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Visualization Environments

Show and Tell

Problems and Solutions

Pyramid Exercise


Visualisation in the Social Sciences Workshop

Show and Tell

Jason Dykes

VFC panoraMap: Distribution of Retailing in Exeter
This image shows the Virtual Field Course (VFC) panoraMap software being used as part of a fieldwork teaching module on retail service provision in Exeter, UK.

The software employs dynamic and linked views to privide an extremely interactive spatial graphical user interface (GUI) to a variety of spatially referenced data types.

Those illustrated here include rotating panoramic imagery, annotated static imagery, static raster maps, dynamic polygon maps, polygon attribute tables and GPS routes.

Click on the star for a full screen image.

The Research / Teaching Problem Addressed:
The VFC project is addressing the use of IT in fieldwork within the areas of visualization and virtual environments.

The project is aiming to produce generic software that can be filled with specific data and thus used to support the aims of fieldwork teaching on a number of types of project in a variety of geographic areas.

The software is intended to be used before, during and after trips in order to prime students, enhance their work in the field and improve their analysis.

Interactive software with which students can familiarise themselves with field areas and available secondary data sets is a key priming technique that is being utilised. This provides students with a geographic context that adds value to the process of selecting and collecting primary data that they undergo.

Enabling students to integrate their data with secondary information is also of great value, particularly if the process is immediate on return from the field. Empirical tests have confirmed that this form of immediate visual data integration can produce improved and informed analysis and breath life into field projects.

It is also apparent that the degree of 'ownership' afforded by projects that incorporate analytical software that integrates data sources can enthuse students.

The image shows the 'panoraMap' software that was employed on a 1st year Field Trip to South Devon made by the University of Leicester, Department of Geography, during the Easter Vacation, 1998.

For further information on the VFC and its software see:

How The Probem is 'Solved':
The approach is demonstrated here by showing software with current status 'prototype'. It has however been tested with students on two field projects.

One of these requires students to establish a categorization of retail areas in the City of Exeter. Students are then asked to assess the pattern of retail provision and compare the distribution with models with which they are familiar and to determine the geographic phenomena that may have influenced the current pattern. They are also provided with the City Council's own categorization which is assessed.

Student groups are provided with a computer at the field centre and use the panoraMap GUI to familiarize themselves with the available data.

Backdrop maps, such as the population density map shown here (top right) are provided along with census data. Only one backdrop map is shown here, but others are avaliable at the click of a button and are listed here (bottom centre). Outlines of the retail areas that are being assessed are made available to the students through the software.

PanoraMap also stores multimedia information. Media objects such as the images shown here are viewed by clicking the green symbols on the map (top right), or the file names in the data registry (bottom left). Each medium has a 'viewer' to display the information which has dynamic links with the base map. For example, 360o panoramas can be moved interactively (image, left) and the field of view is shown on the base map (top right). Static images are viewed in a window which allows annotations to be made (bottom centre). The bearing at which any image is taken is shown on the base map (orange arrow on map). The images used here were collected on a previous days fieldwork where residential areas where assessed and 'residential profiles' produced along specified routes.

The students organise themselves into groups to cover the mapped area and decide what data will be collected and how. They are provided with a GPS to geo-reference collected data and a digital camera to collect imagery. Traditional notebooks and dictaphones are provided to record information more conventionally.

On returning the student groups meet and produce a table of numerical information about the retail areas. This is then read by the software which maps the information and provides interactive visualization tools. Here, the polygons on the map and bar-chart legend (top centre) show a categorization performed by a student group, but might also show continuous information with grey-shading. Each column in the data table can be visualized in this way by clicking a menu (bottom centre). Data values can be edited from the map and new data tables can be loaded interactively for comparison. Students can thus compare their data with those from other groups / years / institutions and use a spreadsheet or editor to create new data combinations and load them.

The GPS retains a position continually and so student's routes can be loaded from it into the software on their return! (top right, green track). In our tests this helped comparisons between 'the field' and the map representations of it. The GPS also eases data input as students record points at which information was collected directly with the GPS. They could then add files by clicking these mapped points and using a 'windows' GUI to add selected files to the database with the footprint recorded on the ground.

A variety of graphical analytical techniques are being developed. Students can use parallel coordinates plots (bottom right) to assess multi-variate information that they have collected. Here the axes show 'number of High Street Chains', 'number of passing pedestrians' and 'number of car-parking spaces' respectively. The students found such plots intuitive and informative ways of differentiating between types of retail area and were excited to see their data integrated with maps such as the population density surface shown here. Considerable questioning of the patterns, the models and the Council's information resulted and some insight was gained.

Tools Used in Creation:
  • Programming Language: Tcl/Tk. Free from
  • Peripheral Gear: GPS 12 XL from Garmin (200ish)
  • Peripheral Gear: Olympus C800L Digital Camera (cheaper one will do!)

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