Whilst still continuing to develop the system, activities and conceptual understanding in the Out There and In Here (OTIH) project, I am about to begin a new role on a project to understand Digital Scholarship. As a starting point, it makes sense to consider not just how this is a new direction, but how OTIH, this, and my work prior to that follow some patterns that might be interesting (and constitute a wider ‘direction’ that my research is taking me in!)
One point of crossover that has been identified with colleagues is the potential to combine interactive visualisations of data with interactive visualisations of concepts as a tool for dialogue, reflection and the development of understanding.
In OTIH the data could be photos or measurements collected by those in the field. In the Digital Scholarship project, there is an interest in understanding a persons’ digital footprint, a semi-automated analysis of their use of the web for content creation and social networking, the sites they use and how and when they use them.
In both cases this data is located in time and space, though in the case of the digital footprint, this is a virtual spatial location (e.g. located at a site such as WordPress or Flickr). People have a natural instinct to use spatial metaphors to understand the web, and this has resulted in some very nice visualisations such as Points of Control.
In both cases, this data is used as an essential part of a wider process of analytical thinking. In the inquiry learning that occurs with OTIH this is conceptualised as hypothesis development or sensemaking. In the Digital Scholarship project, the visualisations of data are likely to be used as a discussion and reflection tool during interviews, and as a tool for researchers to analyse and reflect on questions such as ‘what is considered to be valuable to a digital scholar?’, ‘what characterises a good networker or content producer?’ or ‘what are the common characteristics of scholars’ attitudes towards distinguishing formal, work related online activities and recreational use outside of work?’.
In both cases, reflection on the data should lead to better understanding, novel ideas and the recognition of the ‘big picture’. These processes are essential to research and visualisations have been one of the areas where computing has been highly effective as a research tool.
One question to investigate is therefore – since these two are so inherently linked in the process of scientific inquiry and even beyond that – what systems could build a bridge and bring together the visualisation of data and the analytical, conceptual development that builds on this?
In particular, such systems could aim to support planning, reflection and awareness in dialogues or collaborations, whether co-located or distanced. They could make explicit conceptual reasoning grounded by data, and connect a review of data to a wider understanding of its’ context. By interacting with data and representing ideas and concepts based on this, users could develop knowledge artifacts. These could take many forms, but one inspiration could be thinking about this in terms of a collaborative interface for producing infographic representations, that aim to combine data and understanding in a clear, concise form.