Most faculty require students to present the results of their research and thinking in text form—the ubiquitous “paper” assignment. But in the real world, information is often presented in visual form. Reports are loaded with graphics to represent information. A mutual fund does not demonstrate the performance of the S&P 500 over the past 30 years with a list of daily closing values. They present it as a chart.
Infographics are a better method to display certain types of content because it is often much easier to see the significance of information in visual form. A chart of the S&P 500 demonstrates how it rises and falls over time, but shows it is generally on an upward trajectory, displaying the wisdom of investing for the long haul. The daily values are far less meaningful than the pattern, and infographics distill information down to those patterns.
Having students represent information in infographics thus helps them look at information with an eye toward its significance and how best to represent that significance. Because the importance of S&P performance is in its relation to other investment options, the designer might superimpose graphs of other investment performances over it for comparison. Thus, infographic assignments teach students both to look at information for its significance and how best to represent that significance to others, valuable 21st-century skills.
While a chart is a form of infographic, faculty can force even deeper learning by requiring students to move beyond simple charts for displaying data. In Randy Krum's (2014) excellent book Cool Infographics: Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design,Krum illustrates how we are bombarded with information by showing a graphic of multiple newspaper images, with the headline reading that we are exposed to the equivalent of 174 newspapers of information every day. He is drawing on our experience with newspapers and the knowledge that we read, at most, parts of one per day, to demonstrate the impossibility of absorbing all of the information we are given.
Thus, infographic assignments allow students to draw on their creativity to move beyond the simple graph to represent the significance of information. It also forces students to think of analogies that resonate with the modern reader. Perhaps the modern student would represent the amount of information we encounter each day with images of 140-character Tweets. This is a level of thinking that is not forced by traditional papers.
Faculty can use their own creativity to think of ways that students can represent information in their courses. Once the assignment is determined, here are a variety of systems that students can use to develop captivating infographics.
Canva (https://www.canva.com). Canva is an online design tool that can be used to create images with graphics. This system is designed to produce eye-catching graphics for a variety of uses, such as posters, presentations, e-magazines, and the like. You start by choosing a format, anything from a flyer to a menu to a Twitter post to an infographic, and then choose a template that will determine the overall design of your infographic. Each template comes with a layout and sample content. Just take the initial layout and swap in the content you want with the placeholder content you are given, including images and text. The process is remarkably simple and takes only a few minutes to learn. Take a look at this brief tutorial on Canva to see how it works, and share it with your students to get them started: https://youtu.be/ZGdJMhEybpE.
Visme (https://www.visme.co).Visme is similar to Canva in that it is an online graphics program that comes with a large set of templates and formats. But it adds to this functionality some interesting features, such as animations and embedded YouTube videos, that your students might want to incorporate into their infographics. The free version is fairly limited, and it includes the Visme logo on the creations, but there is special pricing for education if students want to use the premium version.
iVisual Info Touch (AppStore). Those with an iPad might want to look at iVisual Info Touch, an iPad app that comes in a free or paid version, for developing their work. It has a drag-and-drop interface like Canva, though with fewer templates and image options built into the free version. In fact, you can only import your own images if you get the $2.99 version, but it works well for very simple infographics.
Try infographic assignments to incite creativity and deeper thinking in your students.
Krum, R. (2014). Cool infographics: Effective communication with data visualization and design. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley & Sons.