Student Engagement
‘Developing rhetorical and ethical awareness for dynamic data visualisation’ 
Sylvia Mackie
Learning and Academic Advisor

The project involves developing and implementing two self-paced modules in rhetorical and ethical considerations in dynamic data visualisation for Swinburne’s higher degree by research (HDR) students in science, engineering and technology fields. The module series will be developed as two sequential parts, which will be released at the same time. The first will scaffold the development of a research narrative in a dynamic visual format and participants will storyboard a visual research narrative and use it to make a 60-second animation. The second module will scaffold critical awareness of issues in modifying scientific imagery for consumption by different audiences. Participants will unpack, document and discuss the aesthetic and scientific decisions they made in transforming their data for their dynamic visualisations.​​​​​​​
Shareable teaching and learning resources for this project coming soon! 
One of the aims of the project was to provide an image integrity template. While a provisional version of this was developed (see below), as noted above, input from stakeholders indicated that it should connect to discipline-specific image integrity guidelines, so this is still a work in progress. However, over the course of the project, a bibliographic review with a pedagogical focus was undertaken, and it was thought that this could provide a valuable resource for Student Engagement Research Communication Advisors and other Swinburne HDR Advisors. The bibliography below provides background information on digital storytelling and data visualisation for researchers, pedagogies for providing relevant online support to HDR students and guidance on key issues in image integrity.  
Swinburne only resources:
An initial question for the project was: What are the key issues that underlie critical digital literacy for emerging researchers in science, engineering and technology fields? There are possibly many, but two have received the most attention in the education literature and both are relevant to Student Engagement’s Com Lab program. The first is the need for researchers to explain and promote their research to non-scientific audiences in ways that are engaging and understandable but ‘don’t dumb it down’. The second is the need for researchers to explain their research visually in ways that are authentic and do not exaggerate or misrepresent the science in the communication ‘translation’ process. So a review of the STEM HDR education literature gave rise to these further questions, which were pursued in the two modules:
     •  Could storytelling pedagogies help STEM HDR students transform their visual research data for non-scientific audiences?
     •  What pedagogies could enhance STEM HDR students’ understanding of image integrity in their research narratives?
The first module was designed to help HDR students develop rhetorical awareness of different audiences for their research storytelling, in particular focusing on the consumption of dynamic scientific imagery by non-scientists. It shows students how they can visually conceptualise aspects of their findings and use them to ‘tell the story’ of their research in ways that can interest and persuade a non-scientific audience. With the support of the module, students storyboard a visual research narrative and use it to make a 60-second animation using Adobe Spark or other video making software.
In terms of the pedagogical context, HDR students in STEM fields are time-poor, so any learning activities must be highly relevant to their research and their development as researchers. Communication skills support is optional for HDR candidates and it is taken on an ‘as needs’ basis – so if the learning activity is to be relevant, it must be strongly associated with the developmental needs of the emerging researcher and appropriate to the life cycle of their research degree. In addition, communication skills learning activities are not linked to the HDR thesis examination process or other progress hurdles, so although feedback is given, the learning activity is not ‘assessed’ in the traditional undergraduate sense. In recent years, competitions have emerged as an extracurricular way for HDR candidates to work towards a goal that enhances their communication skills while promoting their research, so the modules developed in this project were designed so they could be used to scaffold entry into the Visualise your thesis competition. Given that this competition will not run again until the second half of 2021, at the end of 2020 take up of the module was muted; however 10 students did engage with it and one completed a storyboard and a video research story using Adobe Spark and received feedback to help prepare for the competition further downstream.
The second module relates to image integrity. Patterns of engagement with the modules shown in Canvas analytics indicate that this topic is important for emerging researchers in STEM discipline areas at SUT, with more students visiting this section of the self-paced modules than the other sections.  Although academic integrity in written texts has received considerable attention among researchers, the need for image integrity has been under-appreciated. This situation is changing, however, partly because technologies with which images can be manipulated continue to advance rapidly in the digital age and this has become a concern for research publishing houses. Concerns about the prevalence of image manipulation and its potential for unethical scholarship have stimulated recent debates about ethics education and guidelines, as well as calls for better technologies for image manipulation detection. In this era of ‘fake news’ and even ‘fake science’, the ease with which researchers can access a compelling image and adapt it at will for story telling or other purposes means they need to think deeply about the ways this ease can affect the perceived veracity of their research. Communicating with images is very important in STEM research, so image integrity is a key issue across STEM discipline areas. However, although the module provided general guidelines and took advice from senior STEM researchers, it became clear that input from a range of research discipline areas is needed, to develop discipline-specific recommendations for the module and to further inform the intervention. In addition, the project needs a larger reference cohort for validation and evaluation purposes, which will take more time than was available in the closing months of 2020.
Back to Top