FYS 103: Thinking with Visualization

TR 1:00-2:15, ACIV 015

Instructor: Dr. Penny Rheingans ( rheingan AT cs.umbc.edu)

ITE 355 (455-3554); Office Hours: Mon, Tues 10-11

Text: Information Visualization: Perception for Design, second edition, Colin Ware, Morgan Kaufman, 2004. Required.

How to Lie With Maps, second edition, Mark Monmonier, Chicago Press, 1996. Recommended.

Edward Tufte, Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, Graphic Press, 1997. Recommended.

Description: Knowledge may be power, but too much information can be more like the uncontrolled force of a runaway freight train. Visualizing data makes the flood more manageable. This course looks at solving real-world problems by applying visualization techniques based on the workings of the human perceptual system. Spotlight application areas include epidemiology, weather, social networks, fluid flow, bioinformatics, surgical planning, and national security. Students will analyze the effectiveness of visual representations and construct their own visualizations, strengthening their abilities to explore, evaluate, and understand large amounts of quantitative data. This course applies techniques from computer science (specifically data visualization) to application case studies from areas including science, medicine, social science, and everyday life. Objectives include:

  1. Understand the linkages between the capabilities of the human visual system, visual display techniques, and the knowledge discovery goals of several example application domains.
  2. Become familiar with a wide variety of visual representation techniques for large quantities of data.
  3. Construct several visualizations using widely-available tools.
  4. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of published visual representations in facilitating discovery and communication. Discuss what factors can make make a visualization good, bad, effective, or misleading.
  5. Work as part of a team to create novel visualizations of domain data. Communicate results in visual, written, and oral presentations.


Assignments are due in class on the day listed. Some assignments have phased due dates, with pieces due on several dates. For these, only the final due date is listed. Late assignments will generally not be accepted except by prior arrangement. The earlier you ask, the less compelling your reason for wanting an extension need be. All due dates are available now. Plan ahead.
Weight Description Due Date
Asst 1 15% (5% each) Visualization Critiques Feb 8, Mar 1, Mar 29
Asst 2 10% Construction 1 Feb 22
Asst 3 5% Design Presentation 1 Mar 8
Asst 4 5% Design Presentation 2 Apr 5
Asst 5 10% Construction 2 Apr 17
Asst 6 20% Project May 15

Academic Honesty

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC's scholarly community in which everyone's academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong.

All assignments and exams in the course are expected to be your INDIVIDUAL work, except when explicitly specified otherwise. You may discuss assignments with anyone, but at no time should you copy from anyone or let them copy from you. You may not use material from publications or the Internet without giving proper credit. If you're ever in doubt about what is allowable, ASK me.


Grades will be based on visualization critiques (15%), visualization constructions (20%), design presentations (10%), project (20%), inclass exercises and particpation (15%), and a final exam (20%). Attendence is mandatory. If missing class is unavoidable, talk to me about it ahead of time.

Tentative Schedule

Required reading should be completed BEFORE the first date listed below for maximum benefit.
Date Topics Required Reading (W=Ware; M=Monmonier; T=Tufte)
Jan 30/Feb 2 Fundamentals; Data Representation; W 1, M 1, T 1-3
Feb 6/8 Spatial Vision; Contours; W 2-3, T 4
Feb 13/15Color; Pseudocolor; W 4, M 11
Feb 20/22 Texture; Glyphs/HDvis; W 5
Feb 27/Mar 1 Spatial Pattern; Maps; W 6
Mar 6/8 Abstract Pattern; Graphs; W 6, M 2-4
Mar 13/15 Temporal Pattern; Flow/Algorithm Vis; W 6
Mar 20/22 Spring Break
Mar 27/29 Surface Shape; Stat surface/Treemap; W 7
Apr 3/5 3D Shape; Volume Vis; W 8
Apr 10/11 Language; Text vis; W 9
Apr 17/19 Illustrations; Illustrative Vis; T 5-7
Apr 24/26 Interaction; Focus+Context/Parallel Coords; W 10, M 12
May 1/3 Thinking; Visual analytics; W 11, M 7-9,13
May 8/10 Design; Evaluation; W C
May 15 Wrap Up and Review
TBA Final Exam

Other Visualization Resources

This page (http://www.cs.umbc.edu/~rheingan/fys/index.html) : syllabus, links to assignments, etc.