So You Want to Create an Infographic in One Lesson…

So this week we were tasked with finding an infographic that we would use in our teaching and then write a blog post about it. I think I would like to take a different path to this assignment. I would like to write a post about how to help teachers understand the elements involved in infographics so that when they ask me to come to their class for a 40 min lesson with the expectation that I will be able to teach the skills and then the students will be able to produce an infographic, that they have wildly underestimated the amount of time needed for such a task.

Ryan Harwood stated in his post titled Infographic ReRun that

“When I’ve used them in the past, students have absolutely loved them. I’ve even taken a shot or two at having students create their own. From that experience I learned that it takes a good bit of explaining and patience”

I completely agree with this point and have found that oftentimes part of the reason for the failure is that teachers do not allow enough time. Also, teachers do not do the prep work beforehand.

Creating an infographic is a complex thing. There is a writing component, a data component, a graphic design component, and a printing component to consider (I am sure that there are more!). So, let’s lay them all out.

Writing Component

In order for a graphic design to be effective the amount of text on it must be short and purposeful. Being able to take a large amount of data and explain it in a few keywords is a writing element that takes time for students to develop. In actuality, it is probably very good to start them in elementary school doing this when the act of writing is harder for them so they want to write less! We have to teach them how to be more purposeful and meaningful with their words, all the time reminding them not to copy someone else’s thoughts and ideas.

For the writing of an infographic to be effective the author has to know when the right time to add writing is and when is the right time to visualize that writing with an image. Visualising writing is not something that many people do. The Sketchnote movement is helping with this. Books like The Sketchnote Handbook are helping people get started and develop their skills. I have begun to try this myself when I am note taking. I have found it difficult to get into a habit of doing. I have also found it difficult to use images that would translate into an understanding to another person looking at my note.

I can see the writing component of a good infographic being whole writing unit of study and that is before we get to any of the other infographic components.

Data Component

So you have found your research, written some of your information out. Possibly drawn some of that information. But what are you going to choose to represent as data in a visual way. How are you going to represent that data? Plain old bar charts and pie graphs or are you going to go for something that more closely represents that the data is about? How are you going to make that data make sense in the wider world?

How many times have you looked at an infographic closely and realized that while the images were flashy they were misleading the information that they represented. Check out this article on the 11 Most Useless and Misleading Infographics on the Internet. We all know that data is only as good as it is represented and anyone who has taken a statistics class can tell you that you can make data say what you want if you finagle it! Teaching students about good data representation is again another whole unit of study.

Graphic Design Component

So ignoring that fact that graphic design is an entire degree field, think about what students like to produce. Something quick and simple. Yes, there are always those students who spend double/triple the amount of time on anything requiring drawing or design, but for the most part students are happy with slapping some tape on a poster to stick elements on even if it looks like they just slapped some tape on it.

Getting students to think about ways to cut the CRAP out of their design is a whole series of lessons at looking at bad designs and good designs and picking out the good elements. Then you have to get them to look critically at designs that they have made. Try as we might, we will still have that child who feels that neon colors are the way to go no matter how many times you or their classmates try to lead them away from it.

So you understand graphic design principals, now you have to lay one out. Spacial awareness issues come to the forefront here! This is when you get to see if students have actually understood the design theory and have decided to use it or completely ignore it. You have to find the balance between the writing and the data piece. How they choose to represent their information here is key to their audience understanding their infographic.

Then you still have to figure out a decent tech tool like the ones mentioned in The Educator’s Guide to Infographics and teach your students how to use it which is a whole other lesson. Which leads me to the last part, printing.

Printing Component

This is the point in the blog post where I tell you why I actually don’t like infographics. They are great online where you slowly scroll through screen by screen looking at information (Which by the way is a key element of the graphic design layout). But then you have decided, hey this is a good infographic, I would like to somehow put this up in my room to reference for my students. Like this one from ISTE called Citizenship in the Digital Age. After having a Digital Citizenship (DC) lesson or two I might want to put this up in my room to reference when reminding my students about DC, so I download it and open it. And this is when it all goes to pot!

Because anyone who has ever tried to print an infographic knows that they don’t fit on one sheet of paper and are readable. You can have readable and on multiple pieces of paper, if you can figure out how to get your computer to even print that way. Or you can have it on one sheet but even elementary students with 20/20 vision will need a magnifying glass to read.

And herein lies the problem with using infographics in school. Many times there is no good way for students to work with them. Yes, there are loads of digital tools that will allow the student to view and annotate and infographic during the discovery stage, but part of graphic design is understanding how the follow the entire design goes together. That is not something that you can see on a computer or printed unless of course, you have figured out how to get it to print full sizes on multiple pages, good luck with that!

So when I have teachers ask me if I can come in and teach infographics in a lesson my answer is always what do you want me to actually teach? The skill of the writing component, the skill of the data component or the design component. I usually get the response of ‘Oh, can you do all three?’ in a 40 min lesson no less! This is where the practice that my school has of asking teachers to write their own mentor texts of any style of writing that they have not done comes in handy! I ask them to make me something that would be similar to what they would want from the students and they quickly realize that one 40 minute lesson is not going to cut it!

That is the point where I get to facilitate the conversation about what planning needs to be done to help the teacher create infographics in their classrooms.

Sources:

Biller, Abhimanyu Das and Diana. “11 Most Useless And Misleading Infographics On The Internet.” io9, io9.Gizmodo.com, 26 Feb. 2015, io9.gizmodo.com/11-most-useless-and-misleading-infographics-on-the-inte-1688239674.

Fingal, Diana. “Infographic: Citizenship in the Digital Age.” ISTE, ISTE, 12 Oct. 2017, www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=192&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=EdTekHub.

“The Sketchnote Handbook – Designer Mike Rohde.” Rohdesign, rohdesign.com/handbook.

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