Faculty Spotlight: Professor Dianne Finch

The iMedia faculty hold the highest degrees in their fields and have relevant real-world experience. Being a graduate of the program, I wanted to profile the wonderful faculty members who help make the iMedia program so successful.

Professor Dianne Finch is new to Elon this school year, but has already made her mark on the iMedia program, offering a popular spring elective, Data Visualization. Professor Finch holds an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University. She has professional experience in software, programming and journalism. Before coming to Elon, she was manager for New Media and a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. We are happy to have Professor Finch sharing her knowledge at Elon!

iMedia Professor Dianne Finch // Elon Interactive MediaHow has your background influenced what you teach in the interactive media program?
My career in the software industry taught me the importance of designing and thinking critically before building. The same principle directly applies to the data visualization class.

In journalism, a good story can’t be written without solid reporting, critical thinking, and the ability to see behind the rhetoric and bias. In data visualization, students mine, clean, filter and analyze data before designing a visual. They should have an idea in mind, but the sketching doesn’t begin until they’ve discovered and vetted the data. The data should have the potential to tell a story – or part of a story. I believe that the same principle applies to many disciplines.

Is there a college class or experience that has most influenced your teaching philosophy?
There were many college classes that influenced my teaching philosophy. At Columbia University, my adviser and “reporting 101” professor pushed me to identify the best possible sources for stories. If a student handed in a story with sources that weren’t solid or authoritative when necessary, the story was rejected on the spot.  It was challenging, but it was an important lesson and so essential to good journalism.  In data visualization, the same principle applies – but the sources are the data.

What is your favorite thing about teaching iMedia students?
iMedia students are enthusiastic, creative and seem to be attracted to challenging endeavors. They bring a range of skills to my class. Some have worked in professional jobs, and others are recent graduates. Many are already adept in video production, motion graphics, Adobe design tools and coding with HTML and JavaScript. It’s apparent that they are taking advantage of everything that iMedia has to offer. I look forward to seeing their final projects and I’m confident that they will incorporate those other skills into their visualization projects.

Can you share a bit about the new course, Data Visualization?
The course covers the fundamentals of data visualization with an initial focus on data mining, cleaning, filtering and merging. We talk about using color, shapes, position, size and other visualization characteristics to apply to data types – such as categories, dates and quantitative numbers. As for tools, we start with Google Fusion and then move to the Google API, Tableau Public and finally the D3 JavaScript Library. We build interactive maps, timelines and other types of charts. When students walk away, the hope is that they will know which tools best suit their individual needs and abilities. Some require coding skills – while others don’t.

How will the skills you are teaching translate to the future?
Corporations, news organizations and even politicians are embracing data visualization to communicate important trends and stories that might otherwise be buried in spreadsheets and unavailable to the average person. Small businesses offering data visualization services are popping up around the globe – creating a new sector in the software or communications industry. Elon and other universities are establishing courses, and I’ve heard about K12 schools that are teaching children how to display data in the US and the UK. The big data and open data movements obviously contribute to the demand for skills in this area. As those movements gain momentum, data visualization should continue to evolve and adjust.

What would your students be surprised to learn about you?
I lived in Japan and traveled throughout Asia. I love the outdoors and lived in Alaska as a child. My husband, Brian, is from England. Thanks to Brian’s son, we have three adorable grandchildren. I’ve travelled to many countries, and must see many more.

I know you just moved to North Carolina, what is your favorite thing about living here so far?
The weather. Watching flowers break ground so early in spring. Again, the weather.

Thanks to Professor Finch for sharing more about herself. I hope spring weather is here to stay soon!

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This entry was posted in Communications, Profiles by Katie Williamsen. Bookmark the permalink.

About Katie Williamsen

Katie is the web strategist and social media maven behind Katie Williamsen Web & Social Media Consulting, LLC. She helps lady bosses stop feeling overwhelmed so they can make effective changes for their business. Katie earned her master’s degree in interactive media at Elon University. Katie is also the editor of the lifestyle blog Twin Stripe, dedicated to helping fun, fabulous readers create a bright and modern lifestyle — that doesn’t cost a ton. When Katie isn’t strategizing with clients, blogging or working her 8-to-5 hustle, she’s spending time with her husband Chad and their pup Hobbes.

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