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Developing a Visualization Education Curriculum

in the Age of Big Data Using the Dick and Carey

Alon Friedman & Edward Schneider

To cite this article: Alon Friedman & Edward Schneider (2018) Developing a Visualization
Education Curriculum in the Age of Big Data Using the Dick and Carey Model, Visual
Communication Quarterly, 25:4, 250-256, DOI: 10.1080/15551393.2018.1530115

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Published online: 20 Dec 2018.

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Developing a Visualization Education Curriculum in

the Age of Big Data Using the Dick and Carey Model
Alon Friedman and Edward Schneider

ith the growing interest in Big Data, Literature Review
researchers are calling for a
reframing of key questions about Visualization Education
what constitutes knowledge found
in very large data settings (Boyd & Crawford, In today’s social media environments, the term
2012). Many researchers are developing new visualization generally means the process of
ways to access and organize Big Data, and many mapping data using encoding techniques to
academic institutions are offering new courses maximize human understanding of the data.
that focus on analyzing Big Data. Many Big Data Even before digital technologies became
course syllabi require statistics and programming commonplace, visualization was widely used in
as prerequisites (Friedman, 2017). It is common higher education. Visual content has appeared in
for instructors to report resistance from students textbooks, instructional manuals, classroom
to learning statistics (Schoenfeld, 1992). There presentations, and web interface extensions for
are a variety of reasons for this resistance—for generations (Stokes, 2002). Visualization,
example, students may feel that statistics lack moreover, is a skill that should be taught (Domik,
vividness or the ability to engage their emotions 2000).
(Hill, 2004). While there is already a large body
of research on the benefits of visuals in education The major difficulty in the teaching of
(Gilbert, 2008), a review of this literature could visualization is that there is no single
not produce a detailed model for a visualization- methodology, grammar, or syntax in visualization
centric statistics curriculum at the undergraduate education, unlike in statistics or writing. Gelman
level. and Unwin (2013) showed that users can
visualize data in many ways, from simple bar
The article describes the development of a unique charts to more complex scatterplots based on user
course curriculum that privileges visualization in experience, but they did not suggest a curriculum
statistics instruction. This study was designed to for teaching visualization. Adding to the
answer two questions: How can we outline an confusion, there is no single comprehensive
efficacious visualization curriculum using the resource on the subject of student assessment in
Dick and Carey model? How do students in this visualization education. Teachers frequently use
curriculum respond to the use of open source R visualizations to express information, but
as a platform for producing visualization? To students rarely receive instruction on how to
address these questions, we conducted a student express ideas through visualization themselves
feedback survey in our advanced visualization (Snee, 1993). In fact, we found no studies that
class to measure the students’ evaluation of examine visualization as a central piece of the
visualization instruction in statistics, using open statistics curriculum.
source R as our platform. The study reports on a
roadmap for implementing visual representations Statistical Pedagogy
of data using a statistics framework and open
source R as the leading software. The results also Many statistical educators have reported on their
indicate positive student attitudes toward the students’ anxiety about statistics (see, e.g., Cruise,
technology used in the course. Cash, & Bolton, 1985). Due at least in part to this

Visual Communication Quarterly 250 Volume 25 October – December 2018

Figure 1 The Dick and Carey Model of Instructional Design (Dick & Carey, 1990).

student anxiety, there is a consistent belief in the Methods

statistical community that significant pedagogical
changes must be made (Snee, 1993; Moore, The objectives of this study were to develop a
1997). In 2016, the American Statistical curriculum based on visualization for teaching
Association (ASA) recommended increasing statistics and then to assess student attitudes
students’ technology and visualization skills and toward the technology used in the curriculum. To
improving their understanding of abstract ideas achieve these goals, we used the Dick and Carey
through the use of simulations. However, the model to develop three new courses whose
report did not include a recommendation of central aim was to introduce statistics and
technology tools that might be used to achieve visualization to information science
these goals. Matching technology tools aimed at undergraduate students. The Dick and Carey
assisting the teaching of statistics to educational instructional design model provides a systematic
objectives is an additional challenge. orientation that structures learning in a way that
puts the learners’ interests first, while
In the late 1990s, a new approach was developed incorporating feedback at all levels of the design
to enhance the student experience using open process to improve teaching. This model is widely
source technology. (For a description of the used because of its simplicity and linearity (Dick,
successful use of open source technology in a 1996). The model is composed of 10 steps, as
graduate-level statistical course, see Forbes, shown in Figure 1, originally outlined by Dick
2012). Among the leading open source statistical and Carey (1990).
applications is one titled open source R. As an
open source program, it is free to use, and its The lack of visualization education models that
popularity reflects a shift in statistical computing give systematic guidelines for teaching and
toward visualization output. The two highest- assessment procedures motivated us to choose
profile student-focused projects involving open the Dick and Carey model. While the model is
source R are, developed by Diez, not linear, in this article the steps we followed to
Barr, and Çetinkaya Rundel (2014) at UCLA, create our curriculum are presented in order for
and, created by Reich, ease of explanation.
Goldsmith, and Foulkes (2014) at the University
of Massachusetts, Amherst. These projects aim Role of the Researchers
to teach statistics by using open source R as an
alternative to traditional software. Recognizing During a period of curriculum development, the
the importance of visualization as a pedagogical faculty of the School of Information at the
practice, we designed a statistics curriculum that University of South Florida (USF) realized that
privileges this practice as opposed to treating it as the school had an interest in seeing its students
an add-on to traditional teaching approaches. gain visualization skills in addition to a grasp of
statistics. Consequently, in 2013, the School of

Pages 250–256 251 Visual Communication Quarterly

Information joined forces with the Department analysis of the goals set in the first phase. We
of Mass Communication in an initiative to build interviewed past and current faculty members
their undergraduate students’ data analysis and from our departments to review how they taught
visualization skills. This effort involved the hiring statistics and conducted interviews with current
of faculty specifically designated to focus on students who had expressed an interest in joining
visual communication using blended our program. We also interviewed colleagues
methodologies that combine traditional and from industry to help us determine what type of
online classes. These faculty members, including skills they expected when hiring recent graduates.
the authors of this article, were given the ability Based on our analysis, we set up our goals and
to design three new courses that coordinate with curriculum.
the university’s standard Introduction to Statistics
course to produce a four-unit block of courses The third stage of the Dick and Carey model is a
providing a foundation in visual communication, needs analysis in which instructional developers
statistical visualization, and Big Data. This effort examine the gap between what users know at the
took place in the context of a larger university-led beginning and the desired state of understanding
effort to improve visualization skills. at the end. In this phase, we identified a large
difference between the skills students possessed
Study Population upon entering this curriculum and what we
wanted them to be able to do, particularly as
The undergraduate students in the School of high-school-level skills in statistics are
Information and School of Mass Communication overwhelmingly focused on simple problem
are training to work in fields such as digital solving in a sterile test environment. The goal of
communication, database administration, and our program is for students to apply these
archiving. The movement toward social media techniques in real-world settings. These factors
analytics pushed our curriculum toward statistical led to the choice of open source tools for class
and visualization content. One of the main goals projects.
was to teach students to communicate data in a
clear and efficient fashion. As a result, the To develop performance objectives, we
curriculum was entitled Visual Analytics and considered how content could be grouped to best
Communication. address the potential learning problems identified
earlier, especially in the context of the students’
The Florida Department of Education’s 2014 learning demographics. We developed a
Mathematics Standards have specific pedagogical framework that encouraged students
requirements concerning applied statistics in to become personally involved in statistical
higher education. However, the only explicit production. Knowing that visualization can
visualization aspects of Florida’s mathematics reduce anxiety and help emphasize concepts over
curriculum are found in geometry. Thus, the procedures, we chose to move visualization to the
students enrolled in this visualization initiative front of the sequence.
could be expected to have some background in
statistics but very little background in We decided to address visualization on two
visualization beyond basic topics like the levels. The first level was in the design and
interpretation of frequency histograms. development of individual visualizations for
communication. The second was in the
Curriculum Creation structuring of multiple visualizations for
communication and analysis associated with
The first step of the Dick and Carey model is statistics analysis. As an alternative to the
identifying instructional goals. We set three broad traditional Introduction to Statistics course
goals for our project: offered by the Department of Statistics at USF,
we offered a curriculum divided into three
1. To prepare students to solve statistical courses.
problems and effectively communicate their
results using visualization techniques; The first course, Introduction to Visual
2. To produce students who can apply visual Communication (VIC3001), was a survey
communication principles in statistical designed to give students a foundational
analysis; knowledge of the many forms visual
communication can take and to provide hands-on
3. To ensure that students have a positive experience in developing projects. VIC3001
attitude toward the use of statistics in spanned a wide range of areas, including visual
analysis and decision making. persuasion, data visualization, and visual
In our second step, we conducted a detailed storytelling. Our second course, Graphics in

Visual Communication Quarterly 252 Volume 25 October – December 2018

Visual Communication, covered pixel graphics-
based projects on image sequencing for
storytelling and map making. In contrast to the
first two courses in the sequence, the third course,
Visualization of Big Data, focused on Big Data
and was based on statistical theory. The class
covered three basic statistics paradigms
(descriptive, inferential, and predictive), and it
required students to use open source R to analyze
and produce visualizations.

In the next stage of our curriculum planning, we

developed assessments for the courses. Our
decisions about student assessment were guided
by a consideration of what kinds of deliverables
we wanted students to be able to produce and
how we would evaluate them. We then correlated
our goals to the required theoretical
underpinnings. Our choice of instruments was
influenced by the fact that a majority of the
student assignments in our curriculum involved Figure 2 Students’ evaluation of open source R.
project development. Portfolio development is a
goal of the two schools involved in this effort, that we planned to use to help us refine the
and thus projects that result in materials fit for a course in subsequent iterations. Participation was
professional portfolio are encouraged. voluntary, but all 50 of the students enrolled in
the course filled out the form. Of these students,
In our introductory class, Introduction to Visual 38% were women and 62% were men, with an
Communication, project work was designed to average age of 24. No other demographic
give students hands-on experience in applying information was collected. The survey was
theoretical concepts to design and development conducted independently of the University of
projects. One of the first projects required South Florida’s standardized student evaluation.
students to collect their own data to produce a It used open-ended questions and a Likert-scale graph. ( is a free web-based visual questionnaire. We used frequency analysis to
graph and statistical tool.) Other projects focused calculate their responses. The questionnaire
on visual persuasion and interactive media assessed student attitudes toward open source R,
visualization. Our second class, Graphics in toward statistics in general, and toward
Visual Communication, was also designed visualization output. In the section on R, the
around projects that increased student skills. The students were asked to numerically evaluate open
course taught students how to combine pixel and source R based on appreciation, access, support,
vector graphics. In the third class, Visualization productivity, abilities, and flexibility.
of Big Data, students learned statistical
methodologies and used open source R and the The final step of the Dick and Carey model
ggplot package to produce their visualizations. indicates that the instructor should evaluate the
The students produced visual representations that curriculum and begin the iterative process once
addressed the specific type of analysis or again. As of this writing, no major revision had
statistical methodologies covered during that yet been conducted, but we will continue to
phase of the class. analyze and update the curriculum and the
technology and will search for better ways to
We then developed instructional materials using evaluate students’ visualization work.
multiple platforms for each class. These materials
ranged from social media platforms to print Results
books and software applications. However, we
are still looking for materials that will cover all Our results indicated that using visualization can
three classes. be a strong factor in helping undergraduate
students to understand statistics. On the
We evaluated the curriculum through a survey evaluation, the majority of the students reported
administered at the end of the Visualization of positive attitudes toward open source R as a
Big Data course in 2015. This survey was platform for using statistics to produce
primarily summative, but it had a formative visualizations. Figure 2 summarizes the results of
component in that it elicited student feedback this evaluation.

Pages 250–256 253 Visual Communication Quarterly

The students’ projects illustrate their ability to use
open source R to make sense of statistical topics
that interested them. Figure 3 shows a student’s
use of predictive analytics to analyze his grade in
the class and predict his final grade, using a grade
scale of 1–5.

Figure 4 shows a student project that combined a

map of the world with Twitter feeds to analyze
the geographical provenance of users’ retweets
regarding the Daytona International Speedway, a
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series motor race.


The results of the evaluation indicated that the

students thought using open source R helped
them learn both statistics and visualization.
Ninety-two percent of students strongly agreed
that learning visualization with open source R
was useful. Eighty-three percent of students
strongly agreed that learning statistics using open
Figure 3 Student project using predictive analytics. source R was useful. We also found that teaching
students to use visualization as a means of
communicating statistical analysis encouraged
In our questionnaire, as described previously, the student engagement. This finding was illustrated
students were asked to rank the attributes of R by the questionnaire, on which students reported
and its connection to visualization and statistics. that they felt that R was a powerful application
The attribute “powerful” ranked at the top, with and gave them good opportunities to use statistics
89% of the students reporting that R was a to produce their analyses and visualizations.
powerful way to produce visualizations and data
analysis. Additionally, 76% of the students Using the Dick and Carey model allowed us to
reported that the application was accessible. The build a curriculum that specialized in
lowest evaluation was of the support R provides visualization, providing students with an
to new users, with only 4% of students understanding of math and statistics and teaching
responding that it provided such support. In their them to transform their results into visual
answers to open-ended questions, many of the depictions. This curriculum has continued to
students stated that they found a semester to be evolve due to changes in students, instructors,
insufficient time to collect and analyze data and and visualization software.
visualize the results. They also, however,
emphasized the value of open source R for Limitations and Conclusion
understanding statistics, as indicated in these
typical student comments: The most significant limitation of the study was
that we were unable to empirically measure the
I certainly had my struggles with R to create student visualization outcomes. This deficiency
visualization, and I still struggle in visualization education stands out in
understanding [. . .] the complexity of comparison to other fields in higher education
visualization and visualization creation using (statistics, writing studies, and even computer
R. However, using the creation of programming). This gap had a direct effect on
visualization in R helped me to understand this study, as we could not measure the
the statistics analysis. instructors’ visualization evaluations due to the
lack of standard procedure even among
I am very familiar with Adobe software ourselves. Future studies can address the
product line, but this course introduces me to assessment of student visualization work.
R capabilities to produce visualization,
which is a new experience. I learned in this The teaching of visualization is a relevant way to
course about the complexity of visualization address the challenge of statistical education,
through R, something no other visual especially for nonstatistical majors (Spurrier,
communication course covers. 2001). In this study, we outlined a visualization
curriculum using the Dick and Carey model. Our

Visual Communication Quarterly 254 Volume 25 October – December 2018

Figure 4 Student project analyzing retweets about the Daytona International Speedway.

analysis revealed that students who used our References

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Alon Friedman 0000-0003-2621-0906

Alon Friedman is an assistant professor in

Visualization and Data Science at the University of
South Florida. He has published articles on visual
grammar and big data. He is a member of IEEE Vis
and Open Source R. He teaches visual
communication, big data visualization, and visual

Edward Schneider is an associate professor in

Strategic Communication at Ithaca College. He has
been published in leading journals on animation and
3-D. He teaches visual communication and
E-mail:; https://faculty.

Visual Communication Quarterly 256 Volume 25 October – December 2018