I’m generally not a “new literacies” sort of teacher, even when my job title prominently features the word “technology.” For the most part, I think the written word has served us pretty well, and kids should learn it. But every now again, a presentation or film will make me think, isn't this expressing something that would just be lost on paper? Then I think, what might kids hear or say better, or worse yet, hear or say only through another medium? This new tool from Google, and more importantly the idea of student-easy, audience-powerful data analysis and visualization behind it, is one of those moments.
If nothing else, just look at the embedded graph, comparing fertility rate, life-expectancy, and population, in motion across the last 50 years. It is Willy Wonka rich. My first viewing flooded me with information, a review of large chunks of my undergraduate career in history, in about 15 seconds. Ensuing reviews brought on the torrent of teaching questions, for the part of me that still longs to teach high school social studies. What does it mean to see a nation ping-pong horizontally across the screen? What trends are evident across all 50 years? What can you tell me about Chinese history based exclusively on what is evident on this page? What do the colors tell us? And that’s just reading the graphs.
I want my students to know how to use this tool, and the better one that inevitably follows it, to analyze the data and make their case. Which is more convincing, this graph or the three pages of statistic-laden paragraphs it would take to replace it? I wouldn’t drop essay writing in favor of graph making, but I might require that some pieces utilize visual evidence to enhance their point. With this graph as only the start of the conversation, how much further the students’ essays can go!
Now, how do I apply this to a crowd where the datasets that currently resonate most tend to be about “favorite color…”