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Getting Students to Think Graph(ical)

Node Link

Hello community,

This semester, I will be supporting my professor in data visualization. The purpose of the course is to give design students an insight into how data can be visualized via photo series, web applications, sculpture in the form of a project. They have to collect their own data and think about ways to gain further insights or predictions for the future.

Since I will specifically support in graph use cases, I have prepared a little presentation to give that crowd an oversight on what is possible with graphs, leaving out as much tech details as possible. Anyways I will be the one responsible for working their data into a Neo4j database.

So far I've grouped the content into

  1. What is a graph?

  2. Real life occurrences of graphs (Neural networks, vector graphics - design stuff like flowcharts and family trees)

  3. A tech example (

  4. What I can help with (Visualization, insights, crazy networks)

How can I communicate my love for graphs and the possibilities in the best manner to non-tech people?

Maybe someone also knows cool projects that are an example of graphs in design they could share.

I think I'm on a good way with my presentation, but I'd be bummed if no one was interested in using that potential.

I made a little survey here to collect insights, maybe you can fill it out if you don't want to answer directly to that topic.

Best regards



A couple of ideas you could use to help people grasp the idea of graphs, Neo4j's sample database on Movies and Actors would be very relatable to most people. Another idea would be to track down everyone on facebook (or common classes they all have at school, etc...) and show how they're all connected to each other.

A tool that could be useful to deliver your presentation, check out Prezi, your presentation could move around to various nodes in Prezi and then the big climax you would zoom out to show the whole graph that was your presentation.

Unfortunately I won't be able to show a live demo of Neo4J since I'll be on my rather badly maintained Ubuntu laptop. Maybe I'll try the sandbox for this.

But I love the Prezi approach!

The easiest way to have graphs click with people is to show them the easiest this case, all you need is a whiteboard and a pen.

If you were to ask a student to draw a representation of a simple data model (a person works at a company, went to a school, is friends with other people, likes certain games), if given a whiteboard and a pen, they would nearly always create a graph (unless they're already familiar with SQL or Excel to the point where they start with a table). Just circles with names and lines between them, also with names.

So maybe after you have a student draw something like this with little to no additional prompting, you can reveal that if they can understand this, then they already have a good grasp of what a graph database is, then you go on to talking about property graphs and so on.

Node Clone

Hi, for the engagement part you can use (disclaimer: I work there). We have a couple of free online demos, anybody can register in a few moments. Mainly the Grimoire Encyclopedia is, in my opinion, a nice dataset for your case.
If you want to give your students an app where they can model their graphs or import datasets and style them, they can use our free Desktop edition. It should work even on your Ubuntu laptop as far as I know. Basically, if you can run the Neo4j Desktop you can use Graphlytic or other visualization tools available in the gallery:

Graph Steward

I agree the Neo4J movie DB is great way to show off the power. One good use case, is suppose an Actor decides to direct his first movie as well as act in it and write it. Very easy to do in a Graph DB, a major hassle in a RDBMS.

One question do your students have exposure to a "Relational" DB's?

If so, it would be interesting to compare the implementation of Microsoft's fictional Northwind Traders as a RDBMS vs the same data in Neo4j:

Ugly and confusing in a RMDBS but easy in a Graph DB.

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