Visual Analytics is "the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by visual interactive interfaces." This definition analytics was provided by Thomas and Cook in their 2005 book "Illuminating the Path: The R&D Agenda for Visual Analytics." The manuscript was a "call-to-arms" of sorts, pointing out where new advances were required to help solve the information problems faced by modern day analysts. Rather than considering visualization alone, visual analytics addresses the ways in which interactive visual tools can help users solve problems. Thea primary motivation for this new focus on visual analytics was national security. However, the same challenges impact information professionals from a range of fields where users must make sense from large and complex sets of information to take action.

This class will discuss many of the foundational concepts in visual analytics, give students opportunities to learn about some commonly used techniques, and provide hands-on experience with both existing products and in the development of custom visual analytics software.

This class is a project course. In addition to readings and more traditional homework assignments, students will be required to develop custom software as part of a semester project. For this reason, you must be a competent computer programmer to have success in this class. If you are unsure if you have the appropriate background, please contact the instructor as soon as possible.



This course will not require students to purchase a formal textbook. Instead, we'll use a number of resources availble for free or through a UNC license on the web. Readings will primarly come from the following:

  • "Visualization Analysis and Design" by Tamara Munzner. This book is available in electronic form via the UNC Library. Click here to access the book. The books is also available via major booksellers for those who prefer a print copy. Note that we will only be reading select chapters from this textbook. The the specific chapters I will assign for reading are also available via this course's electronic reserves (see below).
  • "Illuminating the Path: The Research and Development Agenda for Visual Analytics" edited by James J. Thomas and Kristin A. Cook. This book was released for free access in electronic form and can be downloaded here.

We'll also use selections from other books that are available through UNC's Electronic Reserves program:

  • Click here to access this course's electronic reserves collection.

Finally, we'll also use online tutorials created specifically for teaching D3 programming in the context of this course:

For those interested in more readings beyond those assigned in this course, I recommend the following:

  • "Information Visualization: Perception for Design" by Colin Ware. Published by Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann and available for most booksellers.
  • "Interactive Data Visualization" by Matthew Ward, Georges Grinstein and Daniel Keim. Published by CRC Press and available from most booksellers.
  • "Mastering the Information Age: Solving Problems with Visual Analytics" edited by Daniel Keim, Jorn Kohlhammer, Geoffrey Ellis and Florian Mansmann. This book is available for download via this link.
  • And more...



Class participation is a key element of this course. All students are expected to come to class prepared to be engaged, to participate in all class exercises, and to contribute to group discussions. In addition:

  • Be on time for class.
  • If you know in advance that you will be miss a class, please let me know ahead of time.
  • If you know in advance that you will be miss a class, arrive late to class, or leave early from class, please let me know ahead of time.
  • If you miss class unexpectedly, please let me know why you were absent before the next class meeting.
  • Repeated absences or late arrivals will negatively impact your class participation grade.
  • If you don't understand something from class, ask questions! You can ask in class, and you can stop by my office during office hours.
  • "Quality is better than quantity." Class participation is part of your grade for this course. However, there are many ways to participate.

Assignments are due by the start of class on the day they are due unless otherwise specified. For assignments that are due on days when class is not scheduled, they must be submitted by the normal class starting time (even though class is not meeting) unless otherwise specified.

Assignments are to be submitted using Canvas unless instructed otherwise. Submission instructions will be included with each assignment description.

Late assignments will be penalized 10% for each day late, up to a maximum of three days. A "day" here refers to a 24 hour period, or fraction thereof, after the due date. For example, a late assignment turned in 25 hours late will be penalized as two days late. No assignments will be accepted if more than 72 hours (3 days) late.

Start early and ask questions. Many assignments may turn out to be more time consuming than expected. It is strongly suggested that you start working on assignments as soon as they are assigned. In this way, you'll have time to ask questions and complete your assignment before the due date.

Exceptions due to special circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis. When deemed appropriate, limited extensions may be granted. However, be sure to inform the instructor AS SOON AS POSSIBLE should you require a special accommodation. If a problem is known about in advance, then the instructor should be told before it occurs. Exceptions are much less likely to be provided if requests for accommodation are not made in a timely fashion.

Those with questions about course material, having trouble with assignments, or seeking any other kind of assistance related to class are encouraged to meet with the instructor during office hours. For more information about the schedule for office hours, please see the "Course Information" section on the home page for this class website.



This is a project-oriented course with a capstone semester project serving as the single largest factor in your overall grade. However, the project is just one of three distinct elements that will determine your grade in this course.

  • 45% - Semester Project
  • 40% - Other Assignments
  • 15% - Class Participation

The class schedule includes eight assignments labeled A1 through A8. Assignments contributing to your "Semester Project" grade include A2, A3, and A4. The "Other Assignments" grade is determined by A1, A5, A6, and A8. The "Class Participation" component of your grade is determined in part by A7 and A9, general participation in class discussions/activities, and attendance. Please note that assignments do not all contribute equally to your final grade even if they are graded on the same point scale (e.g., two assignments graded out of 10 points may not contribute equally to your final semester grade).

Grades will follow the standard UNC grading system as outlined by the Office of the University Registrar. The grading scale will be curved, with the highest grades reserved (as outlined by the Registrar) for those with "the highest level of attainment that can be expected."

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