Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2020 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 9034-9043
ISBN: 978-84-09-17939-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2020.2470
Conference name: 14th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 2-4 March, 2020
Location: Valencia, Spain
The paper describes how the format of the research protocol has been re-adapted, in the context of a five-month course of Data Visualization addressed to master students in Communication Design. For the last five years, the course has been structured in three phases that gradually introduce students to the demanding issues deriving from communication with data in complex situations. In the second phase, students learn how to map and present - through an interactive report -, a controversial issue based on data coming from online sources. The process is question-driven: each group starts with a set of research questions, defines a protocol for data collection and analysis, and produces research findings using data visualizations. In this phase, students are asked to critically reflect on data collection as a design activity and to design protocol diagrams for visually communicating the dataset design process itself.

The dataset design is a critical aspect of the entire process, leading to technical and ethical considerations in the procedure of data collection and analysis. From our point of view, designing a dataset means dealing with data as artifact, as the result of a series of steps driving to the construction of the dataset that will be encoded through data visualization. Even if the protocol diagram represents all the steps of the research, from the question to the final visualization, the most important part is occupied by the visual representation of the dataset design process.

Visual representation of processes by diagrams is an established practice dating back more than one hundred years. While research protocols have been widely used in other scientific disciplines to represent processes to be followed to replicate experiments, they are novel research artifacts in the field of Communication Design for educational purposes.

From our teaching experience, we identified four main elements that a protocol diagram must include: a research question, analytical steps, tools used and designed outputs. Protocol diagrams have two functions at different times: before the final delivery, when the diagram is continually updated as the research goes on, is a negotiation tool which helps students in keeping track of the process including failures and trials, in examining and doubting the arbitrary choices they are led to make in the process of dataset design and finally is a tool for discussing within the group work and with teachers during the weekly reviews.

Once students complete their research, they submit a final report that includes the protocols, visualizations, and main findings. Hence, the protocol diagram becomes a dissemination tool addressed both to researchers or future students that want to replicate the same process and to readers that are interested in that specific controversial topic. Students are free to choose the shape of the diagram they prefer and they are not provided with international standards to follow. Usually, results are hybrids forms of process charts and activity diagrams attributable to the visual archetype of the flow-chart. The protocol diagram teaches students about the non-objective, situated and interpretative nature of any data-driven study and pushes them to exploit their communication skills to transform the research protocol, which is historically textual, into something exclusively visual.
Protocols diagrams, dataset design, data visualization, communication design education.