Timelines: A powerful educational tool

A timeline is a representation of a sequence of events, also referred to as a chronology. In general, it is a graphical data visualization of events over time, with events displayed according to when they occurred.

Timelines are an important educational tool that is often used by students to graphically plot events and trends in various subjects. A few examples where timelines play an important role in learning are:

  • history (significant events over time)
  • biology (evolution of the human race)
  • geology (timing and relationships between events during the evolution of Earth)
  • biographies (milestones in a person’s life)

In addition to being a useful tool for analysing historical chronological events, timelines have equally important forward looking applications. In this Avatar, timelines are a planning tool. In education, they can take the following form:

  • Timetables (prepared by students, teachers and schools)
  • Study plans (prepared by students)
  • Lesson plan (prepared by teachers)
  • Project plan (prepared by project team)
  • School action plan (prepared by administrators)

Computers and Internet have made available a number of simple, easy to use tools that can be used for preparing timelines. These range from day to day suite applications like Excel and PowerPoint to customised softwares’ which are capable of producing very appealing and specific representations. Excel in particular is a handy tool for performing date calculations and has drawing and graphical tools that make timelines a breeze. An example of how Excel can be used to prepare a timeline is given here.

The web also has some free to use applications that are capable of making utility timelines with relative ease. One such web based application is `xtimeline` that allows pictures and videos to be uploaded onto the timeline. The programme also permits additional detail to be added to each of the plotted dates, which can be reviewed by clicking on the date (and which takes the user to a separate screen). One neat feature of this programme, that I find very useful, is that the graphical timeline can be embedded onto a website or a blog.