Sunday, 6 December 2015

Transforming Posters/Infographics

For good reason posters are a common choice of outcome for teachers to use when asking students to demonstrate their accrued learning. Of course this is nothing new, teachers have been asking their student to make posters to show their understanding for many years before computers became commonplace in classrooms.

Given that posters are so popular, this post is not about exploring the reasons for this, but asking the question, if you're going to ask your students to make posters with their computers, then why not ask them to use these tools to TRANSFORM their posters, not just replace/replicate them? Why not use them for formative assessment, as well as for summative assessment? This is something screens excel at compared to traditional paper posters.

Infographic or Poster?

First and foremost, if you're expecting your students to include more than a minimal amount of information, then you probably need them to make an infographic, not a poster.

Infographics are not posters; posters do not contain much information as they are designed to be simple and effective, infographics are designed to be complex and effective... A simple bit of Googling will illustrate this nicely:

Google Search for 'great posters'
Google Search for 'great infographics'

As can be seen from the above screenshots, posters and infographics are actually very different.

The purpose of a poster is to utilise (usually) one powerful image and a relatively small amount of text to communicate a message.

The purpose of an infographic is to condense large amounts of information into a form where it will be more easily absorbed by the reader.

Considering this distinction, it is likely that for most teachers, an infographic is more likely to be a more appropriate choice if you are expecting to use this medium as a vehicle for  assessment, and for your students to demonstrate subject content knowledge and understanding, as they will probably need to include a great deal more information than would be expected on a poster.

Six simple snippets for successful infographics:

  1. They don't need to be printed, in fact they function better when screen based, why? because... when screen based, a portrait format works best (supports scrolling), which means that they can... 
  2. Leverage the freedom of the vertical dimension on screen, no need to cram content into the space limits of a traditional paper/printed page.* 
  3. Customise the page setup: portrait approx width 25cm length 50cm (approx length twice width) 
  4. Base the design on a template, ideally within the same context eg 'infographic earthquake" find an example that will serve as a 'mentor graphic' or graphical model. 
  5. Use a mentor graphic—imitate, then innovate. Copy layout, font choices, structure, icon use and placement, then integrate your own content. 
  6. Choose your tool carefully, Pages is great for more control and polish, but does not lend itself to online collaboration, sharing  and feedback. Online tools like PiktoChart are great, even with interactive maps/charts, but you have to work within the limitations of the free version, and choose your template carefully. Google Drawings make collaboration, sharing and feedback easy, but are less polished, and more limiting graphically, it can be done though, here's one I made earlier.

    *You can still use the BFP (Big Format Printer) for printing extended infographics if you insist...

Use 'Mentor Graphics'

Simple but effective potential 'mentor infographics' for earthquakes, just Google 'earthquake infographic'

Grade 5 Expo Example

As the students are working in groups it makes much more sense for them to work in Google Drawings, much easier to collaborate, comment, organise. With a whole team working on one infographic it's even more important to use a mentor graphic that the whole team has agreed on, so that choices about font, layout are easier, and consistency is much easier to achieve.

Mentor Graphic
Google Drawing

Final PDF

Grade 6 Example

Here's an example from a Grade 6 Humanities unit, here the student chose a mentor graphic and then structured her own design around that; the similarities are obvious, but so are the differences. Inevitably, as they progress through the project their 'copy' evolves into a graphic that is more and more an imitation and less a duplication of the original mentor graphic (click to enlarge):


RAT Your Infographics

RAT (Replace, Amplify, Transform) your graphic. Don't just replace paper posters, amplify, or better still transform them on screens using SAMMS.

Situate them online so you can easily facilitate the ability for students to work on any screen, and any space, place or time that is convenient for them, this can also be a great environment for students to work collaboratively or cooperatively. (Not the same thing*)

Encourage students to use their access to the Internet effectively, constructively, and responsibly:  smart searches to identify powerful images and information for them to assemble, remix, represent... and of course cite.

Leverage the power of the mutability of the digital medium, whatever you do, do not leave the construction of the infographic to the end of the unit, have the students start the infographic as soon as possible, and then allow them to adapt, develop and evolve it  formatively over the course of the unit into the final product.

Make it multimodal, this means using images as illustrations and not just as decoration. If the infographic is presented online this also adds the possible affordance of animation (animated gifs are ideal, students can easily make their own with licecap) and even selective use of short (looping?) video clips. A powerful way to leverage this is for students to create a short screencast narration of the rationale behind the content of their infographic.

Finally, socially network it, so they can easily be shared with the teacher and with their peers for effective formative assessment, especially peer assessment (Students as learning resources for one another, Wiliam, 2011) This allows students to share an early draft of the infographic in a shared online space where all of their peers (including their teacher) can review and provide feedback on their ongoing work, constructive criticism, clarification, and celebration.

*Cooperation = parallel practice, Collaboration = integrative practice (Ingram and Hathorn, 2004)

Cooperation means many working on one thing, individual contribution is unclear, collaborative practice means each member as a 'ownership' of a specific element, these elements are combined to form the final outcome.