I’m joining the movement

towards interdisciplinary practices in Information Design. Are you in?

My last blog was in 2012 where I mulled the emerging applications of data visualizations, most notably differences in applications in journalism as compared to business statistics and scientific research. Since publishing that post there has been significant growth in the multidisciplinary approaches to data visualizations, a push towards more open data and improved open source tools for data preparation and visualization. Citizen science is now an emerging trend with countless ways in which information is being crafted into impactful interactive visualizations.

The concept of Business Intelligence (BI) is being replaced with a focus and promise that visual data analytics and big data is the way of the future. In businesses, information technology departments are challenged with managing bimodal IT shifting from traditional “BI” to rapid analytics.

University programs are shifting and academic/industry partnerships are emerging to help with quicker adoption that comes with applied research through joint projects and practices (check out VIVA Vancouver).

Information designers/data journalists like David McCandless continue to lead the way. There is evidence of this at the local level here in Vancouver with the Emily Carr University of Art + Design recently hosting Universities from over 8 countries at the Information+ Conference with an associated exhibition of works. Vancouver’s own data journalist celebrity Chad Skelton, formerly of the Vancouver Sun, jointly facilitated the hands on Information+ workshop about water conservation.

Somehow I find all of this cross disciplinary action comforting given that my own background is interdisciplinary with a combination of degrees and certificates that can look rather confusing on a standard resume: Computer Information Systems, Communications, Executive Management, Data Resource Management, Educational Technology. The latter mostly because I could find no true interdisciplinary program for data visualization so I focused instead on how I could connect between industry and formal academic programs with a grass roots approach. At the time I was a board member of the Vancouver Chapter of The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI).

I started reaching out to the local university professors to present at TDWI Chapter meetings: John Dill (SFU) and Brian Fisher (UBC) came to speak about their research project with Boeing (prior to the establishment of VIVA); Andrew Gemino (SFU), the Associate Dean at SFU Beedie School of Business, came to share the direction of the University in setting up programs for Visual Analytics and Big Data; the course designers for the initial visual analytics course at BCIT demonstrated how they were engaging students with data by using Tableau Public and whatever data the students could get their hands on. This was an admirable challenge given that it was before ‘open data’ became a thing. After this round of sessions I realized the term ‘Data Warehouse’ was no longer a fit for my direction and hadn’t been for some time. I moved on to focus on the practice in performance measurement and applied visual data analytics. I also archived this blog as I worked to refocus.

I have recently reengaged with the academic community and am now developing an online course targeted to students (K-12) after hearing the advice from a couple of professors who believe visual literacy needs to be taught earlier. At the Information+ conference one professor pleaded ‘…teach the students the basics earlier so I don’t have to do it in University… then I can focus on more important things’. More on this later but I hope that this sheds light on why I’m joining the movement and re-engaging with the numerous communities involved while reaching out to my colleagues to join the movement.

A Visual Communications Debate

A relevant ongoing discussion in the Business Intelligence world is whether there is merit to the media style of Business Intelligence which has emerged in popular media and has been referred to as Infotainment, like the work of David McCandless.

McCandless became famous with his books, The Visual Miscellaneum, and Information is Beautiful, not to mention his MOMA installation, Talk to Me (I particularly liked his Hiearchy of Digital Distractions as I could relate to getting the laptop lid closed on my fingers now and again).

I am intrigued by this battle of the visuals. The discussion isn’t new but since TDWI Vancouver is about to host a data expert who will discuss visualizing data, it inspired me to revisit current leaders in the field of whom represent varying points on the spectrum.

Stephen Few  Is one of the first leaders in the field that I was introduced to, primarily because he is a regular presenter at The Data Warehouse Institute conferences and has written an insightful book called Show Me The Numbers that became a helpful guide book for many aspiring business intelligence analysts. 

Few wrote a criticism of McCandless work and later, Nathan Yau in FlowingData, blogged in response that “David’s work is a cross between news and entertainment. Business intelligence, which really is just statistics for business, is analysis. It’s not entertainment.” Yau also has a short video about the basics of corporate storytelling which appears to be made to entice you to buy his book but the main point is relevant: The skill of telling compelling evidence based corporate stories is a necessity today.

While business leaders may not be looking to be entertained, they are looking for clear concise communications to educate them quickly about the burning issues of the day. In a world of busy executives, we need to quickly grab attention with our corporate stories and be ready to supply successive layers of information as part of our package of evidence.

Edward Tufte wrote the book on Beautiful Evidence. Tufte is a respected statistician and political scientist who hosts courses and writes books on visual analytics. He’s famous for his criticism of the role of poor communication in Power Point as a leading cause in the Columbia Shuttle disaster. 

Tufte and his focus on the imperitve of beautiful evidence continued to become even more relevant with his appointment by the White House in 2010 to help visualize the US Recovery initiatives which you can read about here Recovery.gov A good example of how massive amounts of data can be analyzed and presented as evidence in a way that captures and retains the audience’s attention.

Incorporating social learning technologies

In the words of Robin Yap and Joost Robben, two leading researchers in social learning,

“The social network society is upon us”

It is time, in other words, to address the business need for on-going training and knowledge development by incorporating social learning technologies to support stronger relationships between business and IT stakeholders in order to contribute to the development of social and knowledge capital across the organization.

Given that education is central to any Community of Practice, it’s important to take a close look at how members share and construct knowledge. Understanding the theory beneath effective instructional design helps to understand why some models work well while others fail dismally.

Setting up an on-line learning environment to support the growth of a Community of Practice can be expensive and shouldn’t be entered into without an understanding of the organizations overall e-learning strategy. Two key components of this strategy will be learning theory and supporting technologies.

There are many learning theories that can be used as a starting point to build a solid foundation for a Community of Practice (CoP) educational model. The guiding focus should be on an andragogical model made up of complimentary established theories which may include problem based learning, active learning, constructivism, and constructionism, to name just a few.

For more on social learning by Yap and Robben check out

Synergy: Business Intelligence Communities of Practice & Learn 2.0 Strategies

Corporate e-learning is not a new concept in the workplace but strategies must evolve to keep up with the increasing proliferation of web 2.0 technologies. (Berry and Moore, 2008). Corporations are moving to leverage from the latest technological advances and in so doing are shifting to a Learn 2.0 paradigm. Learn 2.0 is adding to the long established benefits of e-learning of reduced costs, learning on demand, and formal training assessments by facilitating new opportunities for corporate community collaboration, knowledge construction, and peer assessments. These new benefits have a lot of value to the community of learners that make up the Business Intelligence Community of Practice (CoP).

The BI CoP instructional designer can leverage from the Corporate Learning Management System (LMS) to develop re-usable learning objects and by using learn 2.0 strategies can enlist the community to personalize training by developing microcontent thereby keeping information current, soliciting ongoing feedback, and building stronger relationships using internal forums, wikis, and expert blogs. (Bersin, 2007).

To gain the most in synergistic effects, the social network of learning can and should extend outside the corporate walls to take advantage of the expanded learning community that social networking affords. For example LinkedIn has evolved into a wealth of knowledge content with groups such as the Business Intelligence Group, The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI), and Visual Analytics, all with on-going discussions where knowledgeable experts weigh in on the latest problems posted by their peers. RRS feeds and Twitter links provide additional content and integration across applications. Embarking on a shift to Learn 2.0 can be done well when following an established model like the one developed by Joost & Yap (2010). Their model describes how workplaces can take advantage of the social technologies to engage employees, build relationships, and enhance learning.


Berry, K. & Moore, D. (2008). IBM virtual education center. In Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2008 (pp. 602-606). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved online Feb. 27, 2011 from http://www.editlib.org/p/29668.

Bersin, J. (2007). Top trends in e-learning and corporate training. HR Magazine. Retrieved online Feb. 27, 2011 from: http://www.hrmreport.com/article/Top-trends-in-e-learning-and-corporate-training/

Robben, Joost & Yap, Robin (2010). A model for leveraging social learning technologies in corporate environments. Proceedings of Network Learning Conference 2010. Lancaster, UK, Retrieved Feb. 27, 2011 from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/PDFs/Yap.pdf

Blogging & Wiki

I started the Wiki activity by adding a post but I’ll need to wait a bit for a few others to add to it before continuing the evolution to discussions and summarizations. Right now the wiki is more like some type of rolling blog. In the meantime I moved onto the blogging assignment which will probably have a discussion forum open up next week. For now, here’s my thoughts.

At first I was nervous about commenting about this issue because I don’t have children nor do I teach children. However after watching the Fischbowl video and reading the Educause article about educational blogging I feel a lot more comfortable about the idea of grade school children blogging in a supportive environment. That is how Stephen Downes describes the environment in the Educational Blogging article. I was also swayed by the interviews in the Fischbowl video where the students listed the multitude of benefits like extending the classroom, having time to reflect, taking accountability for their writing because it will be read so publicly and they will need to be able to defend what they write.

Now, optimistic about the value of the exercise I ran the process and technology through Chickering and Ehrmann’s Seven Principles and the results were also encouraging:

☑  encourages contact between students and faculty,
☑  develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
☑  uses active learning techniques
☑  prompt feedback
☑  emphasis time on task
☑  communicates high expectations
☑  respects diverse talents and ways of learning

I do acknowledge that neither of the sources seemed to offer any critique or discussion of potential risks. However, based on my assessment using these materials, I will move onto the potential strategies.

First would be to have a discussion with the parents – possibly a dialogue with them and their children to hear out the concerns. I would recommend sharing the assessment about how powerful of a learning experience this is and to share the video with the parents. I think its a strong message in the voice of the ones that matter – the kids. I think another option is to look into having a semi-public blogging space that is only open to the educational community e.g. the whole school but not the whole world. I didn’t hear any specific statements by the students about the benefits of having ‘strangers’ comment on their work. The value for the students seemed to come from interacting with their peers in an extension from the classroom. However, this may limit the value of the exercise that allows the students to engage with the world at large in a supportive environment which seems to be a timely and necessary learning experience. I think that they made the right choice with selecting Livejournal given the policy, as stated in the Educause article, of only allowing new members who are recommended by existing members. It’s not completely controlled but it helps to foster a safer community environment. I also think that it would help to include regular discussions and reflective exercises about how the students feel and respond to negative and hurtful comments that appear in their blog. As a last resort I suppose you could allow students to opt out.

Chickering, A.W. & Ehrmann, S.C. (1996).  Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49(2), 3-6.

Downes, S. (2004).  Educational Blogging.  Educause Review.  September/October 2004 Accessed online 25 March 2009. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume39/EducationalBlogging/157920

Fisch, K. (2007). “Blogging: In Their Own Words,”The Fischbowl.  Accessed online 26 March 2009. http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2007/06/blogging-in-their-own-words.html

Social Media

This week we’re starting on the social media component and I’ve decided to jump into the digital story component to get started on a first draft that I’ll continue to work on until we hit this module.

I’ve decided to tell a story about Communities of Practice which could be later incorporated into my Moodle site. I’ve started with a YouTube clip of an interview with Etienne Wenger.

And then I’ve used Prezi to explore the idea of a Community of Practice and to have the video as part of the explanation.

Media Production – Video Editing

A key component to creating engaging learning experience these days is digital media. There are many options available for the Windows user even if you don’t own a professional editor like Adobe Premier. Currently, a popular video format is called a mash-up requires the producer to take bits of existing popular videos and ‘mash’ them together. There is plenty of material published on YouTube that can be used as raw material with a free extraction program called the Clip Extractor. This is a particularly valuable tool when you are creating educational videos and want to create a pop culture reference.  For my most recent project I wanted to do an extract from a school girl’s fashion tutorial in order to critique media manipulation of images and how it is impacting teenage girls. If you are using Windows Live Media then you can directly import the clip but if you, like me, are wanting to do some additional work in Flash then you will need to use the Adobe Media Encoder which has a wide range of conversion formats to choose from including formats for mobile devices. The nice thing about the encoder is that it even allows you to see a playback as it would look in your device of choice e.g. the Iphone.


I tried out Audacity for the first time today and it was easier than I expected though the setup made me a little nervous. I’m not used to putting open source software on my computer and going to what seems like a private person’s site for the plug in to export MP3 files. I watched the tutorials on YouTube and thought ‘what did we ever do before YouTube’?

The whole process from start to finish was probably about an hour. I spent time recording a word and then repeating it and trying out different effects for a media project that I’m working on. I exported the sound file into an MP3 and imported it successfully into a Flash project. It looks like there is a few features that you can play with in this program but I’ll come back to them when I need them.

Web Design

I’m making progress as I continue to work through the E-Learning toolkit. I’m now working through the web design section and have completed the add video/sound to your website. I skipped directly to this section because once again I have a need for another class where I needed to add a video and sound to our website. While I’ve added many videos to WordPress blogs in the past, they have all come from sites where there was a feature to generate the code to embed the object, but the code was site specific. What’s nice about the code generator in the toolkit was that I can upload my video and sound to my personal web server and have it generate code that I can then reuse on any web page or blog in the future.

To do the activity I searched on the Creative Commons site for a free sound file and used a video from my course. Voila… Within minutes – success! Whew! The alternative was to upload my video file to YouTube which I really didn’t want to do and I really had no idea where to start for the sound file. If the project I was working on had been my own website it would have been ok because I could have used Dreamweaver. However, when working within automated web site generator tools, such as Weebly which we’re using for this particular project, I am very restricted in the code that I can access. Using this other code generator I can add a custom HTML block, cut and paste the code, modify the file name and I’m done. The progress in web automation tools continues to astound me. Building web pages is so much easier than a few years ago when you had to code these things from scratch. Now you can essentially have a comprehensive website in a day that looks completely professional.

I had a bit of a laugh at #5 under design issues. I know this from past experience but one of my courses has a splash page that breaks this rule – and it does drive me crazy!

Wandering through a World of Wikis

I’ve made it to the Wiki activity and worked through it as part of some work I’m doing for another class.

At first I was very concerned when my teammate suggested doing a Wiki for one our interactive activities. I had no experience and was a little overwhelmed with my current workload but in the end I volunteered to work on one.

It turned out to be so easy that I felt silly having resisted the idea. The time it took was really just to develop the content and determine how we would focus the topic. We also had to provide instructions to the students to engage in the interactivity. Surprisingly there was nothing challenging about creating and editing a wiki. Mind you I haven’t really gotten into it that deep – we’re just working with text.

In yet another class someone from Chile mentioned that Reggaeton was huge with the teenagers there. I had no idea what Regaeton was so I looked it up as part of this exploration exercise. I looked through the discussion pages and found it really interesting how the community knowledge grows using this format – especially for grassroots movements like this Reggaeton genre.

For my class module in E511, I think the Wiki is going to work out really well. We’re planning to have the students add to the Wiki and to the discussion area as part of their exercise for the week. I’m really interested in how it will turn out.