I am always on the lookout for simple-to-use online tools for visualizing information in the classroom.  Tools such as Voyant and Palladio may not be as powerful as installed software or scripts written in Python or R for text analysis or for generating network graphs, but are sufficiently powerful to encourage experimentation, and in the context of teaching and learning, experimentation is key. Lowering the barriers to producing visualizations is important in that it reduces the amount of class time needed to train students on the use of a software package, but also that it encourages repetitive experimentation with the tool and critical analysis of the tool itself. More often than not, visualizations show their merit not in revealing some absolute truth, but rather in producing individual opportunities for interpretation of the source materials from multiple angles. All this is to say that there is a new tool to add to this list.

TimeLineCurator is a browser-based authoring tool that automatically extracts dates and events from freeform text using natural language processing, and plots this information on a visual timeline. Extracting dates and their corresponding events from text can be extremely time-consuming work. There are excellent tools out there for extracting dates, personal or place names, and other ‘named entities’ from text, but TimeLineCurator extracts both the date and the associated text concerning what happened on that date. And, crucially, the barriers to using this tool, could not be any lower.

After adding a text to the tool, either by providing a URL or by pasting text (or texts) into the tool, TimeLineCurator allows one to quickly identify the extent of time encompassed by a document, and the distribution of events occurring along this timeline. After this initial automated stage, one can sort, curate, and edit the dates and events. This process of curating the events might be what makes this tools especially potent as a teaching tool. Students can alter the text extracted from the source text,  refine the dates, and add new events and dates. After this is complete, the entire timeline can be saved or exported as a TimelineJS timeline.

TimeLineCurator was developed by the InfoVis group in the Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia.

Posted by January 13, 2017