Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gas Map

The first time my blue eyes were cast upon the Census Atlas of the United States I knew I was in love. A friend of mine introduced me to information aesthetics, a great blog that highlights various data visualization projects and visual communication. Sure, I like this work because it is pretty and interesting to look at, and because sometimes the message is in the medium. Information can be more powerful when represented graphically.

Having just moved to NYC and sold my car, I feel a bit insular from gas prices. I ran past a gas station the other night and regular was $4.11. My car had a 14 gallon tank and I would be pushing it up $60 to fill my tank. Ouch. If I was still living in Stamford, I'd be taking the bus more.

So this map of US gas prices is very interesting. A few things struck me right away. New York and Connecticut (or THE Connecticut as I like to call it) are red, the highest, but New Jersey is green, the lowest. My friends commented they are moving to Arizona and Wyoming, but I am sure you have to drive more there to get around.

I also found this map easy to use. If you zoom in to the city level, the shading scale is replaced with thumbtacks of local gas stations and prices. Once you get to that level the user has the ability to change the fuel type. Clicking on the dollar amount brings up all the prices at that particular station as well as an address.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Getting to know the Internet

I teach a range of basic classes for my library: computer, internet and email. These are just high level overviews with a few goals by the end of each class. Learn how to double click. Learn how to search for something in Google. Set up and email address.

Today I had a full class for Internet Basics. We require that people take the Computer Basics class. I am always trying to tweak my instructional techniques, taking notes on the class before, looking up different analogies to use, creating new exercises. And sometimes, the classroom ecology takes all the prep work and throws it out the window.

One of the things I took away from this class was a need to understand more about literacy. All seven of my participants were foreign-born and English wasn't there first language. This is one of the things I like most about my library, and how the diverse community is represented in our services and collections. It felt like two competing literacies in the classroom. First, teaching technology skills, explaining about the internet. How to enter an address, how to search, how to click on links, but aside from the instruction, how to use the mouse and navigating around the screen. Coupled with English language literacy, people who are learning English at varying levels may not understand some of the words I use. One of my students in fact told me that, she was learning English and sometimes she didn't know what I was saying. I also enter the assumption that people have the ability to read as well.

Breaking down technology into smaller bite size pieces is very hard. How to describe something like double click or navigating Windows XP without using any computer jargon is hard work.