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Pedagogy’s Digital Swiss Army Knife: Explain Everything

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Explain Everything draws from a range of educational technologies to be, as its name suggests, the best possible tool for explaining anything

Written by: Sarah Grace

Many of the technologies out there work on two levels: a quick functionality that often leaves you wanting more, and a more complex (often less visible) layer of options that are time-intensive to learn but offer better results.

Explain Everything is designed to offer all of the advanced options of a program like PowerPoint at a glance. It’s intuitive, interdisciplinary, intensely customizable, and in most regards only as limited as your imagination.

This app’s mission is to empower you with all the tools you could need to explain your subject material. You can type, use tables, insert pictures, sound, or video, and do pretty much all of the things you can do in PowerPoint. However, Explain Everything will record like a screen-capture program, can be saved as a video, and is designed for use on tablets, which opens up a lot of doors.

To take one example, you can press record and use a stylus to solve a math problem by hand in the program. Now you have a video of that process, which you can play within your class presentation if you don’t feel like writing it out. This is extremely useful for online courses. You can also quickly create a video demonstrating how to solve a problem, upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or Blackboard, and send it to a struggling student.

Another great feature is the app’s ability to import a live web browser directly into your presentation. You can record yourself annotating an online article, or write notes on what makes a website an unacceptable source… on the actual website. The app will record whatever you do online in the inserted web browser. If there is a complex registration process that your students have to do on their own to access sources, or a certain website you want them to use, you can create a presentation explaining the steps, with a video showing how to do it on the actual site. This tool enables you to ‘explain everything,’ but you will only have to explain it once with the resources you’ll be able to create.

Best of all, you will not have to start from scratch. Explain Everything lets you import existing PowerPoints or other presentation formats directly into the app, to be customized and personalized in dynamic new ways.

There are many other great tools in this incredible application, and they are all easily accessible and easy to integrate into the toolkit that every educator deploys to explain their subject matter. I’ll be introducing more of these exciting possibilities during the Explain Everything session at the upcoming Ann Ferren conference on January 13th. Teaching with me will be chemistry professor and diehard Explain Everything fan Michele Lansigan, who has been using the app for her past two semesters at AU. Come to our session to hear how this tool has changed her classroom and to explore what it can do for yours.

Sarah Grace in a Video + Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

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New for Fall 2015! Half-day and full-day Advanced Software Training

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New! CTRL’s Research Support Group is offering extended software training sessions. For Fall 2015, we are offering full-day training in Stata and R, and half-day training in Qualtrics and NVivo. The full-day training sessions will include a light lunch.

Full descriptions for the workshops are below. If you are interested in registering to attend these, or any of our introductory or intermediate level software trainings, please register at the CTRL website:


Use of Stata for Data Management, Analysis, and Visualization
Friday, October 2nd, 10:20 am – 3:50 pm (Light lunch will be provided)
This one-day workshop offers opportunity to users, who already have some familiarity with this statistical application, to learn about a variety of advanced topics and improve their grasp on utilizing the potential of the software. Selected content will include, but is not limited to, programming with Mata, simulations, structural breaks, time series and panel data, discrete choice models, and tips and tricks in coding. Following a brief refresher on introductory aspects of Stata, the workshop will consist of about one hour allocations to discuss the topics listed above. Emphasis will be given to the coding component of working with the program and not so much to the underlying theoretical econometric principles. Register here.

Use of Qualtrics and SPSS for Survey Research and Data Analysis
Thursday, October 8th, 1:10 pm -5:15 pm
Qualtrics is a professional-level online survey software available to all AU faculty, staff, and students, and is frequently used by faculty in both research and teaching contexts. Attendees will learn the basics of online survey creation, as well as advanced methods for organizing and distributing surveys. After working on survey creation, we will explore the data analysis functions internal to Qualtrics, and show how to export survey results to SPSS and perform more sophisticated multivariate data analyses and visualization. Register here.

Use of NVivo for Qualitative Research
Thursday, October 15th, 1:10 pm – 5:15 pm
NVivo is a software tool for undertaking qualitative research that is available to all members of the AU community. We can install it on personal computers and it is also available through the Virtual Computer Lab. We plan on showing some of the basic features of NVivo in importing materials and analysis of them, but want this training to be a working session where participants bring their own qualitative data (text, audio, or video) and actually work on a project. Because there are so many different types of qualitative approaches, we want those attending to come with their own methods in mind and data particular to exploring a relevant research topic. We invite those who are thinking of attending to come by the CTRL Research Lab and get the software installed on their computer prior to the session. We can also advise on proper formatting of documents so they are easy to import into NVivo. Register here.

Use of R for Data Management, Analysis, and Visualization
Friday, November 13th, 10:20 am – 3:50 pm (Light lunch will be provided)
This is a half-day course that guides participants through the fundamentals of using R software for a typical data analysis process. Participants will learn the basics of reading data, descriptive statistics, data visualization, data analysis, and presentation of analytical results. In addition to the fundamentals, faculty may opt to learn some advanced use R techniques, such as time series, panel data, survival regression analysis, as well as utilization of R for text mining, parallel computing, visualization and analysis. Register here.


Data Visualize Your Life With

I admit, this is probably not 100% related your research, but this is totally related to another great data visualization tool that is available on the web, especially if you are a social media junkie like me.  That is my self portrait on the left there.

Not really, of course.  But if you are regular on Twitter or Facebook (and these days, who isn’t?), there is a neat website that will allow you to take the information that you have on those social media sites and turn it into a wonderful piece of data visualization.  Two great things are associated with this: the website offers free service and you don’t have to hunt for data, because you already have it.

The website is called This is an online community for people who love data visualizaiton (like yourself) and offers great tips on how to make yours better, links to other blogs and resources on the web related to data vis, and also gives you the chance to show off your original graphics.  Just a heads up, this website isn’t totally for novice data visualizers.  Many of the showcase graphs were created by professionals, especially those who know how to code.  It’s a good idea to look through the gallery anyway to get a sense of how data visualization can be used, maybe even for your own research project.

But this post isn’t meant to discourage you!  As I mentioned before, you already have data that can use to create a cool graphic. also has a “Create” section where you can make graphics from templates provided by the website.   You can sign up for free with your Facebook or Twitter accounts.

After signing up with my Facebook account, I chose one of the Facebook graphic templates and created a graphic that expressed the data on my friends, photos, and other info.  For my example, I chose the Facebook Monster. I could tell how many of my friends are male, how many are female, and how many times, on average, I have friends in my photos with me.  (The answer is 3.4.) Below is a visual example of the number of friends I have on each continent. I wonder who that lone Australian is.

If you have a Facebook page that showcases a business or an organization you have, has great templates to express the data of those pages as well.  Below is an example from the website that shows the demographics of people who visit a Facebook page. has similar graphic templates for Twitter.  An interesting one is a graphic that analyzes hashtags.  When you use for Facebook or Twitter, make sure that your account settings will allow to access the information or else you won’t be able to see all analytic parts of the graphic. This website is especially interesting if you want to make a fun, easy, and quick showcase of your personal data.

If you decide to try it out, let us know what you think!

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Fast Data Visualization with Wolfram Alpha Pro

A while back, we introduced a really neat website called Wolfram Alpha, an answer engine developed by Wolfram Research. It’s an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data. Wolfram Alpha was amazing before, but recently it just got better: now you can input numeric or tabular data right into the browser and Wolfram Alpha will instantly analyze it. It will handle not only pure numbers, but also dates, places, strings, and more.

This feature is part of Wolfram Alpha Pro. It’s Wolfram with many more options for data analysis and computational knowledge. The only thing is, you have to pay a monthly price to use this service. Of course this is not what anyone on a budget wants to hear, but the good news is that there is a special student rate available ($2.99/month).

So what can Wolfram Alpha Pro do? Here is an example given by the website that analyzes the relationship between GDP and homicide for African countries:

Scatter plot:

Histograms: Below is an example of a bivariate histogram (shows both variables) but Wolfram will also give you histograms on each variable.

Heat map of GDP:

Wolfram doesn’t stop there. Browse the examples  that the website gives to explore how you can get results from uploaded datasets. This website has been famously known for answering computational questions on the fly. This new feature provided by the Pro version will help bring about a new dimension to your data, especially if you want some quick data visualization.

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See how “Information is Beautiful”

Recently this blog has focused a lot on how you can use various data visualization tools for your research projects. We’re still dedicated to promoting how data visualization can enhance your research.  While data can look good in words or numbers, try experimenting with ways you can make your data exciting and really catch the attention of your reader or audience.

Not convinced? If you have about 20 minutes to spare, check out this TED talk that came out in July 2010: David McCandless is an independent data journalist and information designer who has written for publications like The Guardian and Wired.  In this presentation, McCandless shows how complex datasets can turn into stunning visualizations that can help you and your audience see the world.  While working with data, he offers his own perspective on the popular phrase “data is the new oil”. To McCandless, “data is the new soil” as it is a “fertile medium” where data visualization can literally “bloom” like flowers if you work it the right way.

The speaker also has a blog called “Information is Beautiful“. This blog is definitely worth checking out if you want to see how data visualization can be used to display various types of information in very unique, eye-catching ways. He uses data to visualize politics, the economy, social media, and trends in pop culture.

You’ll also learn that he absolutely hates pie charts. Find out why!

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Data Visualization

Below are some quick links to the online data visualization websites that we have blogged about:

Cacoo an online diagramming application that features a large stencil set that allows you to create various diagrams. Think of a diagram, and you can create it on Cacoo: we’re talking causal loop diagrams, flowcharts, mind maps, wireframes, etc.

Wordle is a data visualization tool that allows you to create word clouds out of any body of text that you like, and it’s easy and fun to do!

Many Eyes
Many Eyes is an experimental data visualization software designed by IBM that turns data presentation into a community activity. The website lets anyone upload data and choose how they want it to be expressed, and then gives people an opportunity to engage in discussions about the data. 

Gapminder allows you to select the development indicators between which you want to establish a relationship and then plots them on a graph with circles that represent individual countries. These bubbles are color-coded according to their respective regions, and their sizes indicate the relative size of the population of that country.

Google Earth
Download Google Earth for free at their website and get ready to navigate the world at your fingertips.

Google Docs
Upload your dataset on Google Docs and make charts, tables, and graphs! You’ll need a gmail account first.

Google Fusion Tables
Google Fusion Tables is a modern data management and publishing web application that makes it easy to visualize and publish data tables online. You can import your own data and visualize it instantly on tables, maps, graphs, and more.

Create diagrams using Cacoo

Are the boring shapes and arrows on Powerpoint just not cutting it for you?  Looking for another way to create diagrams?

Cacoo is an online diagramming application that features a large stencil set that allows you to create various diagrams. (Fun fact: Cacoo comes from the Japanese word “kaku”, which means “draw”.)  Think of a diagram, and you can create it on Cacoo: we’re talking causal loop diagrams, flowcharts, mind maps, wireframes, etc. etc.  A neat feature about Cacoo is that it is an online collaborative tool, which means that multiple users can access a diagram simultaneously.  There is even a chat box at the bottom of the screen to talk to your fellow diagram-makers.

Although that option is there, you certainly do not need to use all the features of Cacoo to create the diagram you want…just like you also don’t need to pay to use this application. You can sign up for free.

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll get started on a blank sheet and have access to many stencils to create your diagram.  You’ll find the regulars, such as the squares and circles, and also other interesting shapes that tailor to your theme, like balloons and people. You can also create lines to create your variable nodes and edit the content within them. While the blank worksheet might look simple at first glance, once you start building your diagram, you’ll find that the application actually helps you align your shapes so that your diagram looks nice and professional.

You can export your diagram as a .PDF, .SVG, or more commonly, .PNG (if you just want to insert your image into a paper or presentation). Another neat feature is that when you export your diagram, the white background is not exported with it.  The image above is not a good example of that (because we wanted to show you a live shot), but you’ll be pleasantly surprised how good the exported diagram looks against a colored background.


Data exploration with Many Eyes

Many Eyes is an experimental data visualization software designed by IBM that turns data presentation into a community activity. The website lets anyone upload data and choose how they want it to be expressed, and then gives people an opportunity to engage in discussions about the data. You can either create a visualization from existing data sets or upload your own data.

This website can be a little daunting at first glance, so it’s easier to navigate if you spend a little time exploring what other people have created before jumping into your own project. You can do that by clicking on any of the options under the “Explore” heading on the left of the page. Here, you can see other people’s visualizations, explore existing data sets uploaded by other users, and take a look at what kinds of discussions have arisen.

Once you are ready to create your own visualization, click on “Create a Visualization”. Many Eyes will walk you through this process in three easy steps. Your first step will be to either choose from an existing data set or to upload your own data.

Your next step is to choose a visualization method. Many Eyes has divided their various visualization options into the following categories: analyze a text, compare a set of values, see relationships among data points, see the parts of a whole,  see the world, or track rises and falls over time. This step is critical to the success of your visualization; you must have a good idea of what you wish to see from your data in order to pick the right visualization tool. Not all of the options are created equal, and not all of the options will visualize your data in the most applicable way!

Once you have chosen your method, Many Eyes will generate a visualization for your data. If you don’t like the way it looks or it wasn’t what you were expecting, you can go back and choose a different method. If you are satisfied with it, you can share it publicly and add tags and descriptions to explain what you’re trying to show. You can also save an image of your visualization to your computer to insert into a document or presentation.

Final product of a Many Eyes visualization

If you have questions about how this software can be used in your research project, or if you need help incorporating it, feel free to stop by Hurst 202!


Tips for Data Visualization (Part 2)

And now, Part Two of the series “Tips for Data Visualization”:

1. Use the Rule of Thirds

What is the rule of thirds?  Imagine taking an image and splitting it into thirds. With this grid in mind, this “rule” identifies the important parts of the image that you should consider placing your points of interest as you frame your image. Take the example above. Which one looks better to you?

Of course you don’t need to pull out a ruler and start measuring your images to make sure they follow this principle, but try seeing the graphic in a way that is elegant in its data-infused beauty.

2. Be consistent when scaling images

If a 1-inch-tall coffee mug represents how much coffee the SSRL staff consumes in one day, how many cups does a picture of a 6-inch coffee mug represent? How can you tell?  If you create your scales with a graphic editor, be careful about being consistent with your images. If possible, use a computer program to help you make consistent measurements.

3.  When using intensity maps – keep the scale coloring from lightest to darkest.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but with the vast range of colors that are available out there, you might be tempted to make your intensity map look like a bowl of Skittles than an image that has real information on it.  Darker colors usually mean higher values, but you can work around this if you define your scale to your audience. Just keep the hues consistent.

4.  Use Maps and Statistics in an Effective Manner

Take a look at the map above.  You can tell the general area where there is great population density, but can you tell which city?  The bubble for Phoenix is swallowing the entire state of Utah here.  Your maps shouldn’t leave your audience guessing.

5. If it looks bad to you, it will probably look bad to someone else too.

As Prof. Jim Lee likes to say, “Use your crap detector!”  Share your graphical information with someone else.  If they take too long to figure out what it means, something is probably wrong.  Make your graphic look good, but understandable.


Jazz up your data with Gapminder

One of the most common data visualization tools for research projects is the standard graph. Graphs can be visually instructive when explaining how one indicator relates to another, but let’s face it – we’ve all seen a million graphs before, and they can be extremely dull. Moreover, if your aim is to compare multiple countries, all those lines on the same graph can be terribly confusing!

Enter Gapminder, at

Gapminder allows you to select the development indicators between which you want to establish a relationship and then plots them on a graph with circles that represent individual countries. These bubbles are color-coded according to their respective regions, and their sizes indicate the relative size of the population of that country. If you hover your mouse over a specific bubble, a label with that country’s name will appear.

To create your graph, simply click on where the label is and select the indicators that you want to see, and the graph appears! If you want to isolate countries from a specific region, click on that region on the map in the upper right hand corner, and all of the bubbles for countries not in that region will disappear from the graph. To isolate one country in particular, check the box next to it on the list below the map.

One other nifty feature of Gapminder is that you can see how countries have changed over time. To see how this works, move the slider on the timeline back to whatever year you’d like to start from and click “PLAY”. The bubbles will move around the graph, indicating how the relationship between the two indicators you selected has changed regionally or globally over the years.

This is an incredibly effective tool for making your data visualization more interesting and engaging, as well as for showing changes over time! If you’re confused about its use or want to make sure you’re applying this tool effectively, you can stop by the lab in Hurst 202/203 for further pointers!