Incarceration in Real Numbers

This is stunning, both in terms of content and in terms of its presentation.

The content is depressingly familiar – the fact that the US incarcerates (in real numbers and as a percentage of population) vastly more people than any other country in the world, the fact that it really likes to do so to visible minorities in particular, and the fact that the system is shockingly corrupt at every level – but the detail is deeply disturbing. I was particularly amazed to learn that around 2% of those vast numbers of incarcerated Americans have actually had a trial. It provides lots of effective comparisons (with other countries, with different demographics, between different demographics, etc) that provide a good sense of the scale of the problem.

What makes this so powerful, though, is the brilliant, JavaScript-powered, interactive presentation. This is one extraordinarily long web page that shows individual images (in symbol form) of all 2.3 million incarcerated Americans, including a count of where you are now to put this into context. To read it, you have to keep scrolling. Keep scrolling, even if you get tired: it’s worth it. It’s particularly effective on a tablet, and less likely to lead to RSI. Some ingenious (but not at all complicated) coding brings phrases, infographics, statistics, and the occasional interactive element into view along the way, hovering for a while whilst you scroll, or becoming part of what you see as you scroll. You control this – you can slow down, go back, pause, and interact with much of the content as it appears. Watch out for some brilliant ways of representing proportions of population, showing graphs at their true scale, and emphasizing agency by showing the likely effects of different interventions.

The experience is deeply visceral – it’s an engagement with the body, not just the eye and brain.  The physical act of scrolling repeatedly hammers home what the numbers actually mean, and the fact that you play such an active role in revealing the content makes it much more impactful than it would be were it simply presented as text and figures, or hyperlinks. I’ve not seen this narrative form used in such a polished, well-integrated way before. This is a true digitally native artwork. The general principle is not dissimilar to that of most conventional e-learning content of the simplest, most mundane next-previous-slide variety. In fact it’s simpler, in many ways. The experience, though, is startlingly different.

It’s quite inspiring. I want to explore this kind of approach in my own teaching, though I don’t know how often I could use it before the effect gets stale, there may be some accessibility issues, and, if it were used in a course context as a means of sharing knowledge, it could easily become as over-controlling as a lecture. That said, it’s a brilliant way to make a point, far more powerfully than a PowerPoint, and  more engagingly than text, images, or video alone. It could be very useful. At the very least, it might provide a little inspiration for my students seeking ideas for using JavaScript on their sites.

Originally posted at: https://landing.athabascau.ca/bookmarks/view/8477597/incarceration-in-real-numbers

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the former Chair. I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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