Monday, January 7, 2013

Infographics: A 21st Century Skill?


 Geography students in the 21st century will develop characteristics and skills that are different to those skills I learnt in the Geography classroom. Technology will definitely play a role in this. Even in a 1:1 classroom, students may still use an atlas to locate a country, draw a cross section or interpret a population pyramid. However, due to increased access to technological tools, other skills need to be developed or enabled.

Andrew Churches, author of Educational Origami (a 21st century learning wikispace), provides an overview of the 21st century learner. In particular, he writes about Digital Blooms, looking specifically at the higher order thinking skills needed to utilize technology tools to enhance learning and vice versa. The importance of having the skills to be a discerning user of technology has never been greater. The diagram below provides an overview of these thinking skills.


Like any other teacher, when planning a lesson, learning activity or assessment task for my students, I always consider the higher order thinking skills involved. By referring to ‘Digital Blooms’, I always aim to ensure that the tasks adequately enable students to show their ability to ‘evaluate’ or ‘create’. Web 2.0 tools are now readily available for students in the classroom, and create wonderful opportunities for students to show their higher order thinking skills. I have written articles before on the use of Web 2.0 tools in the Geography classroom. However, I did find it a little more difficult to pinpoint how these tools enable students to develop the higher order thinking skills outlined in Digital Blooms. Upon reflection, the use and creation of infographics is definitely an online tool that Geography students can utilize in a 21st century classroom.

Infographics are visual explanations of data, information or knowledge that use the elements of design to display content (Roy, S 2011). The most successful infographics express a more complex message using images and various levels of data such as statistics. Geography teachers are drawn to these data visualisations as they often provide a clear overview of a theme or topic that we teach in class. 

As I searched the internet for information and advice on the use of Infographics, I came across the following blog post by Hongkiat Lim, the Chief Editor of Hongkiat.com, a technology website. The author has listed what he considers to be the 50 most informative and well-designed infographics. What interested me the most was that of this top fifty, twenty one of these infographics could be part of a geography lesson. Two of the most striking on this list were Choose Your Weapon: The Global Arms Trade and Glass Half Empty: The Coming Water Wars. This strengthened my belief that using and creating infographics are higher order thinking skills in Geography. 

Daniel Adams, a blogger for InstantShift  provided further detail on the role of infographics. He included the following points as the aim of a
successful infographic:
• to communicate a message
• to present a lot of data or information in a way that is compact and easy to comprehend
• to analyse data in order to discover cause-and-effect relationships;
and
• to look for links between statistics and the theme of the infographic.
These all relate strongly to the ‘Analysis’ and ‘Decision-Making’ criteria in the Senior Geography syllabus. This was all the evidence I needed to start using these tools in the classroom.

So, how can you use infographics in the Geography classroom? Firstly,on their own, infographics are a great source of up-to-date content for a Geography teacher. Good sites for infographics include Easyly, Infogram and Submitinfographics.com. Geography resources such as National Geographic and the Australian Bureau of Statistics now use this data visualization tool when representing their data. One example designed by the ABS looks at Australia’s Changing Population

An infographic will also save a teacher time when developing resources or assessment tasks. In particular, the infographic could provide a new way for teachers to present the data and stimulus for a Response to Stimulus Essay task in Senior Geography. This form or presenting visual data could also be useful in the creation of extra stimulus for practicals and as data in field reports. Next time you are searching for content for a topic, consider putting the word ‘infographic’ in as part of your search to see what is available.

Secondly, the Web 2.0 nature of infographic tools allow anyone, students or teachers, to create and share their own infographics. Setting a class activity or assessment task that involves the creation of an infographic definitely involves many of the higher order thinking skills outlined in digital blooms. Students need to research and find the data they would like to present on a theme. Following this, they will need to consider the images, colour and design of the infographic to portray their message. A wonderful resource I discovered that outlines the criteria for a successful infographic is found on the National Geographic website – Dwindling Food Variety: What makes this graphic so good? The site includes a clear overview of both the skill in selecting the types of data, as well as the elements of design including colour, font and layout. If you are interested in creating your own infographics, go to Easy.ly. This allows the user to create an infographic, but you can also follow other creators and receive updates on themes, of which Geography is one. Also, once completed, the user can embed the infographic on a website or blog, as well as create jpeg of their creation.

There is no question that infographics and data visualization play an important role in the Geography classroom. They always have. However, the ability for students to quickly and effectively create their own infographics will only enhance their skills in a 21st century classroom.
Create one yourself, make it an assessment task in your junior Geography classroom, or use it as a revision tool. As usual, Web2.0 tools are there for you to use.

46 Useful Infographic Tools

Sources
 Adams, D. (2011) What are infographics and why are they important?, Accessed 25/9/12.
Churches, A. (2010) Educational Origami
National Geographic Education, (2011) Dwindling Food Variety: What Makes this Graphic so Good?

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