So much of the information we actually retain comes from images. Our neural circuits are optimized for us to process and retain information visually, so why are we still presenting information in a way that is not likely to stick? Luckily, more and more people, including teachers, are starting to realize that combining data and information with rich and colorful images can be a more meaningful and memorable way to convey information and to facilitate the construction of meaning. They have discovered the power and elegance of the infographic.
Infographics are here to rescue us from the drabness of the report, or executive summary, or even the boring old resume. The digital age has now made is so much simpler for us to construct these rich artifacts, with tools like PiktoChart, Easelly, Canva, and host of others. These platforms do their best to provide almost a foolproof way to make your content pop out at the reader and linger in their brain longer than a double-spaced, Times New Roman, one-inch-margined slab of pulp.
But how can we construct a compelling infographic? What kind of information best lends itself for infographic-i-zation? And for education professionals, what are some ways to use these in our classrooms, in our PD, in our board presentations?
To begin to tackle this, we have to understand that an infographic cannot completely replace the textual, or the oral method of informing an audience. Infographics succinctly and elegantly make larger, complicated and multifaceted concepts more digestible. A strong infographic designer understands the power of numbers, and knows how to leverage percentages, charts and pictographs to tell a story.
The narrative aspect is an essential component of an effective infographic, and an infographic that neither tells a story or grapples with a driving question is merely a collection of data points with a pretty skirt.
At the same time, infographics can lend themselves for oversimplifications. In the example above, we see that 50% is the amount of content a person retains from a presentation when it includes visuals and words. But that creates a new set of questions that the infographic format is ill-equipped to address. For example, what kind of content? What population was used in this purported study, and where is the data taken from? The weakness inherent in presenting data like this does not, however, have to detract from the overall power of the infographic to instigate meaningful dialogue and inspire critical thinking in its audience. It can still be a useful as the student or audience attempts to construct meaning.
Student learning through and with infographics
For the producer of the infographic, a variety of skills are necessary in order to effectively tell the story. Here, perhaps, is where we can see its most effective potential for education. To create an infographic, a student (or teacher) has to grapple with a concept, tackle a debate, encapsulate a national trend, break-down a historical period or a scientific process, for example. Research has to be made. Data has to be analyzed, parsed, sorted out and constructed into charts, graphs and captions. Images and icons need to be enlisted as symbolic representations of larger concepts. Color palettes need to be chosen and balanced with fonts and graphics. In short, it is an activity that employs more neural circuits, involves more academic and cognitive skills, in order to present meaningful information to an audience.
The very fact that infographics are meant to be shared, posted, tweeted, and otherwise blasted into the cloud to rain upon where they may, imbues them with more purpose, as opposed to the traditional writing assignment that merely gets handed in and has the audience of one. Public-facing projects tend to involve more rigor, if done correctly, and can push the maker to take the extra step to ensure that it not only looks good, but also has accurate and meaningful information.
How can teachers use infographics in class?
Teachers can make their own infographics to enhance their lessons, or they can create whole units around infographics, where students analyze those produced by others, and ultimately learn to make their own. The end products can be assessments or PBL projects which lend themselves to collaborative work, since a group of students can divide up the topic, or panels of the infographic to construct.
Some teachers can use them to present benchmark data, or to send home to parents to explain their classroom expectations, rules and procedures. Read how some teachers are using infographics with their students.
As usual, Kathy Schrock rocks it when it comes to the topic of infographics. She dedicates a whole page on her blog with lessons, resources, books, and tutorials on the infographic in the classroom, so rather than duplicate her efforts, you should definitely go there next, if you are interested in making infographics part of your students’ learning experience.
Central office and admins can play too
Administrators and district office folks can leverage them in their work as well. Instead of boring reports built in Excel and Word and stuffed into binders, admins can produce rich, visually-appealing infographics that people will actually read, share, and remark upon. They can augment their board presentations, community outreach materials, and internal reports with infographics to make their work more palatable and lasting. Your readers will thank you.
If we think of our audience as bees, then we have to play the role of pretty flowers, and draw them with simplicity, elegance, and color. That’s the magic of the infographic.
More about infographics
Infographic list is the home all things infographic. You won’t run out of things to see and learn here.
Some notable examples