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Why Sound?

Why Sound?

Data Literacy heavily relies on visual learning tools, often excluding those with vision impairments or who have trouble interpreting visual information. Using sound to explore data will facilitate participation by these communities, increasing interest in STEM and data literacy.

We recognize that there are gaps in scientific and data literacy in the US, which create barriers to understanding science (Allum et al, 2018). We see how scientific datasets have become richer and more varied (Klein, 2004) and curated datasets have become key tools to increase data literacy in science education (Kjelvik and Schultheis, 2019). Yet, the typical presentation of data relies on visual graphs, with its acknowledged challenges (Amini et al., 2015). Education research calls for engaging learners in science with modalities beyond visual aids (e.g., audio, tactile) to improve educational outcomes (Mayer, 2014; Engel, 2017); multiple modalities—that include sound—broaden participation by providing more equitable access to learning materials.

Museums and aquaria are recognizing the importance of multiple modalities to engage all learners and are beginning to leverage the use of sound (Sider, 2006), though STEM exhibits remain largely in the visual domain. Visual presentations are inaccessible to those with low math literacy, causing them and people with vision impairments to avoid ILEs altogether (Tokar, 2004; Landau et al., 2005). Museum exhibits that do include sound in the displays to convey information about the natural world mainly rely upon music and/or environmental sounds in their auditory design (e.g., Pollock and Newlin, 2007; Quinn, 2010; Pijanowski and Ghadiri, 2018).

Our work involves designing sounds that communicate ocean phenomena. We are working toward a co-design process that involves blind and visually-impaired students and their teachers as part of the sonification design process.

Want to Learn More?

Learn about data sonification.
Learn about the parameters of sound.
Learn about data mapping.
Learn about sound design.



Allum, N., J. Besley, L. Gomez, L., and I. Brunton-Smith, 2018. Disparities in science literacy. Science 360, 861–862. doi: 10.1126/science.aar8480.

Amini, F., S. Rufiange, Z. Hossain, Q. Ventura, P. Irani, P., and M.J. McGuffin, 2015. The impact of interactivity on comprehending 2D and 3D visualizations of movement data. IEEE Transactions on Visualization Computer Graphics, 21, 122–135. doi: 10.1109/TVCG.2014.2329308

Engel, J., 2017. Statistical literacy for active citizenship: a call for data science education. Statistics Education Research Journal, 16, 44–49.

Kjelvik, M.K. and EH Schultheis, 2019. Getting Messy with Authentic Data, Exploring the Potential of Using Data from Scientific Research to Support Student Data Literacy. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 18, 108,

Klein, J. T., 2004. Interdisciplinarity and complexity: an evolving relationship. ECO Emergence: Complexity and Organization 6, 2–10, doi:10.emerg/10.17357.5b032d0fdc094281a75e3ff2f998d161

Kramer, G., B. Walker, T. Bonebright, P.Cook, J. H. Flowers, N. Minder, J. Neuhoff, R. Bargar, S. Barrass, J. Berger, G. Evreinov, W. T. Fitch, M. Gröhn, S. Handel, H. Kaper, H. Levkowitz, S.Kodha, B.Shinn-Cunningham, M. Simoni, S.Tipei, 2010. Sonification Report: Status of the Field and Research Agenda. Faculty Publications, Department of Psychology, 444.

Landau, S., Wiener, W., Naghshineh, K., and Giusti, E., 2005. Creating accessible science museums with user-activated environmental audio beacons (ping!). Assistive Technology 17, 133–143. doi: 10.1080/10400435.2005.10132103

Mayer, R. E., 2014. The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

Pijanowski, B.C. and M. Ghadiri, 2018. Understanding nature through active listening. Connected Science Learning, 1(8),

Pollack, W. and J.S. Newlin 2007. Wild Music: Making the Most of Sound in an Exhibition.

Quinn, M. 2010. “‘Walk on the Sun’ Interactive Image and Movement Sonification Exhibit/Technology.” In Proceedings of ISon 2010, 3rd Interactive Sonification Workshop, KTH, Stockholm, Sweden, April 7, 2010.

Sider, K., 2006. Ocean Science - Formal and Informal Education for Ocean Literacy. NOAA funded grant #NA06SEC4690008,

Tokar, S., 2004. Universal design in North American museums with hands-on science exhibits: A survey. Visitor Studies Today, Vol. 7:3, 6–10.



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