This semester, I am teaching a methods course in the School of Education at CSU Channel Islands. As part of a small grant, The Faculty Innovation in Learning Project, I proposed a "digital learning event" for SOE pre-service teachers. In short, they participated in an infovisual literacy "unit" that involved reading, evaluating, and then producing infographics on a topic of choice. A final component of the project was an infovideo, which is now posted to youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHgBqjC9YfY
This curriculum began as a collaboration with a high school science teacher, and was later used to inform the materials and resources that we shared with faculty in professional development workshops as well as the credential course. The high school curriculum is outlined below. The graduate curriculum was adapted to include more teaching resources and assessment practice.
Across disciplines, there is a growing trend toward sophisticated, visual displays of information. With various types of personal and academic data available in our everyday lives, infographics and other modes of infovisual communication offer new perspectives and possibilities for reading and writing with and about informational texts. In this unit, students learned to read, evaluate, and compose scientific infographics.
Common Core Standards (high school)
We selected standards that we could address in this unit, and then used them to derive the objectives listed below each one.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
1) Students will know conventions of digitally produced and consumed info-visual texts so that they will be able to read/comprehend, analyze, evaluate, and create infographics.
2) Students will be able to use technology to produce, publish, and update digital writing projects.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
1) Students will use mentor texts to understand “what counts” as data for their infographics as well as where to locate information.
2) Students will evaluate sources and synthesize information into an info-visual text that communicates a coherent message or stance.
The content area curriculum included chapters from our course textbook. These chapters included overviews and information about important environmental issues, like population growth, water supply & consumption, etc. Additional instruction included lessons on where to find credible information about these topics online.
Literacy & Genre
Because the performance task involved presenting information in a particular way, students needed to learn the conventions of infographic composition, including genre (text, media, etc.) and rhetorical moves (e.g. stance, using images to communicate, etc.). Troy Hicks’, Crafting Digital Writing, offered the notion of “studying [author’s] craft with lenses” (pp. 14-23), which is why students interacted with several examples with the idea that they were reading like writers, even in a science class. Literacy instruction also included assistance on where to find openly-sourced images to avoid common (intentional/unintentional) copyright violations.
This unit included two class periods in a computer lab, where students experienced a workshop model of technical instruction on elements they would use in their infographics. Such mini-lessons included how to change the canvas size in PowerPoint, how to layer images, how to create graphs and charts, how to save presentations or Prezis into images (e.g. JPEGs), and how to use Pixlr to edit images. Because the students worked in groups, they were able to account for varied familiarity with technical programs and choose the software with which they felt they could best complete this project.
We used tips from Williams’ (2008) Non-Designer’s Design Book to teach students about four principles of design (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, & Proximity) that enhance the aesthetic and readability of an infographics. Once they defined the principles and how to spot them in images, they deliberately tried to incorporate those principles into their drafts, and gave useful, specific feedback on other groups’ drafts.
Lessons & Activities
1. Complete content area unit (environmental issues: population growth, deforestation, etc.)
2. Read/comprehend/evaluate professional examples of infographics in order to understand the features of this genre (read like a writer: What is an infographic?).
3. “Issues Selection”: Assemble into groups by preference/interest in particular environmental issue. Learn where to find credible information and what “counts” as data.
4. Research an environmental issue, including causes/effects/implications.
5. Read/analyze student examples of infographics (read like a writer: What did the writer do here? How is information represented?)
6. Workshop: technical instruction in computer applications and design techniques (e.g. how to make graphs in MS Excel & MS PowerPoint; adjust canvas; layer images, etc.).
7. Storyboard infographic (using previous models as mentor texts) and evaluate needs (technical, data, design)
8. Explore Williams’ principles of design and use those principles as a lens for reading more infographic examples and constructing their own.
9. Complete a “submission draft” and publish to class web site. Give a brief overview of the image.
10. Conduct peer-review of published drafts by entering comments in the text fields below the image.
11. Use peer feedback to make revisions.
12. Publish revised infographics (and reflective annotations) to class web site.
· Student responses to genre features of infographic examples (oral/written)
· Student responses to aesthetic choices the writers made in infographic examples (oral/written)
· Data collection/interpretation (written/group work)
· Drafts of in-progress infographics (online)
· Peer feedback (written, online)
Submission draft of revised infographics. Submissions were assessed using a scoring guide, which considered environmental science-content criteria, information-visualization criteria, and the role of peer feedback for revision.
The lesson sequence can be adapted in consideration of other grades, content-areas, and administrative calendars. Also, the unit is widely adaptable to other grade and content areas because it involves content and infovisual literacy. For example, students may collect personal data about themselves (e.g. hours spent on various tasks, money spent on certain items, etc.) to present a “personal” infographic early in the year. My collaborator used this model in a class where student teachers were asked to create digital humanities infographics, etc. We hope that other teachers consider this project.