bowdoin seal CSCI 3665: From Data to Visualization: Designing Interactive Approaches to Understanding Information
Clare Bates Congdon, Bowdoin College, Fall 2017

Syllabus / Home Page

This info on the Web:
Professor: Clare Bates Congdon
Office: 109 Banister Hall (the Chapel)
Phone: (207) 725.3824
Class Meeting Time: M/W 10-11:25 in 127 and 128 Searles
Office Hours: M/W: 1:30-3pm, in 109 Bannister
and by appointment


There will also be multiple reserve and/or online readings

Links to other pages for this class (more to come):

This document will be updated to add resources and to rectify errors as needed.

Catalog description for CSCI 3665

Information visualization is used to reveal patterns and outliers within abstract data, allowing our powerful perceptual abilities to support slower and more deliberate cognitive abilities. Interactive visualizations can help investigate data and assist in the formation and exploration of hypotheses. Covers topics such as the transformation of data to visual representations, common approaches to dealing with different types of data, perceptual and cultural issues that influence how visualizations are interpreted, and the development of interactive visualization tools. Culminates in a significant final interactive visualization project.


The course will be organized along multiple concurrent strands:
  1. One strand entails an exploration of visualization, and learning to think about different approaches for visualizing information.
  2. Another strand entails learning to think about the human users of our programs, the goals that they have for understanding their data, and how to think about creating programs that help these users achieve their goals.
  3. A third strand entails learning the technical skills needed to create effective interactive visualizations.

Throughout, we will be working on communication skills, with each other and with our "data partners", who will generally be from a different field than computing.

There will be reading, writing, and programming assignments as we work our way through the semester. In the first half of the semester, we will work on skill acquisition across the three strands, and in the second half of the semester, we will work in teams to focus primarily on applying these new skills to develop interactive visualizations to help understand specific data sets.

This class is very "hands on". Consequently, we'll often meet in the lab.


You are expected to attend every class meeting. As a class member, your regular attendance is a social, as well as an individual, obligation. Class discussion is an essential feature of this course that only you can provide. Your absence affects the continuity of the class, my effectiveness in presenting ideas, and the group's responses to those ideas. You are responsible for all information presented in class, whether or not you are there, and whether or not your absence is excused.

You are also expected to be in class for the entire class period. Late arrivals or early departures may be counted as absent at the instructor's discretion.

Any unexcused absences will adversely affect your course grade; more than four unexcused absences will result in your failing the course.

In-Class Behavior

Non-educational activities — including talking or texting on cell phones, chatting, web-surfing, and game-playing in class — will not be tolerated. These activities are distracting to your neighbors and consequently have a negative effect on your classmates.


I will sometimes send email to the class, to clarify assignments or topics discussed in class, or to get or give information to specific people (for example, to ask about missed assignments). Thus, it is important that you check your email regularly, or you will miss information intended for the class or for you in particular.

Email is an excellent way to get in touch with me if you have questions about assignments or projects. Such questions are often relevant to the entire class; if so, answers will be passed along accordingly.

(Note: I think we will use Piazza as a class bulletin board, but haven't set it up yet.)

Semester project

The most significant piece of work in this course will be large group projects, presented at the end of the semester. Each group will identify a "data partner" and a system to develop. The group will design the system in close cooperation with requirements specified by their partner. We will brainstorm project and partner ideas in class, and I will help identify projects.

When choosing a project it is very important to satisfy the following: Once design teams are formed, your group will provide weekly oral and written progress reports on your project. At the end of the semester, you will present the project to the rest of the class and also, of course, submit code and a written report.

Late assignments

Writeups for any material that is to be discussed in class will not be accepted late. My assumption is that if you have not completed the homework, you are not prepared for discussion. Therefore, it will generally be better to turn in an incomplete assignment rather than turn in nothing at all.

Presentations, obviously, must be completed on their assigned dates.

There may be rare assignments that I will accept late. When this happens, expect a penalty of 10% of the total points for each day late (so you will receive 0 for anything more than 9 days late).


Final grades for the course will be based on the the following proportions: In grading, the assumption is that if you do everything I ask you to do (and do it well), that is worth about 90% of the total points, which would be in the A-/B+ range. Earning an A or A+ requires extra effort or especially creative approaches to the assignments.

Disability Accommodations

If you need course accommodations because of a disability, please make an appointment with me or with the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs as soon as possible. More information is online here.

Religious Holidays

Please let me know at the start of the semester if religious holidays affect your attendance in class or your ability to complete homework assignments. Bowdoin's Religious Holiday Policy is online here. Last-minute conversions will lead to consultation with the Dean's office, so that they can assist you with your spiritual path.

Additional Notes

  1. Remember that you should read your email regularly.
  2. In the unilkely event of weather closures (or other closures), there will still be work assigned and due the next class period. You are expected to read your email for instructions.

Maintained by: Clare Bates Congdon (