On Saturday September 24th there will be a free(!) Accessibility Camp in Toronto. This is the first time this event will be held in Toronto. I’ve never attended one before, but if you have any interest in building for an accessible web (and you should!) then I urge you to register and attend.

Register for the event here: http://www.accessibilitycampto.org/

Hope to see you there 🙂


I gave a presentation today on how we can create web mapping applications that address accessibility guidelines.  I’m not sure if I can share the slides, as they are EC branded…but I think I can share the transcript of the presentation to anyone who is interested:

Slide: Title

Web Mapping Accessibility and CLF 2.0

Alecia Fowler

Environment Canada

February 2011

Slide: Introduction

During this presentation I will discuss what steps we can take to create accessible web mapping applications.  I’ll talk about why it is not a clear cut case and where the grey areas are.  We have been able to identify some solutions but there are still gaps so please feel free to ask questions or bring up any ideas.

Slide: CLF 2.0

The goal of CLF 2.0 is to created uniform, accessible web content with a departmental branding

The Federal Governments stance on Accessibility is stated in Treasury Boards Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf2-nsi2/index-eng.asp

The standard is comprised of 4 parts:

From a web mapping point of view we are concerned with Part 2 and Part 3, I will cover Part 3 the Standard on Common Web Page Formats first as it is a bit more straightforward.

Slide: Standard on Common Web Page Formats

This part of the standard covers the layout and formatting of web pages.  The design is further expanded on to reflect department specific branding though Environment Canada’s E-Communications department.  They have a design guide which stipulates the usage, style and colour of various page features.  This guide is useful for static pages but when it comes to dynamic web applications there are more unknowns.

EC Internet Look and Feel Guide http://intranet.ec.gc.ca/communications/default.asp?lang=En&n=243D8F0F-1

We have recently finished a project for the Communications branch.  As they are responsible for web content consistency it is a safe bet to model your web mapping content after them.

The application was built with two interfaces.  One that fits nicely into the CLF template and looks similar to all other EC pages, and one that looks more like mainstream web mapping applications:

Map of EcoAction Funded Projects


Slide: Standard on Accessibility, Interoperability and Usability of Web sites

Satisfying Part 2 of the CLF standard is not as simple as it deals with web accessibility.

  • The goal of web accessibility is to ensure that content online is available to all people regardless of disability.
  • Most of the information in a web mapping application is found in the map which can only be accessed visually.
  • Due to its high dependence on vision, other accessibility requirements often get overlooked

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

The CLF standard requires web content to satisfy the Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which are divided into 4 categories to ensure you content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

  • Perceivable
    • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
    • Provide captions and alternatives for audio and video content.
    • Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies.
    • Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear.
  • Operable
    • Make all functionality keyboard accessible.
    • Give users enough time to read and use content.
    • Do not use content that causes seizures.
    • Help users navigate and find content.
  • Understandable
    • Make text readable and understandable.
    • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
    • Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Robust
    • Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies

But some of these priorities don’t affect web-mapping applications, so we’re just going to concentrate on the ones that do.

  • Perceivable: Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
  • Perceivable: Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies.
  • Perceivable: Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear.
  • Operable: Make all functionality keyboard accessible.
  • Understandable: Make text readable and understandable.
  • Robust: Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies.

  • Offering information in multiple formats
    • The life of a web mapping application is the data, so please offer a text-based version of the data you are loading into the map
  • Allow your users to download it themselves
  • Display it in charts, tables, and graphs etc.
  • Have the most accessible version of your site as the first format encountered by a visitor

Example: National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI)


  • Online data
  • Online maps
  • Downloadable map layers for Google Earth (.kmz)
  • Downloadable data for Microsoft Access (.mdb)
  • Download data for Microsoft Excel (.xls)

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear.

This checkpoint has to do with the cartography of the map.  The design should take into account any colour blindness or weak vision of the user.  This could be text size or colour choice for symbology.

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Make all functionality keyboard accessible.

Your web mapping application should not rely solely on the mouse for access to any feature or information

  • Map Tips
  • Point Selection
  • Map Navigation

This is common for web mapping applications as much of the information and features are embedded into the map.

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Make text readable and understandable.

  • The advantage of using maps to convey spatial data is that they allow for an easier understanding of spatial relationships and patterns
  • If the alternate to a map is access to the data in raw format it should be laid out in an understandable way not just a data dump

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies

In order to do this we recommend Progressive Enhancement as a design approach to any web page.

Helpful Links:



Slide: Web Mapping Accessibility Template (WMAT)

The Inter-Agency Committee on Geomatics (IACG) Web Mapping and Accessibility Sub-group is comprised of subject matter experts from various departments across the federal government.  It is our goal to create a best practices guide for the community.  WMAT is a demo that we will be using to show how these best practices are put into play.  We are hoping it will encourage communication throughout the departments and encourage feedback on how to make an accessible application usable.

We will be releasing an updated version that will have widgets for various web mapping components that developers will be able to use on their own sites.

Associated Links

IACG Sub-Group: http://www.gcpedia.gc.ca/wiki/Inter_Agency_Committee_on_Geomatics/Web_Mapping_and_Accessibility

WMAT: http://maps-cartes.ec.gc.ca/wmat/

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

There is one outstanding checkpoint:

Provide text alternatives for non-text content.

I’ve saved this for the end as this is the most complicated checkpoint, and one we have yet to have a solution for.  The map is non-text content.  To satisfy this checkpoint we need to describe the map in a meaningful, comparable way to the understanding a person takes away from viewing the map.


  • The amount of data behind building a map image.  The number of layers, and how each of those layers represented and interact with each other.
  • The different types of maps there are.  Does map type affect a description?
  • An interactive web mapping application, every time the extent changes or the layers change.  Should the description then also be updated?

Slide: “Describing a Thematic Map”

I chose to delve a little deeper into this area for my research as it was out of scope for anything we could answer as a web mapping development team.

My research question was: How does a sighted person describe a thematic map?

I was hoping to find a way to form meaningful text descriptions of a thematic map that would not just be useful to visually impaired users, but potentially sighted users as well.

I conducted a study where I asked members of the sighted community to describe various thematic maps.

Slide: Database of words

I then took the resulting data and tagged what I thought to be as keywords in the descriptions.

Slide: Categories

I further divided the keywords into categories and sub-categories by looking at how they were used in the descriptions and what they were meaning to convey.

  • Directional
  • Topographical
  • Quantitative
  • Shape
  • Landmark
  • Query Data
  • Thematic
  • Size
  • Jurisdiction
  • Colour
  • Distance
  • Location

Slide: Proposed Description Framework

My study resulted in the following proposed framework in how to structure a description of a thematic map:

A description of a thematic map should relay context by providing

  • Query data, for a general understanding of what the map is representing;
  • Jurisdiction, for a specific area the map is covering;
  • Location, to give real-life names to the area of jurisdiction;

The points shown in the thematic layer should be described in relation to the various topographical features and landmarks by specifying:

  • Size
  • Distance
  • Direction
  • Placement

These descriptions are enriched through the use of descriptive words of the various layers and their features, which should relay

  • Shape
  • Size
  • Colour
  • Direction
  • Quantity

Slide: Example

This map is showing locations of facilities which reported pollutant releases in Canada in 2008. There is a town named Springfield, which is based along the east bank of a river. The river runs alongside the town from north to south. Approximately half way down, the river is joined by a smaller river that arches from the left. At the point where the two rivers join is a railway track. There are 3 facilities shown, the first is at the terminus of the railway track. The second point is located at the south end of the town and to the east of the first point. There is a small park near the center of town and bordering the east side of the river, as well as an orange symbol over the river about X km north of the park. The third point is due east of these two features, and is just outside the north-east side of the town.

Slide: Resources

Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0


CLF 2.0 Part 2: Standard on the Accessibility, Interoperability and Usability of Web Sites


CLF 2.0 Part 3: Standard on Common Web Page Formats


EC Internet Look and Feel Guide http://intranet.ec.gc.ca/communications/default.asp?lang=En&n=243D8F0F-1

Map of EcoAction Funded Projects


National Pollutant Release Inventory


Progressive Enhancement:



I am convocating this week (well if i was actually attending the ceremony). So after three long years of work and study and stress and little socialization…but still lots of fun…I find myself asking what now? Aside from having a ton of free time all of a sudden, I wonder how I want to utilize this new specialization I have. Not only has it been 3 years of school, but also 5 years at Environment Canada, time to assess the situation I’d say.

I eagerly accepted a job at Environment Canada because I wanted the work I did to make a difference.  I didn’t want to be a part of the development of the next useless gadget or widget (don’t get me wrong…I LOVE useless gadgets and widgets as much as the next person) but I knew it would be easy to get caught up in all the big business hype of software development.  I know government work has it’s (many!) drawbacks but I do feel like I’m part of something that’s trying to accomplish positive things.  Yes, most of the time it’s indirectly…and there’s a lot of bullshit you have to deal with to achieve something, but trust me, government is not the only place i would experience such a thing.

I also chose my research topic because I wanted to look at something that would hopefully make a difference to people.  I appreciate that government aligns itself so closely with accessibility standards, even though most developers and clients groan about it.  My father was a computer programmer who also suffered from Multiple Sclerosis.  When he went on disability, his major lifeline was the computer.  As his mobility degenerated it got harder and harder for him to use the computer.  I know all too well how important it is to design tools for an accessible audience.

The thing that’s making my feet itch though is at EC I’m sitting in front of a computer, talking to clients who are also EC employees.  I’m not actually in the thick of it to see the impact any of my work may be having.  At UofT, I’m sitting in front of a computer and hoping that at some point my work may have an impact.  I have a selfish desire to “get out there” much like my days as a NetCorps volunteer in Ghana, that I endlessly talk about because it’s so close to my heart.  I interned as an IT Specialist, but most of the time instead of helping out with anything IT related, I was visiting the women’s shelter to deliver supplies, or going into the villages to participate in HIV/AIDS information sessions.  I am daydreaming for something like this again, if even for a little bit to refresh my commitment to the fact that yes, even the people sitting behind the computers in the gray cubicles have the potential to contribute positively in some way to the world.

Making decisions has never been an easy thing for me, and I am usually pretty easily influenced by the people I love and respect.  But instead of just doing what they tell me…I’m trying to take some time, and just consider their opinions as well as take part in things just for me while I figure it out.   I have been having a lot of fun flexing my carpentry skills, getting involved in a group I am passionate about, studying french, a few other enjoyments here and there, and well, just being with the people I love as I owe them a lot of time from being in a bubble for the last 6 months or so.

Any suggestions for me to consider?

I’m also trying to figure out what is going to happen to this blog, as I have come to enjoy writing posts…but it was originally intended to be a research blog, and not much of that is happening right now. Stay tuned if interested.

I thought I would reflect a bit on my experience as a part-time masters student at UofT.  This may or may not help you if you happen to be contemplating the same.  I realize everyone’s situation is different, so I can only share mine.

My situation:
After an undergrad degree, I put grad school on the back burner in order to scratch my nomadic itch that never seems to go away. After a volunteer internship abroad it seemed to be practical (and more fun!) to try out a post-grad college program than grad school. The program immediately led to a contract at Environment Canada that after being a poor student for so long seemed pretty enticing. As I grew accustomed to those biweekly paychecks and grew closer to my team, it got harder and harder to commit to leaving. When it came time to become a permanent member of the team I sat down with my manager to figure out if he would let me take a year or two off to go back to school.  Instead, the part-time solution was brought up and to me it seemed like the best of both worlds.

I started at UofT with no idea what I wanted to research.  I had one day a week to go to school as well as weekends to work on any work.  I know a lot of people find this hard to believe, but I am painfully shy in new situations. This is especially the case with situations where I feel out of my element…but most people are, aren’t they? Anyways, I wandered on and off campus for almost a year, not contributing in meetings and finding very little direction in the area of research. I finally took mercy on my advisor who was desperately trying  to get some sort of research area out of me and decided I would switch to special student status and continue to take courses but forgo the research and the degree.

Enter Greg…
In terms of part-time research, this is what worked for me…and what led to me actually being able to finish the program:

  • Basing my research topic on a work project. This way I had the support of my manager, supervisor, and team.  It was related to both parts of  my double life, so I didn’t have to become an expert on two drastically different topics.  I was already expected to be an accessibility expert at work, and was encouraged to research the topic.  I could work on my research while I was at work,  win-win, and it helped me to not lose focus.
  • Getting the right advisor. As you could probably tell from my last post, my advisor was key to me finishing.  I won’t go into it again…but trust, it’s important.  I don’t have much advice on how to find the right advisor, but I ended up with 3 throughout my time at UofT and all were supportive of me talking to other professors about research.  So don’t be afraid to.
  • Having a research partner. I wasn’t around the university offices much, nor did i have a place to call my own as part-time students don’t really get desks.  Having someone to meet with every week is much less intimidating than having to meet a whole research group of people you hardly know. It’s also better for time management.  Being at school one day a week didn’t give me the time to get to know everyones research area. Having that one point of contact allowed me to not only have someone to talk to, but also one person I could actually return the favour and also listen to and give advice.  Eventually, I also moved into my research partners desk (it got serious!) which made me a little bit more present and visible and allowed me to get to know everyone a bit better. It gave me a reason to stay on campus and work instead of just coming in to meet with my advisor and go home or back to work.  Again, I don’t have much to say in the way of how to find a research partner, as we were brought together by fluke, but if you click with someone (even if your research areas don’t align)  try to meet up with them regularly.
  • Caring about my research. Some grad students might be able to get through the program if they aren’t 100% invested in their topic.  But as a part-time student it’s already hard to stay motivated and actually finish. Having a topic that you care about provides the added incentive to follow through, while making it enjoyable.
  • Splitting the cost and effort. My work paid for any courses I took that were related to my job, and they gave me work-time in order to attend. Which is great! But I also paid for certain courses, and research semesters.  And for every hour work gave me to go to school, I spent 2 or 3 or more of my own free time to dedicate to school.  I think the fact that I had invested so much of my personal time, money, and effort played a big role.  It also makes the degree mine, not my company’s…which I think is important.

I don’t really have a list of what didn’t work, as I think that list is pretty standard whether part-time or not.  Having said all of the above, I still wouldn’t recommend choosing the part-time route if you at all have the ability to be a full-time grad student.  There is nothing worse than cutting corners with something you would ideally be taking pride in.  But a lot of the time that’s what I found myself doing…and it’s a pretty shitty feeling.  I continually felt like I wasn’t giving 100% to school or work, and just trying to complete the minimum expected of me in order to get things done.  So because of that I can’t recommend being part-time over full-time if you can help it.  Part-time can work obviously, and I’m pretty happy I did it…but in a perfect world…

Now that I have finally reached the end, I wanted to write a bit about the remarkable group of people I met while at UofT, and how grateful I am to them for helping me through this…and now being a part of my life. WARNING:  I do touchy-feely pretty well, so the following is not recommended for the cold-of-heart.

Greg Wilson – I remember the day I went to Greg’s office for a routine meeting about a class project and walked out feeling full of hope, ideas, inspiration, and a new advisor to boot.  Greg didn’t know me at all, but was still concerned about how I was doing, not just in respect to the course project, but in general.  After spilling the beans that I just wasn’t feeling that the whole part-time thing was working and I’d probably just take some courses of interest here and there, he was determined to review all of my options and help me reach a solution.  And that is basically how he has worked with me through this whole process.

When many other students left meetings with their advisors feeling bogged down, stressed and defeated, I would leave feeling elated, confident, and full of determination. Greg worked around my schedule and constantly gave me options, never once complaining…although occasionally guilt-tripping 🙂  When I let him know something wasn’t working for me, he would always try to come up with a new way to approach a situation in order to help me succeed, and he did it with such positivity that you couldn’t help but feel positive as well…something his others students and I have deemed “The Greg Effect”.

I don’t know many professors or managers who would take on such a high maintenance student, or one who would put so much effort behind helping them succeed. Students at UofT are definitely missing out on a great educator now that Greg is no longer on the faculty. But I am very glad he took a chance on me, and that he is now one my friends. Just to share one of the many reasons why I love Greg, in the midst of my thesis-writing woes he sent me this link, and yes although you may think it cheezy…Greg takes the time to get to know each and every one of his students, and he knows just how well a high cheeze factor works with me.  I ended up writing 5 pages that day! Thanks Greg! *hug*

Jon Pipitone – I have Greg to thank for putting Jon in my life…another one of his great ideas when he saw I wasn’t saying a word in meetings, and not making an effort to get to know any of his other students.  When Greg suggested Jon and I become research partners, I don’t think he meant for us to take it as seriously as we did.

Even though Jon already knows how grateful I am to him, I am still going to gush about him in a public forum (oh how he will hate this).

Jon has a way of listening to my nonsensical sentences, processing it, and repackaging it so that when he relays it back to me I sound like a genius. And although his project management skills leave something to be desired 😉 he kept me thoroughly entertained during our long sundays at the lab, fed me with an endless supply of dumplings, provided me with a steady stream of music to work with, as well as constantly emailing me funny and sweet links/words that gave me a break from research.

In the past 2 years(ish) I think there have been very few days when I haven’t seen, spoken, chatted or written to Jon…unless we were fighting of course ;)…who knew a research partnership could be so complex? But after countless hours of chatting about research and then some, he definitely rooted himself into my life wether he meant to or not!  Jon, you’re the best! *fist bump*

Andrew Trusty – You gotta trust the Trusty…and do I ever! I would not have survived this last lap, writing up my thesis without having you there as my constant.  Thanks for being there to work with, talk with, eat with, walk with, run with, sit with, chat with, celebrate with, laugh with!  I could always depend on you for great company…even if you tired of me sometimes 😉  You kept me on track when I so easily fall off it.  I am very glad to know that you are sticking around these parts, as I don’t think I’m done with being your sidekick just yet. A.T. this pics for you.  Thanks Coach! *pat on the back*

pigeon with tin can on head

Jason MontojoI blame my shyness and unavailability for missing out on the first year or so of Jason.  Who would have thunk that such a great friend was within my reach all that time?  You have been a wonderful listener and advice giver.  Sprinkling all of my dramatic woes with your wit and humour, I look forward to our chats and have come to value your opinion so much.  Thank you for reviewing my work so speedily and constructively, as well as the motivational lunches and inappropriate jokes.  You know how much I appreciate your unique sense of humour 😉 Yay Jay! *high five*

I’m winding down the lovefest I swear…

Jorge Aranda and Jono Leung:  I am so glad I got to know and become friends with both of you.  Jono you were one of the first people I met when I started at UofT, and Jorge you were one of the last as I was intimidated by the legend!  Jorge you were always available for advice and support…is there anything you don’t know?!  Jono, so charming and funny, you are endlessly entertaining.  I came to the lab just so I could be in the presence of you both, that’s how fun and helpful you both are.  Thanks guys! *group hug*

The whole gang!  Rory, Abayomi, Neil, Carolyn, Mike, Zuzel, and Andrew.  The whole SE group and lab posse.  They were there to tolerate my high energy, field my questions, review my work, offer desk space, and gossip breaks.  It was great to have you guys around, and I’ll miss you! hmm I’m out of appreciative actions…so lets all just dance.

That’s all for now. Just an announcement. Going to take some time to let it sink in and then I’ll be back 🙂

*ahem* I fear I may be getting a reputation as a world class complainer.  I’m starting to get annoyed with myself so I can only imagine how I sound to others.

“wahhh poor me, I have to write a research paper”

“wahhh typing words on my computer to form sentences is hard”

“wahhh I have to immerse myself in a topic that I love and which inspires me”

“wahhh I have to get a graduate degree at a top ranking university”

“wahhh I still get paid from my full-time job as I sit in a comfy office sipping my coffee and reflecting on my ideas”

shut UP alecia.

ok.  fine.  it’s not all so bad.  Yes, I can be dramatic at times.  Only sometimes though 😉

The process is going well (positivity!).  Khai Truong has agreed to be my second reader…so yay!  I was really counting on him, as considering my research topic and content, as well as how I came to UofT in the first place, he is the most appropriate person.

I am passing over my first draft to Greg tomorrow, so that will be good in order to get past the slowdown I started experiencing last week.  I just find it funny how one minute I will read over what I wrote and be really happy with it, and confident about reaching my deadline, and then the next minute (literally the next minute!) I will be second guessing everything.  It’s emotionally draining…wait, I’m not complaining though.  I think I expected it to some degree, because that’s the type of person I am.  So I guess…if you know someone experiencing the same thing, just let them know it’s normal.  Well, as normal as one can be.  Passing off to Greg will be good so I can get someone else’s perspective, instead of staying in my own little thesis bubble.

In the meantime I’m just writing.  That’s basically it…writing, and rewriting, writing notes, writing paragraphs, etc. etc.  Jorge’s suggestion at a process to follow is exactly right…well for me anyways.  This is what he told me (Jorge I hope you don’t mind me copypasta-ing your words…but you are a DOCTOR now, so you should get used to it cause that’s what happens with important people):

First, write a point-form skeleton of your thesis (it’s OK if you still don’t have the full picture of what you’ll write).

Second, as your first step writing a chapter/section, add some flesh to the skeleton, as if you were writing pseudocode. “Paragraph on the importance of such and such. Paragraph on why X’s work didn’t tackle this.”

Third, write those paragraphs! :-)

Aim to have a first draft finished at about your halfway point (so in 2.5 weeks). It doesn’t matter if it’s a terrible draft that makes you think coming to grad school was the worst idea ever. I find that once the “dough” is there you can shape it any way you want it. So with your draft finished, revise it (maybe at least 4 times! this is why you need to give it time), and you’ll find you become happier and happier with the result.

When you’re reading the whole thing and making just a few changes every time, you’re done!

And that’s what I’m doing.  Aside from the fact that I need to pick up the pace, I think it’s going well.  Ok, back to writing.

So at my lowest point today the convo went a little something like this:

Me: *Staring blankly out the window with a sad face on trying to emote “pay attention to me! pay attention to meeeeee!”*

A.T. : *sigh* What’s wrong?

Me: ARGHHHHHH! whiney whine whine.

A.T.: *blank stare*

Me: I just don’t wanna work on my thesis anymore!!!!! wahhhhh. *sad face*

A.T.: Don’t pout.  I’m going to nap in the park.

Me: Fine!

– temper tantrum over…but hmm maybe I’ll blog about it.

Feeling better now, although I did have to temporarily switch my music choice of Caribou to a Beyonce/Lady Gaga mix…yeah that’s how bad it got.

After today I have three weeks left to basically finish my thesis.  It has been three weeks already and time has flown!  I have a working copy *sort of* which I will post online today, no matter how nervous and uncomfortable that makes me.  I am going to start updating the version daily just like Aran (cause Aran has some good ideas sometimes). If you do happen to take the extra step and open it…which right now I hope you don’t….please be reassured that eventually it will be longer and make much more sense, and sound alot more professional.  Ok enough of that…I’m actually much more confident in my content than I seem right now, but hey, highs and lows man, highs and lows.

My plan of attack for next week is library and lab.  I have written out my rough thoughts/notes/points and now I want to expand on each more thoughtfully and concretely.

This blog post has been a nice little break. I’m sure you are all going to be sitting at the edge of your seats until the end of the(my) work day when I post up my thesis! yay! (see i told you…totally bipolar)

I have been rereading a lot of papers the last 2 weeks that I read, probably in the fall.  I am writing up my results and discussion sections, so have been reviewing papers on grounded theory, and am now kicking myself that I didn’t reread these certain papers before I began my analysis.  Not because they would have changed the way I performed my analysis, as I had already planned out my approach beforehand.  But now that I’m reviewing them again I’m realizing that all of the second guesses I was making and frustrations I was experiencing were normal and part of the process.  It probably would have saved me some time of going over them again and again, and given me some reassurance.  But I commonly do this, make things more complicated than they need to be. *le sigh*

For example, reading this before I tackled the analysis and having it fresh in my mind would have helped alot:

In summary, coding qualitative information into quantitative data is often useful and even necessary, but must be done carefully. It should be  remembered that coding adds neither objectivity nor accuracy to data, although it may appear that way. Coding is especially difficult when the concept to be coded is subjective in nature, when the terminology used to describe it varies and is difficult to interpret, and when different data sources disagree.

(p.565) Qualitative Methods in Empirical Studies of Software Engineering Carolyn B. Seaman


Collection of qualitative data is often a very satisfying experience for the researcher. Although it is often more labor-intensive, it is also more enjoyable to collect than quantitative data. It is interesting and engaging and it often gives the researcher the sense that they are closer to reality than when dealing with quantitative abstractions. Many researchers wish that their work could end there. The analysis of qualitative data is, in this researcher’s experience, not nearly as inspiring as its collection. It is sometimes boring, often tedious, and always more time-consuming than expected.

(p.565-566) Qualitative Methods in Empirical Studies of Software Engineering Carolyn B. Seaman

These words hit the nail on the head concerning what I was feeling throughout the analysis process.  Not sure why I felt the need to share on my blog…but it’s just so classic Alecia, to stress out about every detail thinking I’m doing something wrong, go over it again and again, wasting time…and then realize after the fact that I was right from the very beginning…or that the easiest way to reassure myself was at my fingertips and I just didn’t realize it.  f@%#!

Ok, so I know I said I wanted a first draft up last Friday…but it seems I was a bit too optimistic in setting that milestone.  I am now targeting next Friday (not this Friday, but the Friday after…I’m never sure how that works).  In a meeting with my advisor this morning I was saying how I’m not sure how to judge my progress. I feel like I am getting work done, and making progress, but as I’m not sure exactly how much work is ahead of me it’s hard to say if I’m on schedule or not.  He replied with asking me how many pages I have right now that I could show him.  To which I said zero (eek!), they are all notes and point form, not really in any readable format.  Ah, nothing like a talk with your advisor to give you a reality check.  I’d say out of the 5 day week I am devoting to school, I feel good about the productivity of maybe 3.  I’m going to have to do better than that.

Last week I reviewed the results again…and then reviewed the results AGAIN…and again.  Needless to say, I need a break from my results and discussion.  I fine-tuned the classification scheme I presented earlier, and by fine-tuned I mean obsessed over.  I found it pretty tough because there is no clear way to say this is how you describe a map, there are so many factors and exceptions that play into it so I can interpret it many different ways.  I can be pretty indecisive so I need to just pick a structure and stick with it and ensure I cover all of the decisions I made in my writing.

Up until last week I had only been looking at keywords and tracking how often they were being used in the descriptions.  Now I have taken a look at the context of the keywords which allowed me to see how the categories were used in order to create a description.  I guess if you take only one thing away from my research, this should be it (albeit in it’s first draft form)…

A description of a thematic map relays context through stating:

  • Query data, for a general understanding of what the map is representing
  • Jurisdiction, for a specific area the map is covering
  • Location, to give real-life names to the area of jurisdiction

The points shown in the thematic layer are described in relation to the various topographical features and landmarks through comparing:

  • Size
  • Distance
  • Direction
  • Placement

These descriptions are enriched through the use of descriptive words of the various layers and their features, which relay:

  • Shape
  • Size
  • Colour
  • Direction
  • Quantity

There were also two noticeably dominant techniques when describing the map. To choose a specific target (ie. river, lake, city center) and then describe everything on the map in relation to the target. If there was no obvious target available, participants chose to divide up the map (into quadrants, top-down, left-right) and progressively describe the maps in smaller pieces.

Here is an example that I have pieced together from the results to illustrate what I have stated above:

to be determined

This map is showing locations of facilities which reported pollutant releases in Canada in 2008.  There is a town named Springfield, which is based along the east bank of a river.  The river runs alongside the town from north to south.  Approximately half way down, the river is joined by a smaller river that arches from the left.  At the point where the two rivers join is a railway track.  There are 3 facilities shown, the first is at the terminus of the railway track.  The second point is located at the south end of the town and to the east of the first point.  There is a small park near the center of town and bordering the east side of the river, as well as an orange symbol over the river about X km north of the park.  The third point is due east of these two features, and is just outside the north-east side of the town.


Query Data =  “locations of facilities which reported pollutant releases in Canada in 2008”

Jurisdiction = “town”

Location = “Springfield”


Size = “smaller river”

Distance = “orange symbol over the river about X km north of the park”

Direction =   “The second point is located at the south end of the town and to the east of the first point.”

Placement = “There is a small park near the center of town and  bordering the east side of the river”

Descriptive Words:

Shape = “that arches from the left”

Size = “There is a small park”

Colour = “orange symbol”

Direction = “The river runs alongside the town from north to south

Quantity = “due east of these two features”

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