Dr. Alyx Burns (he/him/his)

Lecturer of Computer Science
Mount Holyoke College

I am currently a Lecturer of Computer Science at Mount Holyoke College. My teaching practice is rooted in the belief that Computer Science education can and should prepare students to contribute actively to a more just and equitable world. As a part of this, I am invested in developing novel ways to integrate conversations about justice and equity into technical course content. During my PhD, I was a member of the HCI-VIS Lab working with Dr. Narges Mahyar, where I studied communicative data visualization techniques and research methodologies.

You can find my CV here.


News

  • August 2022: I successfully defended my dissertation titled "Communicative Information Visualizations: How to make data more understandable by the general public"!
  • July 2022: I will serve as a committee member for the 2022 Visualization for Social Good workshop (held in conjunction with VIS 2022).
  • March 2022: I am delighted to announce that I was hired as a Lecturer of Computer Science at my alma mater, Mount Holyoke College. Now to finish up that dissertation!
  • February 2022: I successfully defended my dissertation proposal.
  • October 2021: I presented my short paper "Making the Invisible Visible: Risks and benefits of disclosing metadata in visualization" at the Visualization for Social Good workshop! If you missed it, here's a summary of what I talked about.
  • August 2021: My short paper "Making the Invisible Visible: Risks and benefits of disclosing metadata in visualization" was accepted for presentation at the Visualization for Social Good workshop at IEEE VIS 2021.
  • August 2021: Last summer, I worked with colleagues from Mount Holyoke College and Microsoft to develop curriculum for educators about building resiliency through mentorship. You can now find the toolkit linked in Microsoft's article "How can you build your tech resilience?"
  • July 2021: My paper "Designing with Pictographs: Envision Topics without Sacrificing Understanding" was accepted for publication in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics.
  • May 2021: I attended ACM CHI for the first time!
  • October 2020: I presented my paper "How to evaluate data visualizations across different levels of understanding" at BELIV during my first VIS conference.
  • August 2020: My paper "How to evaluate data visualizations across different levels of understanding" was accepted for presentation at the BELIV 2020 workshop.
  • February 2020: I finished my Masters degree.
  • January 2020: I joined the HCI-VIS lab under the guidance of Dr. Narges Mahyar.
  • August 2019: CICS wrote a news article about the summer classes that ran this summer, including my class "Circuits, Robotics, and Arduino."
  • August 2017: I began graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Excited to be staying in the valley!

Teaching

Mount Holyoke College:

iDesign Learning Lab (COMSC-107)

When charting a path through college and beyond, a metacognitive framework can provide scaffolding for intentional reflection. Situated in the Fimbel Maker & Innovation lab, this course will leverage tangible activities to ground discussions on factors and strategies that impact learning. For example, embedding a microcontroller to create motion-sensitive lights in a ballet skirt parallels the cycle of self-regulated learning. No prior experience with electronics or computer science is assumed, and students will work with hands-on tutorials that teach the basics required to develop their own interactive technology projects.

Fall 2022

Introduction to Computational Problem Solving (COMSC-151)

Introduces students to algorithms, basic data structures, and programming techniques. Students learn computing principles by exploring problems drawn from a broad set of domains, such as cryptography, data analysis and games.

Fall 2022, Spring 2020

Introduction to Computer Science Part 2: Object-Oriented Programming (COMSC-161)

This half-semester course covers object-oriented programming and introduces the Java programming language.

Fall 2022

University of Massachusetts Amherst:

Do Data Speak for Themselves?

First-Year Seminar, 2 Sections

Data are everywhere, but is using them as straightforward as we think? Can they really speak for themselves? In this First-Year Seminar, we will explore what data can (and can't) say so that we are better equipped to collect, understand, and use the data we come across in our lives.

Fall 2021

Math Puzzles

First-Year Seminar, 2 Sections

Too often, math has a reputation for being boring and dry. In reality, there’s a whole world of math which looks a lot more like fun, creative problem solving than what we imagine math to be. In this First-Year Seminar, we will explore different problem solving strategies and apply them to different kinds of puzzles within the world of math and computer science.

Fall 2021

Creative Coding and Data Visualization

Pre-College Program, Online

For centuries, data visualizations like charts and infographics have been used to communicate critical information and promote social change. In this course, you will learn to program through using real-world data to create static and interactive data visualizations, similar to those seen in news outlets like The New York Times. This course will be taught in Javascript and will use tools like p5.js to make it easy to create interactive programs from day 1. During the length of the course, we will cover most of the content of an introductory programming course, though content will be scaled to fit the needs and experience of students. In addition to coding, we will also learn about the ways that data have been used in the past and present to tell stories about topics like public health, racism, and climate change.

Summer 2021

Introduction to Programming: Interactive Media

Pre-College Program, Online

In this course, we will be learning how to code while making interactive media including art, data visualizations, and games. Interactive media is everywhere. We all rely on interactive content for our work, entertainment, and connection with other people (among so many other things). In this course, you’ll learn to program through making some of this content for yourself. We’ll be using a language called Processing which makes interactivity and graphics easy. It’s also based on Java (one of the world’s most popular programming languages), so all of the skills you learn here can be directly transferred to other problems.

Summer 2020

Circuits, Robotics, and Arduino

Pre-College Program

In this course, we’ll take a glimpse into the world of circuits, robotics, and Arduino. In addition to developing your technical and practical knowledge of code and electronics, we’ll also be learning about (and practicing!) how scientists and makers come up with ideas and how we can break down those ideas into achievable goals. Throughout the class, students will work closely with their classmates on lab experiments and exercises, as well as completing two projects of your own design: one based in Processing and one in Arduino.

Summer 2019


Projects

2 versions of a bar chart about COVID-19 symptoms. The bar charts look similar, except that one uses rectangles for the bars and the other uses a grid of little people.

Designing with Pictographs

In this project, we ask - what effect do pictographs have on the way that people make sense of data? We used Bloom's taxonomy and a series of questions about experience to test different infographics with and without pictographs. We found that pictographs had no impact on understanding but were thought to help readers envision the topics.
TVCG Paper

A drawing of a person looking at a computer repeated 6 times, 1 per level of Bloom's taxonomy. Each of the people is accompanied by a thought bubble with a symbolic representation of that level.

Bloom’s Taxonomy for Evaluation

In this project, we described and demonstrated a method of evaluating the effectiveness of a data visualization based on what kind of information was learned by readers. The systematic method generates 6 comprehension based on the 6 levels of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Objectives.
BELIV Paper | Recorded Talk

7 small charts, each depicting a different set of statistics about Black and white people in the United States.

Revisiting W.E.B. Du Bois’ Abolitionist Visualizations

In this project, we recreated 7 data visualizations originally created by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1900 using modern data. By comparing these charts to their historical equivalents, we can glimpse where America has made progress toward racial justice and where there is still work to be done.
VIS Poster Paper | Video

A person with long hair and manicured nails presses a button on a conical touch screen.

Multi-Human Robot Interaction

In this project, I created a conical, projection-based touch-screen to enable multiple individuals to interact with a single assitive robot simultaneously. This work was my Masters' project, advised by Joydeep Biswas and Heather Pon-Barry.

A graph is shown which is redundant and persistent.

Persistent, Distributed Multi-Robot Formations

In this project, we demonstrated how to create multi-robot groups which keep their shape as they move through space, without the need for a centralized intelligence. Additionally, we showed how these formations could be constructed to be resistant to mechanical failures.
CCCG Paper | DARS Paper


Publications

Making the Invisible Visible: Risks and benefits of disclosing metadata in visualization

Alyxander Burns, Thai On, Christiana Lee, Rachel Shapiro, Cindy Xiong, and Narges Mahyar. To appear in Visualization for Social Good Workshop, 5 pages. 2021.
V4SG 2021 PDF

Designing with pictographs: Envision topics without sacrificing understanding

Alyxander Burns, Cindy Xiong, Steven Franconeri, Alberto Cairo, and Narges Mahyar. To appear in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 13 pages. IEEE, 2021.
TVCG 2021 PDF

How to evaluate data visualizations across different levels of understanding

Alyxander Burns, Cindy Xiong, Steven Franconeri, Alberto Cairo, and Narges Mahyar. In 2020 IEEE Workshop on Evaluation and Beyond-Methodological Approaches to Visualization (BELIV), pp. 19-28. IEEE, 2020.
BELIV 2020 PDF | Recorded Talk

Looking to the Past to Visualize the Present: Revisiting W.E.B. Du Bois' Abolitionist Visualizations

Andrew Cunningham, Alyxander Burns, and Narges Mahyar, Posters of the IEEE Conference on Visualization, 2 pages. IEEE, 2020.
VIS 2020 Poster PDF | Video

Redundant Persistent Acylic Formations for Vision-based Control of Distributed Multi-Agent Formations

Alyxander Burns, Peter Klemperer, Jaemarie Solyst, Audrey St. John. Proceedings of the 31st Canadian Conference on Computational Geometry (CCCG 2019), pp. 29-37. 2019.
CCCG 2019 PDF

Persistent Multi-Robot Formations with Redundancy

Alyxander Burns, Bernd Schulze, and Audrey St John. Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems, pp. 133-146. Springer, Cham, 2018.
DARS 2018 PDF


Mentorship

EMBER Research Mentor

CICS, University of Massachusetts Amherst

2021 - 2022

Stonewall Center Mentor

University of Massachusetts Amherst

2020 - 2021

PhD Applicant Support Program Mentor

CICS, University of Massachusetts Amherst

2020

New Graduate Student Mentor

CICS, University of Massachusetts Amherst

2019

Eureka! Creative Computing Workshop Mentor

Girls Inc. of Holyoke

2017 - 2019


Service

University Service:

Committee Member, Teaching Development Committee

University of Massachusetts Amherst

2021 - 2022

Committee Against Racism and for Equality, Faculty Teaching

University of Massachusetts Amherst

2020 - 2021

Professional Service:

Program Committee - Visualization for Social Good Workshop

2022

Reviewer - IEEE VIS

2020 - 2022

Reviewer - ACM CHI

2021

Student Volunteer - IEEE VIS

2020, 2021

Reviewer - alt.VIS

2021

Reviewer - ACM Creativity & Cognition

2021