Visualizations for Assessment and Learning — Mark Morton

Web 3.0, they say, is going to be a “semantic web,” which I take to mean that it’s a web which will allow us to easily explore relationships among large amounts of discrete bits of data. One way of exploring relationships, of course, is visually: humans can literally “see” patterns of relationships more easily than they can otherwise apprehend them. Examples abound, but one that I recently came across is especially interesting from an “assessment” point of view. It’s a visual depiction of comments that a class of students made on one another’s blogs. In the visualization, each student is represented by a small circle (or node) and the the comments that he or she made are represented by arrows leading to the nodes of other students. So, if Matthew commented on Ephraim’s blog once, then the arrow starts from Matthew’s node and points to Ephaim’s node. At a glance, it’s easy to see who has been most active in making comments, who has received most comments, and who hasn’t been active at all — and that information can clearly help an instructor with both formative and summative assessment. You can the visualization, which was made with the platform Many Eyes, here.

Another visualization tool that I recently came across is called DebateGraph, which is intended to help people map out the various ideas, positions, and evidence that make up complex arguments. At first glance, a DebateGraph visualization looks like an ordinary concept map, but as you click the various nodes, you see that each one dynamically changes: it becomes the central node, and new nodes — ones that are connected to it — jump into place. The platform is collaborative, so if you want to contribute to the argument, you just need to log in, navigate to the appropriate node, and then add your point. You can see an example of a visualization in DebateGraph here.

I’m a bit sceptical of DebateGraph’s “practical” implications: in other words, if your family is having argument about where to go for your summer vacation, I don’t think that using DebateGraph would be worth the investment of time it would take to map out the argument. But as a learning tool — that is, as a way of helping students untangle the complexities of, say, a geopolitical conflict or an ethical issue — I think that the very “deliberate” methodology of DebateGraph could be very useful.

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Mark Morton

As Senior Instructional Developer, Mark Morton helps instructors implement new educational technologies such as clickers, wikis, concept mapping tools, question facilitation tools, screencasting, and more. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Mark taught for twelve years in the English Department at the University of Winnipeg. He received his PhD in 1992 from the University of Toronto, and is the author of four books: Cupboard Love; The End; The Lover's Tongue; and Cooking with Shakespeare.

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