How We Visualized 1425 Students’ Learning Environment

The Zurich International School astonishes with a high sense of responsibility, a censorious self-reflection and transparent communication. Their philosophy is that everyone involved with the school – students, faculty, staff and parents – are part of a huge learning community. Their values are condensed into a strong and ambitious mission statement. ZIS doesn’t simply frame these statements and put them on a wall, they constantly cultivate their mission and make sure they stick to it. In this Inside post you can learn how we supported them in this endeavor.

The Story

The ZIS is a non-profit day school for students aged 2 to 18. Besides the Early Childhood Center, the Lower, Middle and Upper School placed in the greater Zurich area, there also exists a facility in Baden. Currently, all campuses together offer an international education programme for about 1425 students from more than 55 countries. The school has a very innovative and technology-rich learning environment: they have 45 interactive whiteboards spread across all classrooms, wireless internet access, comprehensive e-learning tools, and every Middle and Upper School student receives a personal laptop computer.

To monitor the success of their mission – distilled in the claim “Learn, Care, Challenge, Lead” – and the resulting learning environment, the staff is regularly conducting surveys involving all parents, teachers and students. This valuable feedback is then evaluated and used as an initial position for creating a report. Our first assignment was to examine the graphical qualities of these already created and published reports and to propose possible improvements.

In contrast to previous reports, our team at Interactive Things suggested to focus more on the different mission sections and to create four separate parts rather than one long, continuous report document. Each of these sections would contain the most relevant information displayed using charts and text.

Besides the digital versions we created a series of posters, which can be printed and presented in the classrooms to make the report more easily accessible to the school community. We also combined the four sections on one single poster-sized paper and created a nice handout by folding it.

The Creation

After presenting these ideas to the responsible staff members, we were ready to go on with the concept. As the first step we tackled the collected data from the conducted surveys of the last two years. There were some questions only relevant for the teachers and some only for the students – questions concerning the use of technology, the practice of different media types or the handling of problems.

In the “Learn” section we focused on the diversity of resources which teachers regularly employ in their lessons. As already mentioned there are interactive whiteboards, so-called Smart boards, available in all classrooms. Blogs, Google Docs, online journals and school subscribed websites are used during classes for providing additional resources, as well as the online learning environments Moodle, ZMS and Classwork for providing custom online courses to a specific topic.

At ZIS students have to complete at least one service learning project each year in order to graduate. The projects are designed to extend learning beyond classrooms and to raise social awareness. For the “Care” section we centered these projects and additional trips.

In the “Challenge” section we wanted to show the shared responsibility at the school and how students deal with technical issues, whether they can resolve problems themselves, or if they have to get help from another student, teacher or a school’s IT specialist.

In the “Lead” section we agreed on addressing to the impact of the different educational technologies from a teacher’s point of view. Unlike all other data, we had a set of two years available for this topic.

Following the thematic definition for each section we figured out the appropriate visualization techniques for the corresponding data. Even if these drafts below are only intended to get a first impression and will be refined many times, we always paid attention to not add much more complexity to the visualizations than necessary at this early stage.

Designing for both screen and print is a challenge. You do not have the same possibilities in reducing the information density by adding filters and using event based functionalities. Instead you need to display all the relevant data and take full advantage of different weights and contrasts to lead the eye. Every color, font or line looks different on screen than on paper, thus you have to constantly print your artwork and check if the data is translated appropriately. On the other hand you do not need to care about cross browser compatibility and you are in full control of every ink drop’s position. You can even use interaction design – for example by folding or cutting paper, by utilizing the paper’s surface or reliefs. What we loved to do is working with different layers by overlaying text with colored objects:

The diverse final products – handout and posters – mean an additional effort. In terms of the different scale, you need to set and adjust the font and line weights for each piece individually. The posters and the unfolded handout both have a size of DIN A1, but on the handout a single section covers only a quarter, thus has the size of a A3. Therefore you don’t have the same space available and you are forced to rearrange or even to reduce the displayed information.

In contrast to posters which are one-sided, you can of course use both sides of a folded handout. This offers a great opportunity to lead the reader and introduce the report with a cover page. Then after unfolding once, the mission and philosophy of the Zurich International School is presented and finally the four detailed sections appear. For this additional side including cover page and mission summary, we came up with the idea to design a report theme. Suited to the internationality of the school, we arranged every country of origin of all attending students and all teachers.

The Final Products

How We Visualized 1425 Students’ Learning Environment This project was realized by Interactive Things. As the publisher of Datavisualization.ch we regularly give you insights into the development processes of our own work.

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