“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
This could be a summary of the program offered Wednesday afternoon at ASIL-ILA, entitled Connecting the Dots: Visualizing International Law. Moderated by our own Marylin Raisch, this program demonstrated three ways of taking “Big Data” raw numbers and using visual representations to simplify their presentation and make them more accessible, with the aim of improving teaching, communication, and problem-solving in the transnational legal context.
The three items demonstrated were the Rule of Law Index website from the World Justice Project, which assigns numerical scores to each country purporting to measure how the rule of law is experienced in everyday life around the globe; the Global Health and Human Rights website from the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at the Georgetown University Law Center; and mind mapping as used in teaching complex international law concepts.
The Rule of Law Index presents numerical data, but also allows the user to view a spider graph for each country that combines all of the factors considered in the scoring into a snapshot from which the user can extract specific details. In this way, the site allows the user to look beyond the numerical scores assigned to each country and to view the actual questions and responses that led to the scores. The Global Health and Human Rights website includes a free online database of health and human rights law. The site allows the user to search for case law using an interactive map, as well as to use drop down menus to search for cases by health topic, human rights, region, country, and international or regional body. It also contains direct links to national constitutions, as well as to regional and international instruments.
The presentation on mind mapping was of particular interest to me, since I had previously experienced a course in International Commercial Arbitration that had been taught with the use of mind mapping software. Professor Jeffrey B. Ritter, of the Georgetown University Law Center, explained why this method is so effective. While most law school courses are taught using casebooks and lectures, 70% of us learn best visually. For this reason, a mind map will help us to learn more quickly and easily – up to 60 times more quickly than will texts alone. Professor Ritter shared that in Kaplan’s materials, half of the pages contain maps. When faced with a multiple choice question, most students will pull up a mental image of the relevant map. Maps allow for self-paced learning, improve collaboration, and allow for faster initial analysis. The use of maps can eliminate the need for casebooks and course packs and allow students to learn more effectively.
To summarize, this session not only showed specific uses of visual data representation, but demonstrated that pictures and other visual aids, being a common language across countries and cultures, can allow us to work, teach, and learn more effectively by helping us to cross borders and to overcome language and other communication barriers.