Active Engagement and Group Work at the Visualization Wall

The Visualization Wall can instantly and wirelessly display up to five smartphones, tablets, and laptops at once, or one device full-screen. Pictured above: dual display of a MacBook Air and an iPhone.

The Diane Y. Williams ’59 Visualization Wall in the Technology Commons of Shain Library offers new possibilities for group work and classroom engagement. With just a few clicks on one’s own smartphone, tablet, or laptop, the wall wirelessly displays up to five devices at once.

Biology Professor Martha Grossel used the Visualization Wall weekly for her Accelerated Cell Biology class, asking students to work on problems in groups. One member of each group then displayed their work simultaneously for discussion and comparison of all the groups’ results as a class. Theater Professor Sabrina Notarfrancisco takes part in the Instructional Technology team’s DELI program to provide her students in Costume History with iPads each semester and meets regularly at the wall with her class. Whenever relevant to the discussion, students can easily display and compare examples from the visual portfolios that they build on their iPads, encouraging active engagement in discussion.

The furniture in the Technology Commons is all flexible and can be arranged to be most conducive to your class activities.

Interested in how this feature can be used in your own class? Email Lyndsay Bratton to discuss ideas or to schedule class meetings at the wall!

Visualization Wall Update

Left-to-right: Ray Coti ’16, Virginia Gresham ’17, Joey Mercado ’16, Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology students presented their “Visual Institutional Hierarchy” project during Fall Weekend, sponsored by the Ammerman Center and CCSRE

Fall 2015 was the first full semester since the Diane Y. Williams ’59 Visualization Wall was installed in the Technology Commons of Shain Library. We saw new and innovative uses of the wall by professors and students in a range of departments.

Here are just some of the ways courses made use of the wall this past fall:

  • AHI/THE297—Professor Sabrina Notarfrancisco’s Costume History students met at the wall many times throughout the semester, displaying their individual visual research wirelessly from their DELI iPads.
  • BIO110—Professor Martha Grossel’s Accelerated Cell Biology students met on Mondays for their course and used the wall to simultaneously and wirelessly display the results of group work from their laptops. Up to five laptops or mobile devices can be displayed at the same time.
  • Women’s Rowing teams—Coach Eva Kovach’s team members used the wall to review team practice footage with a telecaster iPad app. The app allowed Kovach to play footage in slow-motion and mark it up, so that students could better see how their form could be improved.
  • AT222a—The Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology’s Visiting Mellon Fellow Caroline Park’s Experimental Music class made use of the visualization wall’s sound system and connected with guest artists via Skype.
  • Architectural Studies—Visiting Professor Emily Morash held an architectural Lego event and information fair at the wall to attract students to the Architectural Studies program. Current students in the program shared their Study Away experiences on the wall during the event.

During Fall Weekend, three students of the Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology also presented the latest iteration of a project they began on the visualization wall last spring semester for Professor Steve Luber’s History of Arts and Technology course. For one of the class’s three-week lab modules, students made use of the wall’s technological capabilities—in this case, its touch-enabled interactive display—and designed projects focused on the theme of social media. One group used Unity software to create the prototype for an interactive visual hierarchy that would make professional relationships and job duties of administrative staff at Connecticut College more transparent. Since then, Ray Coti ’16, Virginia Gresham ’17, and Joey Mercado ’16 received a grant from CCSRE to develop the project further, with a new interface and an updated database. Users can touch and drag the pictures of administrators to see who reports to them and what their responsibilities include. Eventually, the group hopes to add more layers of data, including committee membership and other staff involvement.

If you are interested in taking advantage of the wall’s ability to display multiple devices (computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, media players, cable TV, etc.) simultaneously, its touch-enabled interactive screen or 4k resolution, please contact Lyndsay Bratton for more information and scheduling.

Digital Storytelling Tools: TimelineJS

Following up on an October Teaching with Technology workshop and a recent post on StoryMapJS, today I will introduce TimelineJS–another product of Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. This tool allows users to plot narrative content along an interactive timeline, with text, images, maps, video, and audio files embedded in a slideshow above. Users can click through the slides chronologically or scroll through the timeline to jump to specific dates/events. Like StoryMapJS, TimelineJS requires no coding skills, but users must work in a Google Spreadsheet template. See the documentation pages for more information about the template’s columns.

Le Monde TimelineJS
“Chronologie : une si longue campagne présidentielle”, Le Monde (February 21, 2012)

Note that the supported media types are all URLs and embed codes. If a user wishes to include an image from their hard drive, they must first publish it to the web somewhere, such as a social media site or photo-sharing platform. There are some potential issues with TimelineJS’s functionality in a Humanities-based project, such as the inability to indicate approximate dates and years. You do not have to enter months and days, but you must determine a year for every entry on your timeline, and the spreadsheet cannot indicate “circa” or approximate ranges on the resulting timeline. If projects are based on personal data, it is important to note that you must publish your Google Spreadsheet to the web in order to create your TimelineJS. The data will likely be visible only to people who know the link, and there are advanced options for privacy control for users with JSON skills.

Like all Knight Lab creations, TimelineJS is geared toward people working in the media; however, its narrative and multimedia format would be a great alternative presentation tool for many student projects in which PowerPoint may have been utilized in the past. Timelines can also be embedded into websites to add a new dimension to a web-based project. See the example from a Tumblr site below.

Tumblr site
Akira Toriyama’s World

Digital Storytelling Tools: StoryMapJS

I recently led a Teaching with Technology workshop to introduce faculty to free, online digital storytelling tools that can enhance presentations with maps, timelines, and and narrative data content. You can download my PowerPoint presentation via Slideshare, which includes information about data visualization, images from the University of Victoria’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute that I attended this June, information about several tools for digital storytelling projects, and links to example projects. We focused on three tools–StoryMapJS, TimelineJS, and OdysseyJS–which I will introduce here in a series of three blog posts.

StoryMapJS is a product of Northwestern University’s Knight Lab–a joint initiative of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications. The Knight Lab designs open-source tools with journalists and news organizations in mind, but all of their products have enormous potential value for professors and students working in many disciplines.

KPBS Public Broadcasting StoryMapJS Projects
Explore Christo And Jeanne-Claude’s Works Of Art

Many mapping tools exist, but most lack the ability to incorporate narrative elements in a visual and complementary way. StoryMapJS does just that, and to aesthetically pleasing ends! Users can plot points on a map and link those locations with a narrative trajectory, incorporating images, text, and video to tell the story. In just ten minutes, I worked with a fellow classmate in my DHSI course to create the beginnings of a StoryMap based on her dissertation research. Check out some great finished examples here. The platform is easy to use, with no coding knowledge required! Later I will show you OdysseyJS, which takes beginners to the next level and introduces some coding elements.

A slightly more advanced option for StoryMapJS is Gigapixel, which affords the ability to use high-resolution images and historical maps in place of the standard map. Just for fun, here’s a Gigapixel example charting Arya’s Journey on Game of Thrones, using a “historical” map of Westeros.

Games of Thrones: Arya's Journey StoryMap
Game of Thrones: Arya’s Journey StoryMap

Karen Gonzalez Rice envisions making StoryMaps to introduce her students in Art History to the different units of her courses, mapping a trajectory of the course over time and space, with representative images of corresponding artistic styles. Reference Librarian Ashley Hanson would like to use StoryMapJS to present the history of yoga and the ways it spread from its origin throughout the world. Any student projects that have narrative and geographical components could make use of StoryMapJS as an alternative to PowerPoint presentations.

Join us for Wednesdays at the Wall

Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology students present their lab projects for AT201: History of Arts & Tech, April 2015
Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology students present their lab project for AT201: History of Arts & Tech, April 2015

Announcing a new short series of workshops from the Digital Scholarship and Curriculum Center in Shain Library! These informal workshops will introduce attendees to the Diane Y. Williams ’59 Visualization Wall in the Technology Commons of Shain. Participants will have the opportunity to see how professors from Computer Science, Gender and Women’s Studies, Arts & Tech, and German Studies have already made use of the interactive, high-resolution display in their courses. You are invited to bring your laptop and/or mobile devices to experiment with the various ways of connecting to the wall. There are also two computers connected to the system (a Windows 8 Touch and a Windows/Linux dual-boot, with a MacPro to come!), as well as a Kinect, a Brio (allowing for wireless display of multiple mobile devices simultaneously), a media player, and more. Digital Media Specialist Mike Dreimiller and I look forward to answering your questions, brainstorming ways you can use the visualization wall in your classes and research, and testing out websites, software, or other potential uses of the system that you might be excited to see on the wall.

Register for one of the workshops below:

Wednesday, April 22–2:30-3:30pm

Wednesday, April 29–4:00-5:00pm

Wednesday, May 6–3:00-4:00pm

We hope to see you there!

Digital Literacy: Talking Teaching Recap (Part 2)

Following up on yesterday’s post, here are three more exciting topics of discussion raised at the Talking Teaching event this Tuesday, April 7, co-sponsored by the Technology Fellows Program and Information Services.

Perkins Library Reference Interaction, 1970s, Duke University Archives
Perkins Library Reference Interaction, 1970s, Duke University Archives, Flickr

Digital Technology and Collaboration/Communication Skills: How are we using technology to replace certain interpersonal interactions, and at what cost? A common assumption is that working with digital technology means working alone. Some professors observe that students interact with each other less when they can complete a group assignment online, which may decrease accountability for some group members.


  • Require group work and face-to-face interaction when using digital technologies—Joe Schroeder’s students worked extremely well together on a collaborative Google Doc while sitting together in person, which begs the question: would they have communicated as well together if they had not been sitting in the same physical space?
  • Require students to meet with relevant people on campus (Information Services, Writing Center, etc.) to ensure that students are aware of the resources available to them.
  • Have students grade each others’ contributions to group work—Joyce Bennett requires students to keep an individual work log throughout a group project, in addition to grading their classmates at the end.
  • The new collaboration rooms on the first three floors of Shain Library and the white boards available in the lower level are very popular among students working in groups.

    Shain Collaboration Room, March 2015
    Shain Collaboration Room, March 2015

Digital Accessibility and Inequality: Not only does immediate access to digital technologies shape a student’s ability to complete assignments and learn new technological skills in college, but inequalities in access to technology before arriving at Connecticut College contribute to variations in digital fluency among the student body. Sometimes students are simply unaware of what is available to them through various campus resources, including the library. Kathy Gehring pointed out that even the use of electronic resources dropped significantly during the Shain renovation when the library was not physically accessible.


  • If you are planning to use an app that relies on smartphone or tablet technology, consider that not all students have access to these mobile devices. Web-based avenues of communication (i.e. Moodle forums, email, social media, Google Drive) may be necessary to ensure that all students are able to participate in the conversation. Luis Gonzalez’s recent post about the Digital Divide sheds light on this issue.
  • Many courses since 2006 have been supported by the Instructional Technology team’s Digitally-Enhanced Learning Initiative (DELI). Participation in the program ensures that all students in a proposed course will have access to the same digital device.
  • Again, requiring that students meet with librarians and instructional technologists, whether in a class session or outside of class, will broaden awareness of the library’s technological resources and assistance, including many workstations with a wide range of software, the Advanced Technology Lab’s digitization equipment, electronic scholarly resources, iPad Minis that can be checked out at the circulation desk, one-on-one training, and more.

Digital Editing Tools and Methods: How can we leverage digital technologies in the editing process for written student assignments? Some professors noted that students have ignored marginal notes in Word documents in the past and resubmitted their work without accepting all the editing suggestions. Is this a case of students not knowing how to use the review features in Word? Many students have expressed that they prefer handwritten comments, and faculty often prefer this tried-and-true method, as well. But do some digital editing tools serve to enhance the learning process for students?


  • Karen Gonzalez Rice has garnered universally positive feedback from students regarding her recorded audio responses to assignments. Using screencapture video recordings might be a great option for evaluations of students’ visual or written works, if digital files were submitted for the assignment. Jing is a free, easy-to-use tool for creating screencapture videos of up to five minutes (encouraging concise feedback!).
  • Joyce Bennett loved using Blackboard at another institution to receive, edit, and return her students’ assignments without any exchange of paper, all within the course website. Moodle offers this option too! Contact your Instructional Technology liaison for assistance, if you would like to experiment with this capability.
  • If you make marginal edits and comments in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, use the suggested edit function, which does not replace the students’ original content. You might also require students to reply to your comments to ensure that they address each one.

Thank you to all who attended Talking Teaching this past Tuesday!

Digital Literacy: Talking Teaching Recap (Part 1)

The Technology Fellows Program and Information Services department co-sponsored this Tuesday’s Talking Teaching event, which focused on the concept of the “digital native”–a term often applied to the Millennial who uses technologies with a fluency not afforded to preceding generations. Faculty shared their diverse experiences, successes, and concerns with digital encounters in their courses. Throughout the discussions, it became clear that there is often a disjunction between what professors (and the students themselves) assume students know about technology and what they actually know. Effective leveraging of digital technologies to enhance pedagogy requires careful considerations of such factors as accessibility, differences in types of digital literacies, and the potentially negative effects of digital technologies on the development of collaboration and communication skills. The following is the first in a two-part summary of some of the important challenges and considerations raised at Tuesday’s meeting. Each discussion point is followed by some of the successes shared and techniques suggested by the group.

Digital Skills Training: When adopting a new technology in an assignment or classroom activity, how do you approach training students?


  • Hands-on work time in class is important to give students the opportunity to ask questions and problem-solve together.
  • Model behaviors—Tek-wah King consistently displays his iPad throughout class across the semester to help students learn over time which applications work best for which tasks.
  • Give students guidelines for how long a task should take to avoid the situation in which, before reaching out for help, they spend four hours trying to figure out how to use a technology that should have taken a few minutes.
  • tutorial videos—Embedding assignment-specific tutorials into your course Moodle page may work better than simply directing students to this vast resource and expecting them to find the best tutorial to meet their needs for a particular assignment.
  • Suggesting or requiring that students meet with librarians and instructional technologists during the semester will ensure they recognize the training services and digital resources that are available to them in the library.
  • Inviting librarians to your class to provide assignment-specific reference instruction sessions helps students learn how to use databases, digital citation tools, and digital collaboration tools that they can apply to many of their courses and assignments.

Digital Literacy is a Process: How do we ensure that students see digitally-enabled activities and assignments as part of a progressive process? Rather than building a broad toolkit applicable to many courses and future endeavors, students tend to approach each technology learned as assignment- or course-specific, often failing to apply these skills and resources in their other classes, or forgetting them by the next semester. Are students struggling with the pace of change? How do we distinguish between discipline-specific skills and more generally-applicable ones?


  • Better scaffolding of technology skill acquisition across a semester and across the four-year curriculum
  • Develop and codify a way to track expected development of digital literacy skills over time
  • Repeat and assignment-specific interactions with reference librarians and instructional technologists help students gain and retain skills and learn to apply them across their coursework.
Photo by Sean MacEntee, 2012, Flickr
Photo by Sean MacEntee, 2012, Flickr

Generational Differences in Types of Digital Fluencies: Students tend to be especially app-savvy, but they do not necessarily understand other elements of computing, such as programming. App user interfaces are designed for “elegant consumption” and assume no user knowledge of the back-end processes. Digital literacy assumes an amount of experience that affords the ability to be able to easily adapt to changes in software and hardware as time goes on; but if students do not have the foundational knowledge, they will be unable to just “click around” and figure out new interfaces and software. Despite students not knowing life before the internet, professors often have more years of experience with a broader range of technologies. A seemingly basic task of creating a PDF may be completely foreign to a student who was never asked in high school to submit a document in that format.


  • When adopting or assigning a new technology in class, always assume that at least some students may have no foundational knowledge. You can always change pace as you learn more about the students’ skill levels.

Further discussion:

Several faculty members wondered how we can leverage digital technologies in the editing process for written student assignments, which led to a robust discussion of digital editing tools and methods. Others wondered how we are using technology to replace certain interpersonal interactions, and at what cost? We also discussed issues of digital accessibility and inequality in the development of digital literacies. Stay tuned tomorrow for a follow-up post on these topics!

Managing your Image Files with Picasa

Do you often have trouble locating images on your hard drive? You know you have the one that you need, but there’s no associated metadata to help you search for it in all your folders of files, and you have no idea where you would have stored it.

There are many image management solutions available, and Picasa is one of the all-around best freeware programs out there. It will immediately discover and display all the image files on your hard drive, allowing you to easily find specific images, better organize your image collections, and add keyword and geographical tags. Users with Google accounts can automatically back up images in Picasa Web Albums, allowing easy access (private or shared) to image collections online. Picasa is free to download and includes up to 1GB of online storage in Picasa Web Albums, with the option to purchase more.

Picasa does not store your photos or make copies of them within the program—rather, it serves as a browser to display the originals in a visual and easily navigable interface, organized by the same folders in which the images are stored on your hard drive. You can create albums in the program, however, which is akin to creating playlists in your iTunes library. Images remain in their original file locations, but you can arrange and view images from different folders together in new Picasa albums.



  • Instantly locates all image files on your hard drive and brings them together in one place
  • Visual layout allows you to really “see” your whole image collection
  • Geotagging and mapping
  • Keyword tagging
  • Can backup images online through Picasa Web Albums, which is powered by Google; these albums can be made private or shared
  • Photo-editing tools
  • Available for Mac and Windows
  • From Picasa Web Albums, you have the option to apply Creative Commons licensing Data Visualizations

This week I attended a Plotly data visualization workshop by PhD Candidate Matthew D. Lincoln from the Department of Art History at the University of Maryland. Plotly is a free web-based graphing tool for making data visualizations from small-to-moderate user-provided datasets. Groups can collaborate on projects directly through their Plotly accounts without having to send data back and forth through email. Datasets charted using Excel, MATLAB, Python, Tableau, and R can be easily graphed in Plotly and exported to several image formats, including pdf, png, eps, and jpg.

During the demo, users “forked and edited” Matt’s data table–data mined from the National Gallery of Art website’s HTML–to create their own visualizations. This histogram represents the number of works acquired in each genre of Dutch Baroque paintings by different NGA curators since the 1930s.
Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 10.58.12 AM
View of the Plotly workspace with Matt’s data table. The user chooses which variables correspond with which axis based on the values and type of plot one has chosen to visualize. The settings here were used to plot the bubble chart below.
Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 10.57.40 AM
A bubble chart visualizing the relative size of paintings acquired by different curators across the 20th century, plotted according to their creation date. This chart was plotted using the optional text column corresponding to artwork titles. When the user hovers over each bubble in the chart, the title of that painting appears. Plotly offers several theme options, seen in the left-hand column.

Visualizations of Humanities data allow us to quickly grasp a lot of bits of information that in the past might have taken a scholar years of toiling in archives and a whole article or book to document. In the bubble chart above, not only can we see when and for how long curators were acquiring works for the National Gallery of Art, but we also obtain an immediate impression of the relative size of each work, the range of dates each curator was interested in acquiring, as well as the rigidity or fluidity of their collecting preferences or opportunities. For example, the current curator Arthur K. Wheelock clearly has the most outliers in terms of size and range of creation dates represented among his acquisitions. This information then opens up many more questions for further research–questions the student or scholar might not have otherwise thought to ask–such as, what precisely accounts for these outliers in Wheelock’s collecting history? Changes in the art market? Personal preference? A desire to push boundaries? Shifting parameters in the field of Dutch Baroque art history?

What is Digital Scholarship Anyway? (Part Two)

Perhaps the best way to get a sense of how digital scholarship is changing academic landscapes is to learn about the exciting projects pursued at other pioneering institutions and right here at Connecticut College. You will probably recognize digital scholarship already practiced in your own work and provocative ideas for further enhancing your research and teaching with digital technologies.

  • Mining the Vogue Archives: Yale Librarians Peter Leonard and Lindsay King have been working with the Vogue Archive’s digitized data, and their projects in data visualization and data mining demonstrate how much new knowledge can be created through access to huge digital datasets.
  • Network analysis of the early modern social network: A project by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Six Degrees of Francis Bacon uses data mining of existing scholarship, “published in countless books and articles […] scattered and unsynthesized” to create visual representations of the social networks between writers and intellectuals in early modern England.
  • Mapping Microfinance: Economics professor Shannon Mudd and Digital Librarian Laurie Allen at Haverford College worked with students to visually map access to finance in Uganda, demonstrating geographical and cultural factors that determine locations of microfinance operations, as well as visualizing potential correlations between poverty ratio and access to microfinance institutions.
  • Topic Modeling to Revise Ekphrasis: Lisa Rhody, Research Assistant Professor at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, uses advanced computational methods to challenge long-held understandings of ekphrasis and “accounts for inter-aesthetic relationships historically labeled as outliers.”
  • Mapping Women’s Movements and Mapping Connecticut College History: Just in the last two weeks, other Engage contributors highlighted the results of a mapping project in Professor Ariella Rotramel’s Spring 2014 Transnational Women’s Movements course, and the Lear Center’s adoption of History Pin for digital storytelling of the College’s history.
  • Visualizing Music Genres through Lyrics, Bruce Haik ’14, Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology, Faculty Advisor: Ozgur Izmirli—“For his CAT project, Haik compiled 800 pop songs from the past four years from four different genres. Using Python – a computer coding language – Haik created a running file of the lyrics from all 800 songs that he could manipulate to perform analysis, like finding out which words are most commonly used in each genre.” (The College Voice, 2014)
  • Planned Visualization Wall, Shain Library Technology Commons, 2015—When the renovated Shain Library reopens in fall 2015, the Technology Commons will feature a high-resolution microtile visualization wall. An interactivity kit will allow users to control the display as one controls a touch-screen on a computer, and the system will support simultaneous display of multiple devices, including wired computers and mobile devices. The wall will be an ideal tool to present research and instruction projects developed using interactive web-based applications, such as Google Maps and Google Earth, History Pin, Google Art Project and Google Open Gallery. Other potential uses of the wall include (interactive) digital exhibitions and gaming.
On-site Sample Visualization Wall Demo, July 2014, Language & Culture Center
On-site Sample Visualization Wall Demo, July 2014, Language & Culture Center

What is clear is that we are part of a revolution in academia that is, according to Jeffrey Schnapp, Professor of Romance Languages & Literature and Director of Harvard’s metaLAB, so impactful to scholarship as to be “comparable to the Copernican revolution or the discovery of the New World.” (Harvard Magazine, 2012) He convincingly illuminates the shifting role of scholars—traditionally understood as knowledge-creators—in the Digital Age:

When you move from a universe where the rules with respect to a scholarly essay or monograph have been fully codified, to a universe of experimentation in which the rules have yet to be written, characterized by shifting toolkits and skillsets, in which genres of scholarship are undergoing constant redefinition, you become by necessity a knowledge designer.”