In visual communication, people glean insights about patterns of data by observing visual representations of datasets. Colormap data visualizations (“colormaps”) show patterns in datasets by mapping variations in color to variations in magnitude. When people interpret colormaps, they have expectations about how colors map to magnitude, and they are better at interpreting visualizations that align with those expectations. For example, they infer that darker colors map to larger quantities (dark-is-more bias) and colors that are higher on vertically oriented legends map to larger quantities (high-is-more bias). In previous studies, the notion of quantity was straightforward because more of the concept represented (conceptual magnitude) corresponded to larger numeric values (numeric magnitude). However, conceptual and numeric magnitude can conflict, such as using rank order to quantify health—smaller numbers correspond to greater health. Under conflicts, are inferred mappings formed based on the numeric level, the conceptual level, or a combination of both? We addressed this question across five experiments, spanning data domains: alien animals, antibiotic discovery, and public health. Across experiments, the high-is-more bias operated at the conceptual level: colormaps were easier to interpret when larger conceptual magnitude was represented higher on the legend, regardless of numeric magnitude. The dark-is-more bias tended to operate at the conceptual level, but numeric magnitude could interfere, or even dominate, if conceptual magnitude was less salient. These results elucidate factors influencing meanings inferred from visual features and emphasize the need to consider data meaning, not just numbers, when designing visualizations aimed to facilitate visual communication.
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The following is a Theory paper that presents an ethnographic exploration into how concepts are situated in workplace and classroom settings. Situated cognition research demonstrates that different contexts wherein learning occurs and knowledge is applied shape our conceptual understanding. Within engineering education and practice this means that practitioners, students, and instructors demonstrate different ways of representing their conceptual knowledge due to the different contexts wherein they learn and apply engineering concepts. The purpose of this paper is to present themes on how practitioners, students, and instructors represent fundamental structural engineering concepts within the contexts of structural engineering design. By representation of concepts we mean the ways in which practitioners, students, and instructors portray and demonstrate their conceptual understanding of concepts through the social and material contexts of the workplace and classroom environments. Previous research on learning and engineering education has shown the influence that social and material contexts within these environments have on our knowing and understanding. The researchers use ethnographic methods consisting of workplace and classroom observations, interviews with practitioners, students, and instructors, and documentation of workplace and academic artifacts—such as drawings, calculations, and notes—to access practitioners’, students’, and instructors’ conceptual representations. These ethnographic methods are conducted at a private engineering firm and in 300 and 400 level structural engineering courses. Preliminary results indicate that instructors’ conceptual representations in the classroom aim to enhance students’ broader understanding of these concepts; whereas students’ conceptual representations are focused towards utility in solving homework and exam problems. Practitioners’ conceptual representations are more flexible and adapt to project and workplace constraints. These results seem to indicate that even when instructors emphasize broader conceptual knowledge, the academic incentives behind homework and test scores lead to more academically focused conceptual representations by students. Furthermore, practitioners’ conceptual representations indicate the necessity of conceptual fluency in the workplace, which contrasts with the rigidity of conceptual representations that students develop in the classroom. This comparison between workplace and academic conceptual representations enhances our understanding of the extent to which students, instructors, and practitioners share similar or different conceptual representations within the domain of structural engineering. This, in turn, may lead to guided curriculum reform efforts aimed at better preparing structural engineering students for their professional careers.more » « less
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Situated cognition theory suggests that representations of concepts are products of the environment wherein we learn and apply concepts. This research builds on situated cognition by investigating how concepts are tangible to a professional engineering environment.
The tangibility of concepts in relation to social and material contexts was defined and explored in this study. Specifically, the conceptual representations of structural loads were examined within workplace and academic environments.
A researcher conducted ethnographic fieldwork at a private engineering firm and in undergraduate engineering courses. Data sources from this fieldwork included the ethnographer's participant‐observation field notes, formal and informal interviews, and artifact documentation.
Findings from this study described how academic representations of structural loads are more or less tangible to the social and material contexts of engineering practice. Representations documented in the workplace were found to be tangible to (1) real‐world conditions, (2) project/stakeholder constraints, and (3) engineering tools. Conversely, representations documented in the courses studied exhibited various degrees of tangibility to none, some, or all of these three traits.
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