This is just a short observation, but one I think is worth sharing.
(forgive current lack of links and references, but I got the blogfire in ma belly)
With my digital humanities hat on, this week I participated in some training laid on by Warwick’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies. We covered Gephi and Mondrian, two data visualisation tools. It was run by Bernhard Rieder and it was fantastic to get my hands on some training data sets and start to use those tools for real.
Bernhard contextualised the growth of interest in data in the humanities and social sciences. At one point he asked himself, “is it reductionist to work with data about complex multidimensional social issues? Well, yes”. But as he contextualised, the point at which you’d use these tools is as one of many methodologies.
By the magic of the twitters, he has shared his slides with me, and here they are:
My introduction to data visualisation really came a few years ago, from Tony Hirst and then Martin Hawksey. It was in two other contexts: social network analysis, and learning analytics. The context that attracts the most controversy is learning analytics. Believe me, I’ve been in workshops where people have got upset and angry looking at barcharts and network diagrams about student progression and correlations between grades and online activities.
My observation is this: it feels that the e-learning field is first encountering data visualisation in the frame of learning analytics. Learning analytics is a highly political field in this age of funding cuts and emergent mooc business models. It is not surprising that the e-learning community views data visualisation with skepticism, given that loaded framing.
But from a broader academic technologist perspective, I see the drivers for data visualisation from within research methods, from research altmetrics, from public engagement with scholarship. I see it as a positive move, an area needing rapid skills development. I don’t see it as reductionist. But if I didn’t have that broader angle, I’m sure I would.