Info-what? Developing visual literacy through infographics

Infographics – not just beautiful!

The need to be visually literate in the 21st century is continuing to grow. “In an uncharted world of boundless data, information designers are our new navigators,” begins a recent Times article, “When the Data Struts Its Stuff.”To bring home just how important it is to be able to navigate through a sea of data, check out how much content is created in just sixty seconds online:

This graphic was originally published by Gizmodo What Happens in 60 Seconds on The Internet. (20 June 2011). Retrieved July 4, 2011, from http://gizmodo.com/5813875/what-happens-in-60-seconds-on-the-internet

Now imagine trying to communicate even this information in any way other than visual….

To prepare students to be ‘successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens’ (Melbourne Declaration), they must be able to comprehend, interpret and extrapolate from information presented in a wide variety of formats. Increasingly, statistical data is being presented in creative and attractive infographics. Just as the old adage ‘a picture is worth one thousand words’, an infographic not only allows a great deal of data to be effectively communicated, it is also much easier for a viewer to make connections and draw conclusions from data that is presented in this visual format.

An infographic about infographics

This infographic is from A Roundup of 25 Jaw-Dropping Infographics – Marked Lines. (n.d.). Retrieved July 4, 2011, from http://www.markedlines.com/a-roundup-of-25-jaw-dropping-infographics/

 

What is an infographic?

Literally, an infographic is a graphic (picture) that displays information.

PC Magazine defines ‘infographic’ as:

An umbrella term for illustrations and charts that instruct people, which otherwise would be difficult or impossible with only text. Infographics are used worldwide in every discipline from road maps and street signs to the many technical drawings.

On Dave Gray’s Blog Communication Nation, he explains that Infographics are:

1. A visual explanation that helps you more easily understand, find or do something.

2. Visual, and when necessary, integrates words and pictures in a fluid, dynamic way.

3. Stand alone and completely self-explanatory.

4. Able to reveal information that was formerly hidden or submerged.

5. Designed to make possible faster, more consistent understanding.

6. Universally understandable.

As Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano points out,Information, Knowledge, Visualization, and Communication are key themes that run through these descriptions – and are also key concepts for developing 21st Century Skills and Literacies.

Infographics and the Australian Curriculum

A very quick search of the Australian Curriculum also reveals emphasis placed upon developing student abilities in visual literacy and information management. From the Australian Curriculum:

Years 3-6

English – ‘To consolidate both ‘learning to read and write’ and ‘reading and writing to learn’, students explore the language of different types of texts, including visual texts, advertising, digital/online and media texts.’

Maths – ‘Students still require active experiences that allow them to construct key mathematical ideas, but there is a trend to move to using models, pictures and symbols to represent these ideas.’

Science – ‘Processing & analysing data and information

History – ‘Historical skills include skills that are used in the process of historical inquiry associated with: historical questions and research; the analysis and use of sources; perspectives and interpretations; comprehension and communication. There is an increasing emphasis on historical interpretation and the use of evidence within this strand.’

Infographics in the classroom

There are three key ways to use Infographics in the classroom.

  1. As a source of information
  2. As a tool to teach visual and critical literacy
  3. As a way for students to express their or others’ data

As a source of information:

There are countless Infographics online and in newspapers, magazines and books. What better way to introduce complex data to encourage students to draw conclusions and see relationships than through an inspiring and beautiful infographic.

Places to find beautiful and useful infographics:

Infographic a day for teachers- The always inventive David Warlick presents useful infographics for teachers. Check out David Warlick’s site also – he is an inspiring educator and you are guaranteed to learn something new every time you visit.

Information is beautiful – David McCandless’ beautiful site, that accompanies his beautiful book. One of my favourite infographic creators. The fascinating thing about David’s work is that in many cases, he shares where he sourced his data – and the fact that it was all available freely online is an amazing testament to the amount of information we have access to today.

Good Infographics – a collaborative site which focuses on providing good quality web resources – in this case, infographics

Infographic World – a business that specialises in  creating static and animated infographics – their portfolio has some excellent examples

A creative way of presenting a copyright quandry

As a tool to teach visual and critical literacy:

Infographics use a variety of tools to effectively display information. Colour, graphics, icons, text, shape and other elements are combined in a creative way to visualise data. Each of these elements may (or may not) carry additional meaning, which visually literate viewers are aware of. Also, a pretty or professional infographic can be very persuasive – viewers must be critical of the data in the same way they would be if it were presented as a list of statistics.

A great presentation: Visual Literacy and Nonlinguistic Representations: Infographics Part 1

One way to teach about being critical of infographics – deconstruct ‘bad’ examples – this post will give you a few ideas:

Imagine A Pie Chart Stomping On An Infographic Forever

As a way for students to express their or others’ data:

A list of numbers on a page may not always reflect a student’s understanding of the deeper meanings within data. Challenge them to create their own infographic, and you can be sure they will not only be familiar with the data by the time they are finished, they will also have examined it in ways only necessary to complete this type of process.

Resources to help students learn how to create infographics:

10 Free tools to create infographics

Chart Chooser – a tool to help visualise data

The anatomy of an infographic

Lesson Plan – presenting an essay as an infographic (for secondary students)

Get started with Infographics – places to start

A Lesson Plan for Infographics

Examples to inspire:

An example of using Glogster to create an infographic

Flickr: Infographics for the classroom – a growing collection

Enjoy the wonderful, amazing world of infographics! If you have been working with your students in creating or decoding infographics, share with us! Post a comment below!