Thoughts on ‘Cognitive and Usability Issues in Geovisualization” Slocum et al. 2017

This paper was a comprehensive review of the current issues in geovisualization,  with a focus on legibility, and user-centered cognition, and features of experiential VR. They provided a number of conclusions based on their review of the current literature and the state of existing technology, and one of their recommendations was for more research in the cognitive sciences to identify the best methods for visualizing data to ensure maximum comfort and comprehension. I would have liked some more specific recommendations as to areas within cognitive psychology, or especially pertinent methods, which they believe would be useful for this field of geographic visualization.

Early in the paper, the authors note that if we develop”theories of how humans create and utilize mental representations of the environment, then we can minimize the need for user testing of specific geovisualization methods.” But I think that even if we formulate theories about how humans internalize, process, and store geographic information, this does not preclude the necessity of user testing specific methods. As they discuss later in their paper, there are considerable individual differences and a high level of specificity for each kind of VR representation, so user testing in each instance seems like a crucial step.

The authors commented on the paucity of publications related to 3D cmapping in comparison with the prominence of new softwares, and this seemed to be another manifestation of the GIS tool/science discussion we have been revisiting in class. In the sense that, should geo-VR and visualization be considered a tool or a science in itself? This usually leads to a further discussion of what constitutes a science.

One of the types of collaborative geo-visualization that the authors mention is the different-place, same-time scenario. I thought the most obvious instance of this is the multi-player  video games that people play over the web in real time, with people often located in entirely different countries. These games can be quite immersive and require considerable synchronization of timing, representation, and events, from multiple perspectives.

There is quite a positivist sentiment permeating this paper as to the power and potential of geo-visualization and in the discussion of education, the authors state that “we know so little about the ways in which children’s developing spatial abilities can be enabled through visual representations-” but whether or not this technology “enables” improved spatial abilities has not been established- they could have neutral or even deleterious effects on the development of spatial visualization and navigation skills.


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