Vistrails and Teaching

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Given our positive experience in deploying VisTrails in scientific projects, we decided to use the system as a platform for teaching scientific visualization. Our intuition was that the same features that support scientists in exploratory tasks would also be beneficial to students as they learn about visualization techniques. During Fall 2007 and Fall 2008, Professor Silva used VisTrails for teaching the Visualization course at Utah.

Our experience with the course has shown that besides simplifying the creation of visualizations, the availability of provenance helps in other important aspects of the course. For instance, in the process of building examples of visualizations for the class, VisTrails allows the instructor to show the students not only the final result, but also the path he followed to derive the visualizations (the history tree)---including common mistakes that one makes in the process. During class, while responding to students questions, it is possible to try out alternatives, and to show differences between them using both the visualization spreadsheet and the visual difference interface. This makes the class more interactive and promotes active learning. After the class, all the results and their provenance can be given to the students in the form of a vistrail. The class notes are also accompanied by detailed provenance, allowing students to reproduce all examples.

Another benefit of using VisTrails comes from the assignment provenance: instead of submitting just the final visualizations, students submit the complete history of the process they followed to create those visualizations. This information can be very useful for the instructors, from helping them better assess their teaching effectiveness to identifying students in need of help.

For more details about how VisTrails was used and our experiences, see our paper: Using VisTrails and Provenance for Teaching Scientific Visualization. (by C. Silva, E. Anderson, E. Santos and J. Freire). In Proceedings of the Eurographics Education Program, 2010. Best paper award.

VisTrails has been used as a teaching tool at multiple universities. And besides scientific visualization, the provenance-rich teaching methodology we have developed has also been used to teach Digital Media.

Related Links and References

  • Educational impact of digital visualization and auditing tools on a digital character production course (by Mark van Langeveld and Robert Kessler). FDG '09: Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Foundations of Digital Games, pp. 316--323, 2009.