Tag Team Tech April 2012
Infographics as an Infolit Product
Joyce Kasman Valenza
Data is the new soil. Because for me, it feels like a fertile, creative medium. You know, over the years, online, we’ve laid down a huge amount of information and data, and we irrigate it with networks and connectivity, and it’s been worked and tilled by unpaid workers and governments. . . But it’s a really fertile medium, and it feels like visualizations, infographics, data visualizations, they feel like flowers blooming from this medium. ~ David McCandless, TED talk, The Beauty of Data Visualization
I’ve been thinking seriously about infographics ever since I saw David McCandless’ TED talk, The Beauty of Data Visualization back in 2010. A data journalist and information designer, McCandless, describes the importance of developing a relationship with numbers and the power of being able to see patterns and connections between numbers that would otherwise be scattered across multiple news reports. Good information design, McCandless suggests is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.
Infographics are data narratives. Combining a variety of charts, graphs, timelines, and other tools known as assets, they visually represent data. They simplify the complex, conveying compelling stories in dramatically visual ways that engage their audience and foster insight and comprehension. They exploit elements of design to synthesize large amounts of information, to point to connections, patterns, comparisons, processes, timelines and more using visual strategies that make it easy for the viewer to digest and understand. They may inspire us to think or purchase or act.
Infographics are hard to avoid. As media messages, they have virally pervaded the marketing and business worlds.
Because they are so viral, infographics present fertile tools for media literacy instruction and deconstruction. Our students will be expected to make sense of these visual texts in their lives outside of school. They will need to know how statistics are used and how they are massaged. Though they may look authoritative, some of the infographics we encounter are created by people who are not necessarily experts in data and its analysis. Source links, generally listed on the bottom of most infographics, vary in quality. Will our students be able to understand their messages? Assess the quality of their sources? Determine the purpose for their construction? Identify value judgments and bias?
Infographics also present new opportunities for construction. I’ve been fascinated by the potential for infographics as an assessment of student learning and understanding. I’ve come to the realization that adults are currently passing term papers around board rooms.
It occurred to me that we could/should begin to ask learners to interact with and make sense of data, not merely by studying and consuming it, but by thoughtfully creating and designing with it. Designing infographics is a worthy new strategy for creatively, and perhaps beautifully, communicating the result of student research–for developing and inspiring new levels of information and media fluency.
As a student strategy, infographics provide an easy-to-read assessment of knowledge and understanding. They offer a vehicle for asking provocative questions, for telling a story, and for taking a stand. They ask learners to create meaningful visual metaphors by drawing connections among data sets, by illuminating numbers to present context, and to make sense of information overload. As an assessment, they are a true problem-solving activity inspiring learners to pull together skills from across disciplines–in math, art, technology, social studies, and more.
And it’s never been easier to create these visual stories. While our LibGuide Lesson on Infographics links to much more, here are some highlights of of the tools we shared with our students.
We have examples galore (both good and bad)
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen beautiful new representations of data.
A number of blogs regularly highlight examples of creative and effective data visualizations. We’ve also seen some mediocre examples, questionable data, misleading analysis, poor design, ineffective stories.
Information is Beautiful (David McCandless)
10 Blogs for Stunning Infographic Collections
40 Useful & Creative Infographics
50 Informative & Well Designed Infographics
Column Five Media
All Top Top Infographics News
10 Infographics for Learning
Data Sets Abound
We listed a large array of data sets in our LibGuide, but among the most popular tools is
Wolfram Alfa: http://wolframalpha.com. The computational search tool automatically gathers statistics in charts, maps, and organizes comparative columns.
GeoHive Global Data
United Nations Statistical Databases
Population Reference Bureau
CIA World Factbook
Yahoo: Government Statistics by Country
OECD World Stats from A to Z
PLACE: Population, Landscape,and Climate Estimates
United States Census Bureau International Database
Population Pyramids of the Whole World
Find the Data (objective, reference-based comparison engine)
National Map Viewer
Statistical Abstract of the United States
United States Census Bureau
United States Census State Data Center Program
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Digest of Education Statistics
National Center for Health Statistics
FDIC Bank Data and Statistics
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition
Tools for representing data
Over the past couple of years we’ve had access to a wealth of new tools for designing charts and graphs. Many of them are listed on the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods, an impressive resource that classifies, organizes and offers examples of visualization choices.
One of the most obvious, overlooked and ubiquitous tools for representing data is PowerPoint. PowerPoint easily generates bar, line, pie, column, area, scatter plots, donut, and bubble charts as well as SmartArt graphics like hierarchies, cycles, lists, processes, relationships, pyramids, and matrices. All can be edited for size and color and pasted into other programs or saved as images.
Word cloud generators
Word clouds are useful for representing the text of a document or speech, or for displaying important vocabulary, numbers, acronyms, or the names of critical players.
Wordle (use advanced tab to manipulate frequency)
Tagxedo (creates a image shape of your words)
Tagul (offers shapes, text inside of text, and more)
Images and Icon libraries
Icons add style, further the theme of the visual metaphor, and often serve as building blocks for the creation of pictograms. In addition to icons, we reminded students of our Copyright-Friendly/Creative Commons Guide, a rich resource for additional visual content.
Open Icon Library
Clkr (public domain clipart)
Crystal Clear Icons
Open Cipart Library
Font choice sets tone and style and helps tell the story. Students should go reach beyond default choices in a project that is all about design. And there are so many choices.
Ace Free Fonts
Download 2200 Free Fonts
Font Image Generator
Free Mac Fonts– for Macintosh users only
Google Web Fonts
1001 Free Fonts
Our Springfield experience
We recently introduced an infographics project to our Global Studies class for their unit on issues in Africa.
We divided students into groups around the questions and issues they found most compelling. Students were asked to research and read using a combination of sources–news–both Western and non-western sources, scholarly for background. See our Current Events Guide.)
We then asked them examine and critique existing infographics by evaluating their choice of sources, their use of big pictures and metaphor, their choice of assets or components, their use of design elements like font, color, space. We had them brainstorm in groups and sketch their ideas for our approval.
Following some initial balking (that we suspect had something to do with asking seniors to do something they’ve never done before in the spring semester), as students worked we observed real engagement and impressive cooperation across almost all of the groups. Students with design talent and Photoshop experience quickly became heroes of the day. Kids who knew how to play well with Excel became popular number-crunching mentors.
As a librarian, this was an opportunity for me to really curate disparate content and resources into an essential packet. A great opportunity to collaborate with my friend Ashley, the Global Studies teacher.
We advised students:
- Find a topic rich for investigation.
- Develop questions for research.
- Research! Read background information. Locate and analyze relevant data.
- Develop a thesis/argument.
- Search for related infographics to see how others have represented similar data.
- Plan the most important elements/assets.
- Sketch out your “story.”
- Decide how best to visualize the meaning of those elements.
- Keep it simple! Make it clear!
- Carefully select a color scheme.
- Carefully select your font(s)
- Make sure your thesis/conclusion is evident.
- Reference your sources.
- Post your image and list the URL so others may find and use it.
We created a guide for assessment:
Research and Synthesis
- Scope of topic clearly defined
- Thesis clearly stated
- Information effectively selected and relevant to present message
- Statistics collected from reliable sources
- Information is logically organized so that reader can easily understand message of the data
- Appropriate and varied charts and images represent data
- Concise text supports graphics
- Infographic presents clear conclusion based on data presented
Respect for Intellectual Property
- Demonstrated respect for Copyright/fair use
- Use of Creative Commons resources
- Research appropriately documented
Design and Creativity
- Effective choice of metaphor/big picture
- Effective use of color, font, graphics
- Appropriate assets/elements/information types selected to convey messsage of data
- Graphics organized to clearly communicate thesis and evidence
- Evidence of creative thought
- No spelling or grammatical errors
Zac was happy to apply his advanced knowledge of design tools and expressed the value of collaboration on this project: While I designed the visuals and tried to brainstorm layouts, the two other group members cited sources and found relevant statistics. They were the middlemen between the raw information, which we acquired earlier, and me, the curator of the final product.
Jessica: While the project was difficult, it offered us an experience utilizing new tools to process a lot of data.
Tim: It was interesting and nice to have something different which allowed us to be creative.
Our final projects with their attached documentation are not yet ready for primetime. To get a feel for what they look like, here are a few thumbnail examples.
General resources for creating your own infographics project
Infographics LibGuide/lesson (Gathers the growing number of portals providing data sets, to gather a variety of graphing, mapping, timelining and brainstorming tools, icon and graphic libraries, and so much more.)
Infographics in Education Wiki Ideas, examples, tools and rubrics by Mary Frazier, Integration Tech Specialist, Buhler USD #313
Mary Frazier: Infographics Pinterest board.
Searching Pinterest reveals a great number of additional boards devoted to infographics.
Carolyn Jo Starkey: Infographics for Librarians, Educators, and Other Cool Geeks.
New York Times Teaching With Infographics Rationale for using infographics in the classroom and links to the best of Times infographics in a variety of disciplines.
TED Talk: The Beauty of Data Visualization.
Kathy Schrock: Resources for infographics as a creative assessment.
Larry Ferlazzo: Best Resources for Creating Infographics.
Edudemic: How Infographics Accelerate Learning.
10 Awesome Free tools to Make Infographics.
Joyce Kasman Valenza loves her work as the librarian at Springfield Township High School (PA)! For ten years, she was the techlife@schoolcolumnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Joyce is the author of Power Tools, Power Research Tools and Power Tools Recharged for ALA Editions. (PowerTools Remixed is currently in progress.) She currently blogs for School Library Journal. Her NeverendingSearch Blog (now on the SLJWeb site) won an Edublogs Award for 2005, was nominated in 2008, and won again in 2009. She was awarded the AASL/Highsmith research grant in 2005. Her Virtual Library won the IASL School Library Web Page of the Year Award for 2001. She has won her state’s PSLA Outstanding Program (2005) and Outstanding Contributor (2009) Awards. Joyce is active in ALA, AASL, YALSA, and ISTE and contributes to Classroom Connect, VOYA,Technology and Learning, and School Library Journal. Joyce speaks nationally and internationally about issues relating to libraries and thoughtful use of educational technology. She earned her doctoral degree in Information Science from the University of North Texas in August, 2007.Resumé.Full C.V. Contact Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org