For years now, the talk in many technology circles has been the coming of the so-called semantic web, where information and data from many sources would be gathered and collated and, hopefully, interpreted across a wide range of topics. We may not be there yet but there are signs that more and more data is being transformed into useful information for learning. Gapminder World has the potential to be a very valuable research site for students learning about global trends through data visualization. The software that runs the site is a variation of Trendalyzer (developed by the Gapminder folks and sold to Google).
The aim of Trendalyzer and Gapminder World “….is to unveil the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics.”
It succeeds, I think.
For example, given the focus on CO2 emissions and Global Warming, I checked out the data map on that topic at Gapminder World. Using information from as far back as 1820, I clicked the “play” button for the data grid, and watched as the world’s CO2 emissions began to unfold, region by region. I could then isolate the United States and China, or any other country, and do some direct comparisons. While that particular data set only goes back to the year 2000, a project that comes to mind is for students to gather data and continue the graph into 2010. Other topics include child mortality rates, impacts of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the age that people get married.
Gapminder also has a special section for teachers, where a long list of downloadable resources are available (including a beta version of a desktop Gapminder platform). The data, the graphs, and all of its resources can be used freely under a Creative Commons licence, so students can incorporate information into reports and projects.