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Data visualization skill lab

The university offered a class this fall that combined data visualization with real-world crime data. This class was the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art’s course “Capstone in Design 1: Form and Function.” It included a Data Visualization Skill Lab in which students formed interdisciplinary teams to explore crime data from St. Louis City. This was a collaboration between Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art, the Institute for Public Health’s Public Health Data and Training Center, and the Brown School. Students from both schools were eligible to enroll.

The Data Visualization Skill Lab was taught by Heather Corcoran, director of the College and Graduate School of Art, Jane Reuter Hitzeman and Herbert F. Hitzeman, Jr. Professor of Art and Ben Cooper, manager, Institute for Public Health Data and Training Center. Students in the lab came from three areas of study, communication design, public health, and computer science, and formed interdisciplinary teams to explore St. Louis City crime data. Data covered crimes committed in St. Louis City from January 2014 – July 2016. Students also used other data sources including public transportation, US Census, and historical weather data.

Photos from the Data Visualization Lab classes and presentations.
Photos from the Data Visualization Lab classes and presentations.

The teams built prototypes embedding visualizations to display the data in clear, compelling, and engaging ways. Students were tasked to develop and apply skills using software for data visualization and information design. Resources used included Tableau, Adobe Illustrator, ArcGIS, and colored pencils and paper.

Teams also benefited from involvement with community partners. The FBI helped students understand the data they were looking at and worked with them to conceptualize class projects that would help with real-world practice.

Students presented their final projects to a full room at the Kemper Art Museum on November 3. Each of the three groups presented their dashboard and fielded questions, comments and suggestions from the audience.  The audience included members from the university and community including the FBI and circuit attorney’s office. Specific project topics ranged from crime near local Metrolink stations, weather and crime in St. Louis to crime times and locations involving children.

This experimental course was assembled quickly for the fall, yet students are demanding more data visualization coursework at the university. Following a review of evaluations from both students and presentation attendees, course instructors will discuss the potential to expand the course and offer it again in the future.