We are living in an increasingly visual society. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram show our desire for information that is fast, visually appealing, and easy to digest. Now, many researchers and practitioners are taking the concepts demonstrated in social media and using them to apply data visualization tools such as graphs, maps, and infographics to convey complex findings to broader audiences.
Emily Antoszyk, a research assistant for the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State’s College of Education, uses these techniques to create interactive maps of North Carolina to display data about education topics such as school letter grades, education organizations, food and nutrition in schools, and homeschooling. These visualizations, shared in a monthly feature called Consider It Mapped, serve to educate citizens, the media, and policymakers about important issues facing North Carolina in the field of education. Consider It Mapped is produced in partnership with EducationNC, a nonpartisan source of news and commentary from education experts across the state.
“I consider myself to a be a data translator, coupling data with research in a way that is easy to digest, even for those without a background in mapping or data analysis,” Antoszyk said.
Anyone can sift through data and attempt to understand the implications, but Consider It Mapped aims to do the work for you. Visualizing the data through maps and graphs makes it easier for people to understand the information that they need. Not only can the viewer see how the data looks across the state, but in many of the maps they can also manipulate the data in order to see the effects of the different variables. The interactive maps and accompanying graphics present the need for new education policies and considerations more clearly than words alone.
“You can look at a map, you can read about data and policy, but when you see Emily’s maps, that’s when the inpact of the public policy really hits home,” said Mebane Rash, CEO and editor-in-chief of EdNC.
The data used in Consider It Mapped is all publicly available. When creating the maps, Antoszyk looks for news around current topics of interest in the world of education for potential stories. When putting the maps together, she notices trends and patterns within the data, and tries to determine if the data matches public perception of a certain topic. Once she has formulated her interpretation, she designs accompanying graphs, charts, or infographics that further help the viewer hone in on the main points. With a written article and a video, she shares her personal view of the map and potential policy implications. As a member of the Friday Institute’s evaluation team, Antoszyk is in a unique position to create these maps.
“The feedback’s been outstanding. Emily doesn’t just post her maps. She explains them. Thousands of people have shared the maps in some way or another, and I think that speaks volumes. It means that they’re not just looking at the maps and interacting with the maps, but then they’re doing something with the maps,” Rash said.
The map with the data concerning school letter grades was one of EdNC’s top ten features of 2015, and it was repeatedly shared and utilized across social media sites. Cumulatively, the maps have reached more than 42,600 people on Facebook. Rash shares that some people will only consume data when it’s presented visually, which is the brilliance of Consider It Mapped.
Part of the Friday Institute’s mission is to empower educators and their students to be learners and leaders, which is, in part, accomplished by collaborating with other leaders in education. Through Consider It Mapped, the partnership between the Friday Institute and EdNC has produced a greater array of North Carolina-focused data that has succeeded in educating citizens and policymakers about the important education issues facing our state.
Here are all of Emily’s maps. Take a look. Explore the maps. Share the maps.