This post was one I produced for my VIDL Series “In Pursuit of Digital Pedagogy”, which you can read here.
In Pursuit of Digital Pedagogy: A Series on Digital Tools in the Classroom
For this post, I decided to investigate a digitally based methodology that I have often stumbled upon but yet to try - Citizen Journalism. If you are unfamiliar with the term, I would suggest that you do a quick web search just to see the wealth of examples and debates about Citizen Journalism.
What attracted me to this method was the ethos of Citizen Journalism, which emphasizes the use of digital and open source tools to collaborate and be engaged as citizens. To explore this method, I decided to adopt a meta-approach of trying out a potential digital tool that I wanted to use in my classroom as a medium for my post. I explain the methodology of Citizen Journalism in my first infographic so click here to see how this method could work for you.
So what is an infographic?
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of an infographic, the concept is pretty straight forward. To quote Wikipedia, “Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly”. In my opinion, infographics or infograms are a great method for creating an eye catching visualization of an argument that forces both the ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’ to actively consider how information is presented and organized. This method is particularly suited to visualizing data or analyzing visual media.
So why infographics? And how can infographics work in the classroom?
Have you ever had a student challenge your revisions or comments on a paper, calling the changes simply stylistic ones?
Then an infographic is for you!
In all seriousness though, this method is great for challenging students conceptions about the importance of style when presenting an argument both in the written and visual form. Often academics scoff at concerns of aesthetics or design, and students tend to treat these issues as somehow less serious ones. Yet, how we present our information is directly tied to our ability to communicate effectively. Furthermore, infographics seem deceptively easy at first glance, but require a whole set of digital and critical skills, which really embodies the goals of digital learning.
Using Infographics in the Classroom
Instead of assigning a writing assignment, why not try an infographic?
Most humanities classes usually assign a smaller, low stakes writing assignment in the first few weeks of a course to get students thinking about larger paper topics and exposed to academic writing conventions. While, I’m still a proponent of writing assignments, I believe using an infographic can further the overall goal of these assignments.
So instead of a first writing assignment have your students build an infographic about whatever issue or problem relates to your course. Be sure to walk through with students on how to use an infographic and the principles of good design. If you google for design tips for infographics you’ll find lots of hits, and I personally found the subreddit Infographics helpful.
Next step, have your students post their infographic to the course website or virtual collaborative space, and either in class or digitally have your students comment and offer suggestions on the infographics. Revising an infographic seems more low-stakes than revising an entire essay, but the results can be just as worthwhile.
With the revised infographics, now have the students translate the infographic to a written version in either a blog post or an essay.
Seems easy? Let me assure you, after creating my own infographics this assignment will be both a challenge and eye-opening for your students. In limiting the amount of text, students will be forced to distill their arguments and make sure that their evidence actually furthers their thesis. Furthermore, deciding what to visualize and how is an additional challenge and really forces the creator to think about the shape of an argument.
So what tools should you use and how difficult are infographics to learn?
Before starting this project, I had always wanted to try out making my own infographic but had zero previous experience. [Full disclosure, I wish I had spent more time on thinking and reading about design prior to making my infographics.] If like me you’re a neophyte when it comes to design, this assignment may be a great opportunity to either bring in an outside expert from campus or the public to talk about design prior to staring the assignment.
In terms of tools, I tried out two free tools: Infogr.am and Piktochart. Both tools are user friendly and allow for a diverse range of multimedia in the infographic. For this project, I decided to use Piktochart because of the wider ability to embed media. However, if I wanted to visualize any graphs I probably would have chosen Infogram.
Piktochart was really easy to use and allowed me to move around images, pictures, and embed videos from Youtube and Vimeo. I particularly enjoyed the easy of uploading images and the fairly wide range of graphics already available on the site. I started my infographics from scratch but there are numerous templates to choose from for free. Finally, Piktochart allows continuous web publishing, has a slideshow capability, and looks really clean and powerful when finished. One difficulty was embedding piktochart onto my Wordpress blog, which initially didn’t work great. Luckily, there is a free github Wordpress shortcode for Piktochart that you can easily upload into your plugins and works seemlessly with Piktochart.
Overall Assessment of Piktochart
Allows for Creative Content Creation: A Ease of Use: A Open Source: A+ Ease to Publish or Share: B (because of issues in embedding Piktochart on wordpress, though its not impossible) Ease of Assessing Learning: A Ability to Integrate into Curriculum: A
Recommendation: Great tool with a low barrier to use and high potential for innovative learning.
In the end, what I actually created was not really what I set out to originally, and I’m not sure the final product is really in line with a traditional infographic. Instead, I feel like I unintentionally built more of a multi-media essay about Citizen Journalism. This unintentional final product really embodies for me both the concerns and benefits of digital tools - the possibility of creating unexpected results. I’ll go into more about multi-media or transmedia essays in my next post, but take a look at how I organized and presented information. You can judge whether the end result was a success, but overall the experience was certainly informative on a number of levels.
Want more information?
Check out The Vanderbilt CFT’s great guide on Visualization and Teaching, which has a section on infographics that you can look at here. On HASTAC, Lorna Gonzalez has a post about using infographics in the High School classroom, and provides a lot of detailed analysis on initial setup, working through the assignment, and assessment.
Have you tried using infographics in your classroom? If you haven’t what are the concerns that keep you from trying? If you have, any tips or suggestions? I would love to hear about your experiences so please comment or tweet me
Now to visualize ALL the things.