What’s Going On in this Graph? Environmental Data Visualization Literacy Workshop With R

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Data journalism is increasingly used to help the public understand complex scientific and social issues, but what makes an effective data visualization?  What techniques should we employ to create compelling graphs and tell better stories?  Using environmental data, we examine a set of real-world figures and graphs to identify techniques commonly used in data journalism and explore how to thoughtfully incorporate them into our work. Then we learnt to recreate them responsibly and reproducibly using the R Programming language.  

While this themed session focuses on environmental data, the concepts here are transferrable and applicable to a wide range of subjects where data plays an important role in understanding research outcomes, information diffusion, media literacy, etc.

The participants were given the space to brainstorm and discuss visualizations amongst themselves. The discussion points for each of the visualizations demonstrated were:

  • How does the visualization perform? 
  • What do you notice? 
  • What do you wonder? 
  • What’s going on in this graph? What story can it tell?
  • What could be improved upon? If anything?

Workshop Materials, including R worksheet, and National Parks Visitation dataset

Workshop Recording


Environmental Data Literacy Tools: 


  • Bahlai, C et al. (2019). Open science isn’t always open to all scientists. American Scientist 107 (2): 786        
  • Ch 14 in Indigenous Data Sovereignty, Building a data revolution in Indian Country by Dr. Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear
  • Cheruvelil, KS and PA Soranno (2018). Data-intensive ecological research is catalyzed by open science and team science. BioScience 68 (10): 813 - 822
  • Hampton et al. (2015). The Tao of open science for ecology. Ecosphere 6 (7): 1 - 13C   
  • Lowndes et al. (2017): Our path to better science in less time using open data science tools
  • Mah, Alice. (2016) Environmental justice in the age of big data : challenging toxic blind spots of voice, speed, and expertise. Environmental Sociology.doi: 10.1080/23251042.2016.1220849
  • Martha C. Monroe, Richard R. Plate, Annie Oxarart, Alison Bowers & Willandia A. Chaves (2019) Identifying effective climate change education strategies: a systematic review of the research, Environmental Education Research, 25:6, 791-812, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2017.1360842
  • Nyman, M., Ellwein, A. L., Daniel, M., and Connealy, S., Using Data-Rich Instruction for Climate Change Education: Road Blocks and Pathways, vol. 2011, 2011.
  • The Next Generation of Environmental Scientists are Data Scientists by Jenny Seifert and Kathryn Meyer
  • Wilke, C. (2019). Fundamentals of data visualization: A primer on making informative and compelling figures.
  • Wilson et al. (2017): Good enough practices in scientific computing


Examples of Data Visualization Literacy:



Environmental Data, import using Tidy package in R, Data Analysis with R, RStudio, Transform, Visualize, Model, Carpentries, Communicate
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