The writing tool telescopic text came up in one of our team conversations recently, this led to a longer conversation about text and various ways in which text is represented online. This conversation made me flash back to Bret Victor’s idea of “explorable explanations” In his 2011 article he asks the question:
what does it mean to be an active reader?
In his essay Bret Victor suggests three possible ways to facilitate active reading:
- reactive documents: these allow the reader to play with the author’s assumptions and analyses, and see the consequences.
- explorable examples: these make the abstract concrete, and allows the reader to develop an intuition for how a system works.
- contextual examples: these allow the reader to learn related material just-in-time, and cross-check the author’s claims.
Other similar interactive visualizations can be found on setosa.io
While these examples point to interesting ways to engage learners, the problem is the skills required to create such resources. Tools such as telescopic text are relatively easier to use and don’t require any special skill or knowledge to use. On the other hand creating an interactive like the parable of polygons requires some coding skills. In order for faculty to embrace and adopt the tools will have to become more user friendly. An example of a user friendly resource is keshif a data browser which allows users to visualize and explore data. The only step needed is to upload data via a particular format via Google Docs. Currently I’m interested in exploring user friendly tools that can be used to augment text to encourage active learning. Crossfilter and dc.js are two tools I’m exploring right now.