broadened my familiarity with new forms of technology that I was familiar with but not using regularly, and now assist in teaching others to use (part of my work function)." Online learning also provided more flexibility for learners as another respondent noted:
"I've discovered that I learn a lot better when I have the flexibility to go for walks or multitask with mindless work. I have more time for thinking and therefore for problem solving now that I have more flexibility with my schedule."
The online learning environment has also encouraged learners to “problem solv[e] on my own" leading people to take more responsibility for their learning. Faculty noted that online learning encouraged them to seek different ways to communicate effectively with their students. On the administrative side, a respondent noted that: "the pandemic helped the university facilitate online course participation, which helped students take courses that they couldn't because of the time limitation." However, some respondents felt that online learning had its disadvantages including the lack of a sense of community that accompanied virtual learning and the challenges it poses for atypical learners. One respondent wrote that "I have a sensory processing disorder…I prefer engaging with physical material and physical spaces”. Although the workshops took place virtually due to the university’s move to online learning, it is important to consider the positive and negative implications virtual learning has on learners and their ability to engage with data visualization instruction.
Factors that influence selection/reuse of data visualization resources: The availability and accessibility of learning resources, reviews, and user-friendliness were some of the factors that respondents considered when choosing data visualization resources. The availability of tutorials, troubleshooting resources, and positive feedback by previous users including colleagues, influenced respondents' decision to choose a particular resource. Regarding specific workshops delivered by the library, respondents liked that the data visualization workshops were presented in a website with slides and pdf. One participant’s comment echo other participants’ observation: "The website organizes pieces of it better. I liked the slides being incorporated into the page. I suspect this is more accessible." Most participants did not prefer the workshop resource being presented as either a webpage or pdf but thought incorporating both was effective. Respondents also thought that the data visualization instruction being open resource and accessible was of great benefit as it afforded them the opportunity to reinforce their learning by referencing the material multiple times. One person explained that: “it is impossible to learn everything the first time. I always have to go back and read them again. The[m] being available is critical for me." The resources also served as inspiration for researchers seeking ideas on how to visualize research data.
Pros and Cons of learning objects: Although some found the information presented in the workshop to be basic (it was an introductory workshop), respondents were unanimous in their observation that the learning objects were presented clearly, step-by-step, and that they found them “useful and useable.” They found the instructions easy to follow, and “helpful” and found that the learning objects were “Intuitive” and had “accurate headings for navigation". Some of the cons however included the look and feel of the learning objects, the lack of adequate practice exercises, the duration of the workshop (1hour) and the online mode of delivery. Respondents suggested the “infusion of colourful elements” and a more attractive interface. Respondents also though it was necessary to have practice exercises and access to workshop data, and also to increase the duration of the workshop. Finally, some participants expressed preference for in-person workshops.
Content vs Skills: Respondents though that learning the skills for data visualization was most important regardless of whether local or field-specific data was used. Some expressed that using local data was sufficient except when the data being used influenced the kind of visualization skill that could be learned. One respondent explained that:
"The subject matter is not necessarily relevant, however the subject often influences the type of data available or being used. This in turn will affect the examples and methods being shown. Therefore, data typical in my field of study will be more useful than an example with data that is not."
Although they found the workshops useful, many respondents expressed the need for data visualization instruction using data specific to their field of study/research area including visualization of qualitative data.
Respondents suggested improvements to the learning objects including:
Using relatable data
Access to resources
Respondents thought that the workshop was helpful and useful and suggested better communication about the availability of workshops to students and faculty. They suggested reaching out to students through listservs and limiting the number of attendees to facilitate deeper engagement.
Also, while respondents were pleased with the workshop delivery, they suggested that “a combo of web, power point, and in-person packages will deliver more." Many respondents wanted more in-person workshops and opportunities to follow up with data visualization experts later (this service is already available via the library -future training may emphasize the availability of additional or follow up supports).
Respondents suggested that the workshop data be discipline/field-specific to make the workshop more relatable and applicable to their own research work. Respondents also requested workshops on data visualization of qualitative data as quantitative data is “often really challenging to do in a clear and concise way"
Finally, respondents suggested that data used in the workshops should be available to participants for future refence and to reinforce their learning.