GUEST POST: An Interview With a Brilliant Visualizer

GUEST POST: An Interview With a Brilliant Visualizer

Oliver Caviglioli, @olivercavigliol, is a former special-school head of many years, who later on in his career turned to visualization. 

How did you get into creating visuals?

My personal background

Watching my architect father use drawing not simply to capture his thoughts, but, rather, to develop his thoughts, greatly affected my view of visuals being far more powerful than mere decoration. 

My professional background

Several decades in special education gave me plenty of opportunities to develop my powers of visual communication, as well as learn about the research behind it, as well as a variety of approaches.

And in 2009, I went to a VizThink conference in Berlin, attended by industry and business personnel. I then discovered, at the opposite end of the intellectual continuum to my special school context, how PhDs and Silicon Valley professionals used visual strategies in order to clarify and allow for more rigorous conversations. Words alone, they discovered, often led to misunderstandings that cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Visuals, it seems — even if quite raw and unsophisticated — forged clarity and shared understanding. At that conference I had the insight to create visual guides to teaching techniques, that we have subsequently called HOW2s.

The impetus for the HOW2s

After leaving my post as a headteacher, I changed role to that of a trainer (of visual strategies). Pretty soon, however, I notice the obvious: I left the training room with all my ideas in my head, leaving the teachers with some good experiences, some new skills but nothing that really allowed them to develop and extend their skills over a period of time and applied to their classrooms. It began to weigh heavily on me. So, I decided to use what I know about cognitive psychology to design visual step-by-step guides for teachers.

The cognitive psychology of the HOW2

HOW2 visual step-by-step guides are designed to help:

  • direct attention with a better signal-noise ratio — by cutting our extraneous detail (as found in photographs and video)
  • reduce cognitive load with the visual argument — images are processed faster than sentences
  • improve communication with dual coding — sight and sound channels work simultaneously but separately avoiding cognitive load.
  • streamline viewing with the contiguity principle — placing text within the image avoiding split, or divided, attention and its consequent cognitive load.

How did you find the Learning Scientists, and what made you pursue a collaboration?

We ‘met’ on Twitter but I can’t remember quite how. But pretty soon I offered to visualize some of their work, as I was keen to show others how visual depictions of data and concepts can be very effective. Consequently I was involved in work on a concept map of retrieval practice, data visualization of a large meta-analysis on cognitive aging, and even some exploratory theoretical work on mind-wandering with Harvard researcher Paul Seli. 

Most recently, thanks to a grant from the Association for Psychological Science, we collaborated intensely to create six posters on effective study strategies.

Even though we are thousands of miles apart, we work very well together, sometimes using Skype and a virtual whiteboard app to explore ideas.

More free resources for teachers on the way!

Building on our partnership, we are gearing up to produce a set of HOW2s based on learning science. While the Six Strategies for Effective Learning posters are designed for students, these future resources are designed for teachers to apply the same cognitive science research into their classrooms. I will be illustrating them along the same graphic lines as the HOW2 step-by-step guides, and working with the Learning Scientists to communicate the research simply but accurately.

To let us know you’re interested in these cognitive science HOW2s, sign up at this link and we’ll contact you just as soon as they’re ready.