USING INTERNET BASED DATA VISUALIZATION TOOLS TO ACCESS AND INTERACT WITH AUTHENTIC ENVIRONMENTAL DATA
Richard Huber, Curricular Studies,
Using Internet based
data visualization tools (DVT’s) is an excellent way to facilitate inquiry
instruction. This paper will introduce
the reader to several representative DVT’s from
Although Internet-based resources have already begun to revolutionize the ways in which we teach science, some of the Internet’s most promising resources for facilitating inquiry-based science instruction are just now beginning to be tapped. Specifically, new uses of Java applet based technology are opening up vast databases of environmental science data. When coupled with educationally sound and developmentally appropriate applet-based data visualization tools (DVT’s), these databases provide a truly unprecedented gold mine of resources for promoting inquiry-based instruction in the areas of Oceanography, Environmental Studies and Earth Sciences. In response to the need for educationally valid tools to access these online databases, science educators at the University of Minnesota Duluth and University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) have developed data driven DVT’s for the Cape Fear River in Southeast North Carolina (River Run), near shore buoys off the coast of North Carolina (River View), NOAA buoy data from around the world (Ocean View) and Northern Minnesota lakes and rivers (Water on the Web). This paper, in addition to demonstrating the tremendous utility of DVT’s for inquiry instruction, will serve as guide for other educators interested in developing DVT’s for their regions.
Although the science education community has recognized the value and importance of inquiry-based instruction for decades, the goal of inquiry-based instruction remains elusive. To a large part, inquiry is thwarted by (1) entrenched structures within the educational system that work against implementation of inquiry-based teaching and (2) a lack of resources to facilitate teachers’ efforts, especially novice teachers, to use inquiry. The recognized value of inquiry-based instruction and the potency of these barriers are well documented (Comeaux & Huber, 2001, Crawford, 1999; Huber, 2003; Huber, 2002; Huber & Moore, 2001a; Huber & Moore 2001b; Huber & Moore, 2000; Lederman & Niess, 1998; Moore & Huber, 2001a; National Research Council [NRC] 1996; National Science Teachers Association [NSTA] 1998; Wong, 1998; Wong & Wong, 1998). In fact, as of 1996, the National Science Education Standards stated that inquiry-based instruction was literally impossible to achieve in many American schools—in the absence of enormous pre-requisite reforms at all levels of the K-12 educational system. These same Standards, however, more optimistically call upon the educational community to move forward implementing inquiry whenever and however possible, and in the process, creating the “pathways to reform” needed to implement the vision of inquiry-based instruction championed by the Standards. Science educators are recognizing the unlimited potential of the Internet as both an exquisite tool for facilitating inquiry-based instruction and for creating pathways to educational reform (Alibrandi, 1998; Huber, 2003; Huber 2002; Huber & Harriett, 1998; Huber & Moore, 2002; Huber & Moore, 2001a; Moore & Huber, 2001b; Warlick, 1998; Watson, 1999).
Among the most promising of Internet utilities in this respect are
those that employ Java applets that allow users to generate custom-made
graphical displays of the data found in large relevant databases, such as those
compiled as a result of large-scale long-term environmental monitoring
studies. The best of these utilities tap
into fascinating databases and allow students to readily generate easily
understood meaningful graphical displays of the data. For example, one of the DVT’s within River Run ( http://www.uncw.edu/riverrun
data and utilities for exploring data on the water quality of the Cape Fear
River from 1995 to 2003 (http://www.uncw.edu/riverrun/river-dataRR.htm)
. During these years this drainage basin
experienced a major poultry farm spill, several ruptures of hog waste lagoons,
five hurricanes, and a once-in-500-years-flood.
River Run offers
several choices for interactive data displays including the Geographic
Information Service (
1. Impact of Hurricane Bonnie on the
These Internet resources capitalize on significant resources that, until recently, have been readily available but not in a useful form for education purposes. Specifically, vast databases housing the data compiled by various environmental monitoring programs have been accessible via the Internet for some time. However, although the robust data within these databases are ideally suited to student inquiries, the presentation of the data has not been up to the task of supporting student inquiry. Typically the data is accessible only as matrix arrays of numbers on a spread sheet. Most students and many teachers have neither the expertise to manipulate such oceans of numbers nor the conceptual framework to visualize relationships within the numbers needed to generate inferences and hypothesis. Thus, rather than serving as invitations to inquiry and avenues to understanding, the data sets may do little more than confuse and intimidate. However, when coupled with appropriate data visualization tools, these vast databases become ideal resources for inquiry-based science education activities.
The value of these Internet utilities goes far beyond merely providing a straightforward and engaging mechanism for facilitating students in learning how to do scientific inquiry. The utilities are extremely effective tools for teaching science content, and these utilities have been used with substantial success to teach science content at middle school through college graduate courses. Also, oceanographers and other environmental science researchers become genuinely excited over discoveries the utilities permitted them to make. Further, these utilities offer the promise of promoting computer and graphic literacy among students, and they may very well form the foundation for much needed improved online assessment tools (Huber & Moore, 2002; Huber & Moore, 2001b; Moore & Huber, 2001b; Watson, 1999).
application of Java applet technology to online environmental databases not
only promises to change the way we teach science, but to change the way
environmental regulatory agencies interact with citizens. Far too often, agencies’ efforts to involve
citizens in environmental management decision-making processes are thwarted by
the scale and complexities of the issues and data associated with proposed
regulatory actions. For example, the New
River Round Table in
Figure 2. Comparing data from two different data sources.
Examples of Internet sites developed that use such data visualization tools to facilitate inquiry include:
Water on the
uses remote underwater sampling of lakes in
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