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Executive Summary

Overview Report

Main Report



  Visualizing the



Bibliographic History

Review of Visualization in the Social Sciences: Main Report

Visualization in Teaching and Learning in the Social Sciences

Research into the use of visualization in the social sciences has indicated that a major use of the technology is within the process of teaching and learning (Schnotz et al. 1996). Although the use of visual aids in teaching and learning is not new in itself, there would appear be an exponential trend in the use of computer-based graphics. In the same way that basic computer packages, such as word-processing, has increased students ability to learn and produce higher quality work in the social sciences (e.g. Owston, et al. 1992), recent research suggests that the same is true for visualization packages (e.g. Gordon & Pea, 1995). Visualization has the advantage of making education more accessible and provides a means for authentic scientific inquiry through inquiry driven learning. Visualization also provides a link between education and the practices of science. However, there is not much information available on how a particular discipline's subject should be visualized, and which kind of visualization is best suited for specific purposes.

Such an approach has been employed in the teaching of geography for many years, with the use of custom written graphical software, and GIS and remote sensing software, all of which have visualization at their core (Nellis, 1994; Can, 1993). Similar techniques and technologies could be embraced by the other social sciences. For example, Hassebrock & Snyder, (1997) discuss the teaching of the potentially difficult subject of bivariate statistics in psychology using Maple, a computer algebra system which uses interactive graphic displays and computer animation to explore the concepts of basic relationships, such as correlation coefficients and regression lines. Similarly, in sociology, Ploch & Hastings (1992) describe GRAFTOOL, a software package designed to help teaching of social stability and change by using graphical approaches, such as surfaces and contour graphs in cohort analysis. Gould (1994) argues that most quantitative methodologies could benefit from similar approaches, and that genuine understanding is achieved by visualization of a problem, rather than algebraic manipulation, and the teaching task could be aided greatly by employing interactive computer graphics.

Multimedia also appears to have made an impact in social science teaching, particularly video. Amesberger and Halbmayr (1996) discuss how the showing of the film Schindlers List, for example, helped to contextualise teaching of political science in Austrian Schools. The film itself helped `to go beyond the cognitive level of knowledge transfer' of traditional teaching methods, and exemplified the importance of visualization of history. Research (e.g. Avila et al, 1995; Bergandine & Koker, 1993) has suggested that video-based teaching technologies improve students learning capabilities, and their attitudes about the course, when compared to traditional lecture-relevant visual materials, such as overhead transparencies. This learning experience is enhanced if the video is interactive allowing collection, analysis and modelling of visual digital data (Escalada & Zollman, 1997).

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