Sharing What You Know: Creating Infographics
California State University, East Bay
Citation: Carlos, Andrew. “Sharing What You Know: Creating Infographics.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.t04
Abstract: Within the frame of a first-year, required General Education course, the “Sharing What You Know” assignment prompts students to convey research findings via infographics, a format that connects to their existing literacies.
Keywords: infographic, pedagogy, research, multi-modal, media literacy, data literacy.
In brief, this assignment requires students to develop an infographic based on scholarly research that they have conducted during the term. This research includes engaging with scholarly articles, as well as popular media such as films, newspapers and magazine articles.
One lesson is spent on getting students to understand what an infographic is - through in class activities that encourage students to explore online for examples of infographics. Outside of class, students view a video on Data Visualization and read about infographics and other data visualization techniques. In class and through homework assignments, students are able to practice these techniques of finding and visualizing data. Through these activities, students’ data literacy improve and they develop the skills to read and understand what a chart or graph is sharing.
Students will also learn how to organize and visualize the connections between the different data points and bits of information they are finding in their research. An infographic is the ultimate form of this visualization, but along the way students create a mindmap to help them visualize the research they have conducted. The mindmap acts as a starting point for their infographic and helps them develop a draft. Feedback is provided regarding the connections that students are drawing between their data points, to ensure that they are logical. In addition to acting as a starting point, the mindmap allows students to start to think about the story they want to tell with their research.
In the classroom, students are organized into groups and asked to analyze an infographic based on their understanding of what makes something an infographic. The examples that students work with include various combinations of imagery, charts and stories that often seem daunting to them to try to replicate in their own infographics. Emphasis is placed not on replication, but inspiration: think of these infographics not as something that they have to recreate, rather something that shows the connections that can be made between their various elements.
To create their infographics, students are encouraged to work with popular infographic tools such as Piktochart and Canva, both of which have templates that make it easier for students to layout their infographic. Due to the use of templates, students were not given instruction on placement, color, or arrangement, though this could certainly be included in future iterations. Instead of dictating which tool to use, students are encouraged to choose the tool that they feel most comfortable with using - each one has certain quirks that students may be scared of or drawn to.
Within the frame of a first-year, required General Education course, the librarians at Cal State East Bay are given the opportunity to be creative in their own courses with their instruction of Information Literacy concepts. Though most other library faculty use a research paper as their final project, I assign students the task of using an infographic to share the new knowledge they have developed throughout the quarter. The idea of an infographic as a final activity aligns with our learning outcome “Use Information Effectively to Accomplish a Specific Purpose” and focuses on two related aspects of information literacy that I am personally interested in: visual literacy and data literacy. Our program is currently in flux due to our institution’s conversion to the semester system and our learning outcomes are evolving - based on a new national framework. However, students will still be expected to “Use Information Effectively” and to “Evaluate Information and Its Sources Critically”, both of which occur when they are asked to do the research and create an infographic.
Woven throughout these activities is not just a creative element, but also the development of a critical eye for information. As authors of new media themselves, they are able to apply their experience and be more critical readers of new media, particularly looking at the way data is often manipulated.
Before the infographic assignment is introduced, class discussions will occur that look into issues of information creation from the perspective of a researcher and a reader. These discussions revolve around the processes of creation, such as research, editing, publication, et cetera. These discussions help students develop a better understanding of the types of information sources that they will be working with.
When this assignment is first introduced in class, students are asked to share their own idea of what an infographic is and search for examples that they find interesting. As a class, we develop a shared definition of an infographic based on all of our (possibly) disparate definitions. One possible way to do this that I have tried in the past is to have students write out different elements of an infographic that they like on a whiteboard. Once everyone has done this, we review the whiteboard as a class for similar/repeat elements and circle them. Once we’ve found all of these, we create a definition for an infographic based on these elements.
For example, in one of the sessions, students are separated into groups of four and tasked with analyzing a provided infographic. In total, four or five infographics will be analyzed by the class. The students are asked to consider what makes the infographic interesting and to identify the elements that they consider essential for an infographic. Each group is then asked to share with the class the list of elements they came up with. As a class, we develop a rubric based on the most important elements on the list.
A final activity could be something like a gallery walk, allowing them to explain their reasoning for the design, as well as answer questions about the topic itself, demonstrating their in-depth understanding of the topic they have chosen.
Students will need to be able to understand the tools that they chose to create the infographic. Many online platforms provide how-tos and other training videos. There are also multiple articles online that give tips and suggestions on how to create an infographic - these are collected as additional reading for students to complete. Much of the work is done outside of class as homework, but lessons can be dedicated to discussions about best practices when it comes to the creation of infographics.
Pitfalls and Pro-Tips
Students will tend to come to the assignment with a preconceived notion of what an infographic is. Often their idea of infographics may differ from your own. However, it is important to come to a shared understanding of what counts as an infographic and what doesn’t - one, because it will make grading easier when everyone has the same definition in mind, and two, so that students will not be confused as to what to do with their infographic.
I often tell my students that a chart with images does not an infographic make. I heavily emphasize to them that an infographic has to have a story that it tells, and that it often tells the story through words, images and charts. This is where having students analyze examples that vary in quality will make the assignment more understandable.
Given the newness of this type of activity to many students, scaffolding is very important. Having given this assignment to students for the past two years, it has become clear to me that the components of an infographic need to be broken out and explained to students, and then reassembled so they understand how the pieces fit together. For example, charts and images and story are all part of my understanding of an infographic, but I have to explain how they connect to each other and are more powerful as a whole.
Link to Tools and Tutorials
Assignment Handout: https://goo.gl/wNh1CQ
Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Information Creation as a Process: http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework#process
Visualizing Text: The New Literacy of Infographics: http://www.academia.edu/5615673/Visualizing_Text_The_New_Literacy_of_Infographics
Infographics in the Classroom Teacher Toolkit: https://www.calacademy.org/educators/infographics-in-the-classroom-teacher-toolkit
Teaching with Infographics | Places to Start: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/23/teaching-with-infographics-places-to-start/?_r=0