Incorporating Info-Graphics and Visualization Technology to Aid Understanding of Abstract Science Concepts

Norm O'Rourke

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipientsNorm O’Rourke, Department of Psychology and Brian Fisher, School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT)

Project teamJames DeWitt, research assistant

Timeframe: July 2013 to January 2015

Funding: $5,000  

Course addressed: PSYC 106 – Consumers Guide to Understanding Science and Social Science Research

Description: The basic premise of this new course (PSYC 106) is that each of us (including researchers) is a consumer of research in media.  What does an informed consumer need to make sense of study findings reported in the mass media?

The intent of PSYC 106 course is to provide fundamental research information using contemporary visual tools.  This will enable students to make sense of phenomena such as contradictory findings or distinguish advocacy research vs. empirical research.  We contend that visual applications and examples can be used to demystify science concepts and reduce statistics anxiety.  Equipped with understanding of basic science principles (e.g., Occam’s Razor, importance of replication, the meaning of statistical significance), students will become informed consumers of science in media.  Our premise is the assumption that info-graphics and visualization technology (applied to actual and hypothetical data) can foster understanding of abstract research constructs.  Integrating these with more traditional teaching tools will make these constructs more accessible to students and reduce the anxiety commonly experienced with unfamiliar material.

Funding will allow us to build a teaching module based on the normal or bell-shaped curve using info-graphics and visualization technology.  With each component of this module, we will refer back to the curve to demonstrate to the students how the component can be understood by applying principles of the curve.  Proposed elements of this module are:

  • What is statistical significance? 
  • The exception proves the exception, not the rule.
  • The fallacy of the single disconfirming study.  .

Questions addressed:

  • Is there a difference in student learning based on material presented in traditional ways vs. material presented using info-graphics and visualization techniques?
  • Does the inclusion of 3D representations of phenomena as well as brief video enhance understanding?
  • What elements of the course do student feel were particularly effective as well as less successful elements of the course?

Knowledge sharing: The tools developed stemming from this funding will be made freely available to other SFU units/instructors.