You’ve seen them in your inboxes and your social media feeds — the ubiquitous infographic. This post will outline how you can include a fun infographic assignment as an alternative to a traditional reading or writing assignment in your course.
What Is an Infographic?
Infographics are visual representations of information. They can include numbers, text, images, or any combination of the three. Just as in traditional writing assignments, infographs can take on any of the various rhetorical modes — informative, instructive, descriptive, persuasive, etc. Infographics provide authors with a quick way to convey a lot of information. For example, this infographic on infographics conveys interesting data much more concisely than another paragraph inserted here could have:
Want to make a seemingly mundane topic more interesting? Check out this infographic on cremation. Who knew that you could have your ashes stuffed into a teddy bear for your loved ones? Definitely something to consider. Notice that this infographic does include sources, although they may not be in MLA or APA format. This, though, is something you can require of your students if you assign an infographic writing assignment.
Why Assign an Infographic?
The first reason to include infographic assignments in your course is because we are inundated with them. Coupled with the access to big data, infographics are an increasingly trendy way to display information. That said, they can, and should, be critically analyzed as a text, just as in any other rhetorical exchange. Before you assign an infographic assignment, consider finding examples in your field to analyze together in class.
Just as in critical examiniation of a written text, infographics should not be read superficially. Students should be asking questions like, Who is the author? Who is the intended audience? What are the sources? What is the bias? Consider modeling the rhetorical analysis of infographics in your field with your students. In the post Infographics Lie. Here’s How to Spot the B.S., Randy Olson provides three tips for viewing infographics with a critical eye. Assigning the analysis of infographics from your discipline as a close reading assignment can be one method for engaging students in coursework that can be rigorous, relevant, and fun.
The second reason to use infographics in your class is to provide students with an alternative way to communicate an idea to a public audience. Despite their faddishness, infographics can be an effective way to communicate a large amount of information to stakeholders.
Consider Florence Nightingale’s use of early infographics. After spending time as a nurse in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale sought to effectively communicate data about the causes of mortality in the army to members of Parliament. Her solution was to represent statistical knowledge visually, in the form of the “Nightingale rose diagram.” Infographics can provide a platform for communicating data and information to stakeholders, whether they be professors or policy makers, in a way that may be much more compelling than a research paper or a data set.
A third reason to assign an infographic assignment is to improve student understanding of the concepts in your course. In Classroom Instruction that Works, Robert Marzano argues that representing knowledge non-linguistically (in pictures, graphs, drawings, etc.) increases student comprehension of new information. This notion rests on the dual-coding theory of information processing. The dual-coding theory suggests that we process information both linguistically and imagistically in tandem. Thus, having students create conceptual maps, graphic organizers, or infographics can improve their understanding of the subject. Consider the compelling argument made here in Thirteen Reasons Why Your Brain Craves Infographs.
How to Provide an Infographic Assignment
While many of your students are likely familiar with infographics from their daily onslaught on social media feeds, they may not have had much experience critiquing or authoring them in an academic setting. Before assigning an infographic writing assignment, I’d recommend scaffolding their learning by some instructional modeling:
- Find an infographic in your field to critique together as a class.
- Once you’ve critiqued this infographic as a class, have students locate infographics in your field or their area of interest to critique individually or in small groups.
- Before having students create an infographic, try creating one on your own. This will give you an idea of what you are asking the students, and a better idea of how to assess the end product.
- Provide students with criteria for assessing the written assignment. Consider providing a rubric or a list of required components in the same way you might provide evaluation criteria for an essay or a project. Check out this innovative method one statistics professor employed for getting his students to co-construct the rubric for their infographic assignment.
- Let students select their platform (tool) for building their infographics, but do provide them with some options. There are plenty of great infographic platforms out there. Many are free, but most require that you do set up an account. Check out Infogr.am, Easelly, Piktochart, and Visme.
There are a number of great sites for exploring and finding infographics, including Information is Beautiful and Daily Infographic. And finally, if you are craving even more infographic resources for educators, Kathy Schrock’s Infographics as a Creative Assessment is perhaps the best curation of resources out there.