In DIGITAL 355: “Critical Digital Visualization,” Assistant Professor of Architecture Catherine Griffiths takes her students on a mini trip across campus to experience just that—walking into a 3D stereoscopic projection of data. Instead of simply viewing a scatter plot or bar graph, the M.I.D.E.N. room in the Duderstadt Center surrounds students with screens on every surface. Projecting data in this format provides students with not only a unique visual perspective but also a physical relationship to it.

However, even with this multidimensional component, it is not enough to simply see data. Griffiths explains that “in our contemporary society, we’ve lost our connection to the origin story of data.” Behind the curtain of facts and statistics is the reality that data is not neutral, and further investigation is required to understand implicit biases.

To provide students with proper analyzation tools, DIGITAL 355 splits class time between lecture and lab. One day of the week is dedicated to reading scholarly texts such as Data Feminism and another to learning coding skills with a program called Processing.

Griffiths invites students to put theory to the test by having students create a critical image data set. This project pushes students to reach beyond a simple Google image search and dive deep into a topic that excites them with the practical skills they’ve learned in lab. Many are inspired by the readings done in class, but Griffiths gives students the option of choosing a subject related to their respective personal experiences or interests.

While we are all surrounded by data—even sometimes literally in a 3D format—only viewing it is not enough to understand it. Combining visual, technical, and creative skills, DIGITAL 355 enables students to “connect theory with practice” and interrogate what lies beneath the surface of the data we encounter on a daily basis.