Three-Fold Approach

Submitted by Micah Vandegrift on Mon, 12/10/2018 - 14:28

If you’ve been following along with the Immersive Scholar blog posts, you already know that one of the key problems the Immersive Scholar program seeks to address is the lack of technical standards and guidelines for interoperability, sharing, reproducing, and evaluating digital scholarship in large-scale visualization environments. At NCSU Libraries, the Immersive Scholar leadership team is taking an holistic approach to addressing these issues through developing best practices for responsive design, asking questions about the evaluation and assessment of visualizations as scholarly products, and experimenting with residencies for content development.

Establishing best practices for responsive web design large-scale visualizations

Responsive web design is the technique that makes it possible to expand the scope of large-scale display projects built with web technologies beyond a single space. An exhibit consisting of statically sized content can only be experienced in a particular space or transferred to a space that has the same display parameters, but building web content following the responsive web design approach opens up new possibilities for exhibits optimized for display in a diverse number and size of visualization spaces as well as outside of the physical space on personal devices.

By conducting cross site/cross-institutional tests of responsive web content, the Immersive Scholar program is working towards establishing best practices around creating content for large scale displays by identifying common issues or pain points when creating large-scale visualization displays. The adoption of responsive web design for large-scale displays is one approach the Immersive Scholar program believes would greatly benefit from collective effort across institutions. First, by identifying existing responsive web pages that work appropriately on large-scale displays, we will be able to provide a baseline for testing and critiquing design methods and adapting layout styles.

The NCSU Libraries Visualization Space Templates GitHub repository already provides a great example of a collection of resources for developing content for their large-scale displays. Through building a community of practice around sharing and building content for large-scale visualizations, the Immersive Scholar program is working towards adopting a similar resource that compiles community-wide best practices for responsive web design for large-scale displays starting with the sharing of content across our cohort institutions through our OSF repository.  As we continue to build upon our collection of resources, we hope to expand upon our content and documentation that will include editable codebases, generalized responsive templates, and display wall specifications and parameters. We also hope to establish a standard metadata schema that includes general responsive design characteristics and parameters for a specific visualization like a range of suggested sizes and aspect ratios that users could then refer to in order to better understand how to adapt visualization content for their walls, consider the types of interaction supported, and deem whether that content is appropriate for personal devices. As institutions continue to incorporate large-scale displays and researchers begin to produce more content that incorporates such technologies the demand for widely adaptive content will grow. Web-based content incorporating responsive design techniques provides a viable approach for establishing best practices and technologies for meeting this demand.

Evaluating the Impact of Digital Scholarship for Visual Environments

Visualization as a form of digital scholarship is a relatively young method. Similar to challenges in digital humanities, open access monograph publishing, and data papers, the evaluative structures of academia don’t yet have check boxes for how to measure the intellectual or technical labor of these forms of research, and their impact in the field or beyond. This is especially true when applied to visualization in immersive or large scale environments where the audience is not always meant to be a strict academic one, and peer review, reproducibility, or “publishing” are nascent if at all existing.

The Copyright and Digital Scholarship Center at NCSU Libraries researches many topics related to the evolving ecosystem of scholarly communication. Aligning that work with Immersive Scholar, we are utilizing our experiences with residencies and our cross-collaborations with many other departments within the library to ask:

  • What are the markers of a ‘scholarly community’ and how are they created and reified?

  • How is this type of scholarly production (large-scale visualization) evaluated and ‘counted’?

  • What role do libraries take in the active/passive creation and curation of immersive visualizations as distinctive objects in our collections?

  • How are various individuals credited and intellectual or applicable labor valued around visualization projects?

  • In what ways do questions of open pedagogy and scholarship, infrastructure investment, and the evolution of the research library intersect with this project?

Creative Residencies Support & Open Source Content Creation

Lucas Swick Lecture
Lucas Swick presenting his project in D.H. Hill Library's Visualization Studio
Liss LaFluer's Coded Glass
Liss LaFleur's Coded Glass


The continuous creation of impactful and stimulating content for large-scale visualization environments can be a difficult and costly endeavor, and institutions with such facilities may not necessarily have the staff and infrastructure resources to do so. One possible approach that the Immersive Scholar project is testing is to offer creative residences where we invite local and external artists to collaborate with library staff to produce one or more pieces of generative art. These pieces combine application code and/or different types of data with the artists' individual aesthetics to not just create visually pleasing displays, but also tell stories about the data that they are based on.

To date, we have hosted three residents:

  • Radmila Sazdanovic (Department of Mathematics, North Carolina State University): Sazdanovic's TessCelestial shows how software can be used to turn hyperbolic tessellations into math art.

  • Liss LaFleur (New Media Art, University of North Texas): LaFleur's Coded Glass takes data extracted from tweets with the #metoo hashtag and creates visualizations that simulate the look of stained glass windows.

  • Lucas Swick (Portland, Oregon): Swick's Community Gardens turns data about food and housing insecurity on NC State's campus into code-generated animations of garden landscapes.

There will be two more residencies, one each during Spring and Summer of 2019, for which we have already selected candidates.

 - By Walt Gurley, Erica Hayes, Micah Vandegrift, Markus Wust

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