Trying new tools!

Inspired by a recent article, “Tales of an Indiscriminate Tool Adopter,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I decided to evaluate some of the suggested tools and see how easy they would be to implement.

First was RAW, a visualization tool that helps represent the connections and relationships between and within sets of data. Using RAW is as simple as copying a table from Excel and pasting it into a text box. Using data from my own research project, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada, I tried to visualize the information I have on gay liberation periodicals being published in Canada in the Sixties and Seventies. I pasted in an imperfect CSV file, fully expecting it not to work, and with a few minutes of fiddling I had created this dendrogram showing all the periodicals sorted by the cities in which they were published. In just a glance I could see that Toronto was publishing the most, followed by Montreal and Vancouver. Ottawa was comparatively rather silent on the matter. There was also an unlabeled point on the dendrogram, which has helped me identify some data that requires a bit of additional research to determine publishing location. RAW isn’t the most comprehensive tool and the visualizations it creates can sometimes be a bit muddled, but it certainly was fast, easy to use, and free.

LGLC Periodicals Dendrogram

Next I was interested in trying TimeMapper, an open-source web-based tool to create maps and timelines. I had previously used Timemap to build a map and timeline representing the year 1964 in the LGLC data. Building this required quite a bit of fussing with HTML and the creation of a compatible kml file. TimeMapper, on the other hand, requires users to simply input the URL for a Google Spreadsheet. I followed their sample template and created my own with an excerpt of the 1964 data, pasted the link into TimeMapper when prompted, and it generated this:

(View TimeMapper sample in new window)

TimeMapper required a bit more work than RAW, as the Google Spreadsheet has to be created to match their template, however it was still remarkably simple considering the beautiful result. It would also require some more work if you wanted to host your own images (I linked to external images on the web just for the purposes of testing it out). And no fussing with HTML, Javascript, or KML required! The template even includes a Google script that will convert plain text names (ex. Toronto) into their geographic coordinates.

Have you used any of these tools? Would you consider using them in the classroom or showing them to students? Let us know!

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