detail from data visualization by
image credit:

  1. participation (10%)
  2. quizzes (10%)
  3. instructions and documentation (20%)
  4. mechanism and process description infographic (25%)
  5. scientific or technical controversy data visualization (25%)
  6. lightning talk (10%)

grade descriptions

These descriptions will give you an indication of the the expectations that will guide my evaluation of your individual projects:

  • A – Outstanding: represents superlative participation in all course activities; all assigned work completed, with very high quality in all course work.
  • B – Excellent: represents above-average participation in all course activities; all assigned work completed, with consistently high quality in course work.
  • C – Average: represents good participation in all course activities; all assigned work completed, with generally good quality overall in course work.
  • D – Below average: represents uneven participation in course activities; some gaps in assigned work completed, with inconsistent quality in course work.
  • F – Inadequate: represents minimal participation in course activities; serious gaps in assigned work completed, or very low quality in course work.

plus/minus grades

I will use the following scale to determine plus/minus grades:

  • A+: 97 and above
  • A: 93-96
  • A-: 90-92
  • B+: 87-89
  • B: 83-86
  • B-: 80-82
  • C+: 77-79
  • C: 73-76
  • C-: 70-72
  • D+: 67-69
  • D: 63-66
  • D-: 60-62
  • F: 0-59

participation (10%)


This course is designed to be a participatory learning experience, combining discussions and in-class workshop activities and assignments. As such, it is important that you fully participate in all in-class activities, specifically by committing yourself to the learning community consisting of your classmates and myself.

You will have multiple opportunities to earn participation credit. However, if it becomes necessary for you to demonstrate your participation in the course, it will be your responsibility to save relevant materials (like your notes) as evidence of this participation.

In general, if at the end of the semester you can demonstrate that you were able to substantially enhance or contribute to the course learning community and you fully participated in course activities, you will be able to earn full credit for participation. While preparation times may vary depending on our weekly schedule, you should generally plan to spend 6 hours a week—or, 2 hours for every hour of class time—preparing for class meetings.

what does class participation look like?

Participation can take different forms for different students. For example: you could post relevant links and comments on the course Twitter feed during or after class, you could take notes on class discussions, or you could help your classmates with technical or other tasks during workshops. Each of these activities allows the student to engage with the course, and, consequently, improves the course experience for everyone. However, some participation behaviors hold true for everyone.

First, you cannot participate if you do not attend class or if you regularly show up late or otherwise interfere with course activities. For these reasons, course attendance is a necessary prerequisite for participation. However, attending class does not equal participation, for it is possible to be in every class meeting without engaging with or contributing to the learning that occurs in class.

Second, it will be impossible for you to participate in course learning if you come to class unprepared. You can prepare in the following ways. Before each class meeting you should complete all assigned readings and homework. You should bring all materials to each session, including course texts, additional readings, your notes, homework, assignment files and research sources, discussion notes from previous meetings, and any other relevant materials.

Finally, while in class, you should be engaged in all activities by taking notes on our discussions and participating in those discussions either orally or via the Twitter backchannel, or, during peer-review sessions or technology workshops, by conferencing with your classmates and myself or engaging with the workshop deliverables.

quizzes (10%)

You will receive a daily quiz grade for each class meeting. On any day on which readings are assigned you should be prepared to demonstrate your comprehension of those readings, not simply by discussing them in class, but also by being quizzed on the content of the readings and/or successfully completing any assigned proof-of-reading activities. On workshop days, this quiz grade will be based on your participation in and/or completion of workshop activities.

Quizzes will typically be given at the beginning of class. If you are absent or late and miss a quiz or proof-of-reading activity, your daily quiz grade will be zero. Missed quizzes cannot be made up.

instructions and documentation (20%)


Instructions are important documents in the real world. They are a way companies can connect to their customers. They structure the way individuals do their jobs. They help ensure everyone does the same thing for the same task. They can show people performing tasks how to do so safely and effectively.

Unfortunately, instructions are often the worst-written documents we encounter: they miss steps, fail to orient the reader to important tools or concepts, assume too much or explain too much, and generally confuse the reader who is already unfamiliar with the task.

Writing instructions is harder than it seems, but more important than we assume.

For this assignment, you will produce a set of written instructions for a task of your choosing. Your instructions will be designed for users who have not necessarily worked through the process that you are describing. Your instructions will include both text and visuals and should allow even novice users to move successfully through your selected step-by-step process.

You will submit the instructions digitally. Your final instructions should include a minimum of

  • 1,000 words,
  • 5 individual steps, and
  • 10 accompanying images.

This project will be both an exercise in writing effective instructions as well as clear document design that makes effective use of headings, bullets, lists, body text, and image placement.

Some sample tasks include:

  • cropping and resizing images in Photoshop
  • signing up for courses
  • designing a webpage in MIX
  • how to test soil
  • scanning with an HP scanner
  • how to make beeswax candles
  • building a campfire

Some tips on choosing a task:

  • Choose a task you are reasonably familiar with. If you are a novice, you might miss steps and mislead the reader unknowingly.
  • Choose a task with specific steps that aren’t based on technique. “How to sink a free throw” or “how to ballroom dance” are interesting topics, but a reader’s success will depend on form, not function.
  • Choose something appropriately complex. “How to fix a blister” involves too few steps for an effective project.
  • Do not choose a recipe. Any task involving cooking or mixing drinks is off limits for this assignment.


You will submit this project twice. The first submission will consist of a draft of the project intended for user-testing, and the final version will incorporate any changes that that testing indicates are necessary. Your instructions will be graded according to the following criteria:

  • a clear and limiting title
  • appropriate level of technicality for the audience
  • logically ordered steps
  • appropriate use of warnings, cautions, and notes, that are set off visually in the text using best practices of document design
  • appropriate use of style and tone, including
    • active voice and imperative mood
    • parallel phrasing
    • positive phrasing (RIGHT—”Examine your disk for dust contamination.” WRONG—”Verify that your disk is not contaminated with dust.”)
    • transitions that mark time and sequence
  • appropriate visual aids that are all the original creation of the author; no third-party visuals will be allowed

mechanism and process description infographic (25%)


The purpose of description is not simply to help your audience understand what something is or does (which is the province of definition), but to help them see—literally—how that thing functions. To this end, descriptions use visual detail to describe both the subject of the description and how it works.

For this assignment, you will work alone or in groups of 2-3 persons to choose a mechanism or process with which you are reasonably familiar and create an infographic that describes your subject using both images and text.

For your subject, you may choose something from your chosen major/profession, but you will not be limited to strictly academic or professional topics. You may choose something from a hobby or interest, for example.

Whatever you choose, you will need to find an audience for whom this description has relevance and purpose, so strive to be creative in your choice. Examples might include a hard drive, a song, the student loan system, the human heart, the metabolic process, or a television. If you are choosing a process, the process must be one that is not accomplished through direct human action (that would be instructions). In other words, you can describe how blood circulates; you cannot describe how to check a person’s blood pressure.

Although it can contain quantitative elements, this information graphic will be largely qualitative in nature. It should follow best practices for both writing and design, and choices about visual design as well as the style and tone of the text should be both appropriate for the subject matter and pay attention to the needs of your potential audience.

Your description should answer the following questions about your subject:

  • What is it?
  • What does it do?
  • What does it look like?
  • What is it made of, or what are the parts that constitute its whole?
  • How does it work?
  • How has it been put together?
  • Why should your reader be interested in it?

You will not necessarily answer these questions explicitly or in the order listed here, but each of them should be addressed in some form during the course of the description.

The final product should a single document that can be viewed on a single surface (that is, not multiple pages). While text is necessary for the assignment, your information graphic should use visuals and visual design instead of text whenever possible; overall the balance of text and graphical information should be nearly 50-50.

The project must be appropriately sourced. All information and graphical materials contained in the graphic must either be the original creation of the author or author(s) or the source of those materials must be fully cited using the APA citation method.


This assignment will be graded by how well it measures up to the following criteria:

  • Effectively communicates a sense of the overall mechanism or process, including why it is significant for the audience
  • Clear explanation of the function of each constituent part with details appropriate to the audience’s interest and level of knowledge
  • Clear and appropriate organization, which will likely be one of the following types:
    • Spatial organization, when you want readers to visualize the mechanism or process as a static object (e.g., house interior, document, disk box)
    • Functional organization, when you want the reader to see a mechanism or a process in action (e.g., camera, smoke detector)
    • Chronological organization, when you want the reader to see a mechanism or a process according to how it was put together (e.g., tent, piece of furniture)
    • Some combination of the above
  • Free of errors in design, syntax, or style

scientific or technical controversy data visualization (25%)


Issues in contemporary American society are increasingly scientific and technological in nature. One of the problems facing an open public conversation on many such issues is a lack of public understanding about the nature of these technical problems. This problem is exacerbated further by the difficulty that accompanies explaining complex issues in a way that can be understood by audiences of non-professionals.

For this assignment, you will work alone or in groups of 2-3 persons to thoroughly research a current controversy using the methods you would use to create a formal report, but you will explain this controversy using the form of a large-scale data visualization.

Where your information graphic assignment was largely qualitative in nature, this assignment will rely on quantitative data, which you will combine with text using the best practices of information design to create the narrative of your chosen problem.

Some possible controversies include, but are not limited to: cloning, genetically modified produce, bioterrorism, global warming, and stem cell research. However, rather than simply choosing a hot-button topic, you might be better served by choosing a topic related to your major or one that is of local or regional interest. In any case, the primary criteria for the topic choice will be that the issue in question is a controversy about which informed stakeholders disagree.

To prepare for this data visualization, you will:

  • Research all sides and viewpoints of the controversy. Remember that, despite what we imply through debating techniques, every issue has more than two sides, and every viewpoint is embedded in a specific set of values, experiences, and goals. That is, these viewpoints arise from particular situations involving different occasions, audiences, presuppositions, and speakers. As you research, strive to keep an open mind by accounting for these situations.
  • Synthesize your researched information to determine what your audience needs to know. This might include
    • a definition of terms,
    • a sense of what the actual point of disagreement is,
    • a history of the controversy,
    • an explanation of scientific or technical principles affecting the controversy,
    • the range of viewpoints represented within the controversy and the impetus behind those viewpoints,
    • the implications of or consequences arising from this controversy, and
    • what events are on the horizon for this controversy.
  • While there is no such thing as a completely objective presentation, avoid explicit bias in supporting one viewpoint over others and be aware of how your tone, style, and arrangement might create bias.

Your visualization will take the form of a 36″x48″ poster. You will print and mount the poster for public presentation and submit a digital copy of the final version of the poster to your course folder. (Information about printing the poster at the downtown WVU library can be found here.) Your posters will be displayed for the WVU community on the final day of class in Colson 130.

Your visualization should be rich with detail and explanation, allowing your audience to get a full understanding of the controversy. It must be appropriately cited, providing full citation information for all materials that were not created by the author or authors. Finally, it should follow the best practices of information design and written style and be largely free of errors in style and usage.


This assignment will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Research
  • Visual design
  • Readability and effectiveness
  • Citation

lightning talk (10%)

In conjunction with your data visualization poster, you will present a summary of the findings of your poster in the form of a 6 minute and 40 second pecha kucha presentation. The presentation will follow the pecha kucha format—20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each—and will summarize the details of your research on the scientific or technical controversy that is the subject of your data visualization.

[Updated 4/8] So that every person and group will have an opportunity to present their project during the poster presentation, I would like (pending class approval) to modify the lighting talk format to half of the original length—10 slides (you can use more than images) displayed for 20 seconds each.

This is not a lot of time to communicate a lot of information.

For this reason, your goal for the talk should be to give as thorough an overview of the controversy outlined by your poster as is possible in this time frame. To do so you will need to succinctly give the topic, major players, and main points of contention in the controversy. As you do so, you should highlight important visuals and other data from your poster (your poster will be presented while you give your talk, so you can use it and the screen to share the information).

I will evaluate your talks using the following categories:

  • Content: The presentation effectively and clearly summarizes the scientific or technical controversy from the student’s poster
  • Structure: The presentation is structured—with an introduction, body, and conclusion—so as to effectively communicate the content, including clear (oral or visual) signals to indicate major points or introduce new topics
  • Public presentation: The student or group follows the best practices for slide design and oral presentation
  • Format: The presentation fits the assignment criteria for the project—10 slides shown for 20 seconds each

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