Developing a geographic visualization tool to support Earth Science learning

Mark Harrower, Alan Mac Eachren, Amy L. Griffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


This paper reports on the development and assessment of the Earth Systems Visualizer (ESV), a geovisualization tool designed to facilitate learning about global weather. Our goals in designing ESV were to evaluate two exploratory spatial data analysis (ESDA) techniques, temporal brushing and temporal focusing, and to determine whether interactive geovisualization tools influence problem solving strategies, approaches to learning, and students' ability to generate hypotheses about earth-science processes. Focus group sessions were conducted with both expert and novice users to assess an initial design for the ESV interface prior to conducting a task-based assessment to ESV use. Changes were implemented in response to the focus group results, including the redesign of a temporal legend and improved speed and direction controls. Our task-based assessment considered student reactions to components of ESV, especially whether they could use it to answer questions about global-scale weather processes, and whether the system (particularly its focusing and brushing tools) had an impact on the hypotheses generated about relationships among weather variables. The assessment revealed that focusing and brushing had little impact on students' ability to answer questions about weather processes, and that performance suffered for students who were confused by the focusing and brushing tools. In facts, students who understood the tools performed the best, but students without the tools performed better than those who had the tools but were unsure how to use them. We also concluded that the level of the visualization system must be well matched to the knowledge users have about the application domain: students who already possessed an advanced understanding of meteorology or climatology benefited less and were more critical of the system than students with an intermediate or a novice level of understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-293
Number of pages15
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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