Summer 2017 – 497-318: Using Big Data to Visualize & Communicate Complex Socio-Technical Issues in Creative Ways

Session B (June 5 to July 29)
Meeting Day(s)/Time
Tuesdays/Thursdays from 1:50 to 4:15 pm
Motorola Solutions Foundation
Dan Chichester (ID) (, Bo Rodda (ID) and Matt Robison (ID)
Appropriate Majors
Social Innovation

The purpose of this IPRO project is to develop a series of works/exhibits that communicate complex issues of social merit and importance to the public in unconventional ways. These works might take the form of images, physical objects, or mixed/ multimedia installation, performance art, as well as web based applications. As a result, students from all Illinois Tech majors can make important, creative contributions to this project by tapping everyone’s talent and interest — both technical and non-technical. The project is further described below:

“The complexity and scale of the issues presented by visualizing information in the age of big data require a creativity of approach and mindset in both research and problem-solving. Only by combining the interpretive powers of artists and scientists can we continue to achieve the kinds of breakthroughs necessary to sustain an innovative society and economy.” Dr. Walter Massey, President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Director of the National Science Foundation, Director of Argonne National Laboratory.

We have witnessed unprecedented growth in our ability to accumulate, analyze, and synthesize information in recent years.  Areas of research pertinent to the human condition as well as many others important to the public have seen significant advances illuminating complex relationships that until now been largely unobserved or even understood. Conversely, it seems that a gap between the scientific community and the greater public has emerged in understanding these ideas and in some cases, fostering a tangible degree of mistrust. It is our challenge and responsibility to explore new and unconventional methods to bridge this gap.

The purpose of this IPRO project is to develop a series of works/exhibits that communicate complex issues of scientific merit and importance to the public in compelling ways. These works might take the form of images, physical objects, or mixed/ multimedia installation, performance art, as well as web based applications. As an added dimension to this IPRO project, teams within the IPRO class will have the opportunity to work with high school students who are integrated with their teams over the last three weeks of the summer session in order to expose them to big data and visualization of information as well. The works created by the IPRO teams with high school student participation will be exhibited in a final exhibition at IPRO Day, at venues on the Illinois Tech campus and at our partner high schools.

Given the above purpose, there are three overarching goals for the IPRO team to pursue:

  1. Establish a critical dialogue about information visualization across multiple disciplines. This goal will be accomplished by engaging students in a series of short lectures discussing how images and objects communicate complex data sets and ideas providing insights that move research forward or how they might enhance/problematize/critique/promote new knowledge acquisition in science, art, and/or design.
  2. Learn each step of the Big Data exploration process. This goal is addressed by organizing IPRO team members that study a large data set to identify and answer an important question associated with an urban social/technical issue, and translate their findings into creative visualizations that may be graphical or artistic expressions or take other forms.
  3. Create and deliver a “big data visualization camp” for high school students over a three-week period the last half of the semester that exposes them to big data and how to visualize information effectively. This goal is addressed by inviting students (and possibly teachers) from two or three high schools to learn about big data sets and develop creative ways to express the patterns of information and insights they represent in collaboration with teams in the IPRO class. We plan to invite students from the following high schools: Von Steuben High School (Exelon-IIT Partnership), IIT/Perspectives Math & Science Academy and others.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON BIG DATA: The well-known explosion in the volume (scale), variety (types), velocity (speed) and veracity (quality) of data that is being generated by governments, organizations and individuals creates opportunities, challenges and risks that affect our full participation as citizens as well as our lifestyles and standards of living every day. This encompasses financial decision making, decisions about healthcare, safety and security, urban systems, sports and entertainment, social media, etc. The Chicago-area is particularly fruitful for new initiatives centered on data competence and involving citizen participation at a range of levels of government. Chicago is a hub for firms relying on data science and analytics, and its major universities with data science and analytics programs in a range of fields. The City of Chicago has been a national leader in data driven governance, working with companies and academic institutions for innovation in this area.

The growing complexity of the public environment of sensors, data streams, storage, algorithms, visualizations and dashboards, offers a range of possibilities for research. This can lead to insights and inspire innovation, developing tools that help manage these processes, deriving value and minimizing unfavorable consequences to the individual, the economy, society and culture. Over the past few years, this sea change has been popularized through our economy and culture via the notion of big data. According to the McKinsey Global Institute (Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity, May 2011), Big data refers to datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.

This IPRO section is inspired by the conviction that data science is the foundation field on which to introduce a progressive, developmental approach to building “data consciousness” into the fabric of learning. This includes learning how to make decisions based on the best available data, and to discern and understand the meaning of the data they may encounter. Issues of ethics, privacy and security also come into play in a variety of organization settings. The goal is to advance all learners toward higher levels of data competency: data literacy (understanding data and statistical concepts) begins in the early years, data science expertise (designing data science analyses) typically starts in the undergraduate college years, and data science mastery (building data science systems and performing complex analyses) is developed at the graduate school and working professional levels. This then extends to the responsibility professionals have as citizens and as leaders in a range of roles in society, the economy and government.

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