06 Dec 2020

Data and Design: A Powerful Storyteller

Majoring in data science means you spend a lot of your time combing through data, learning to use coding software, digitally mapping data and analyzing results. But at Chaminade University, it also means learning how to tell a story, understanding color theory, learning how to use design software and understanding the principles of visual communication.

Digital Humanities Avatar presentation

Data Science 403: Digital Humanities is a new interdisciplinary course taught by Dr. Junghwa Suh, associate professor of environmental + interior design and Dr. Laura Tipton, assistant professor of data science, that all data science majors at Chaminade are required to take. The course merges the fields of humanities and data science, and teaches students how to turn data into meaningful, visual stories and relate it back to various dimensions of human living.

“We wanted to challenge the more analytic students in the course to think more creatively, both in their presentations and in their topics of study,” says Dr. Suh. “We wanted to show that not every data science analysis is based on a scientific study, sometimes we use data science to analyse classic literature or song lyrics.”

For many of the students, this was their first foray into the humanities and they weren’t quite sure what to expect.

“At the beginning of the semester, I interpreted digital humanities solely as studying the history of data science and technology,” says Trinity Young, a fourth-year student. “But now, after taking this course, I better understand that digital humanities is the study of applying data and technology to analyze and better understand human society and culture.”

Digital Humanities Miley Cyrus presentation

In the first iteration of the course this past fall semester, each student was tasked with choosing a topic for a semester-long project that either brings them happiness or sparks their interest and passion. They then spent the first-half of the semester collecting and analyzing data, and the second half of the semester learning to develop a visually appealing story out of the data and present their findings. 

“[This course] really gave me another perspective in this area and allowed me to see the story behind everything,” says Taylor Ishisaka, a third-year student who used the project to explore how Miley Cyrus’s character has developed throughout various events and albums. “As of now, I truly think that it is necessary to have previous knowledge in humanities in order to understand the digital world better.”

Digital Humanities Australian Wildfires

Lilianna Flynn, a senior who is majoring in business administration and minoring in data science, did her project on the recent Australian wildfires. She used data visualizations and word clouds to determine the causes and consequences of the wildfires and to identify solutions. 

“I believe my word clouds were my best visual aid,” says Flynn. “They displayed the most important words and gave the readers a basic understanding of the news articles.”

But her favorite part was seeing how creative her fellow classmates were in choosing their topics.

“My favorite part of the semester was listening to everyone’s presentations,” says Flynn. “Everyone had different ways of analyzing their data and unique presentation designs. Now, I believe design is even more important to communicate data visualizations effectively.” 

While the course was fun and meaningful for the students, the professors also had a good time with it. 

“I was really excited when I saw this course listed as part of the data science curriculum because it gave me a chance to highlight some of my “passion project” research areas, including dance history and mythology,” says Dr. Tipton. “And it gave me a chance to see what non-science interests the students have.”

On the other side, Dr. Suh was excited to take a dive into the sciences. “I have always wanted to teach a course where science meets art and design, and vice versa,” she says. “I usually don’t have a chance to meet students from other disciplines, so it was great interacting with the data science students.”

The pair is now brainstorming ways to expand the course in the future.

“Now I’m excited to see where this collaboration goes and how we can include students from other majors, like design and other humanities, next year,” says Dr. Tipton.