By Will Valley
First, this is not a piece that slanders the use of final reports. Reading a clear, concise, and coherent scientific report written by a student is, for me, a sensation analogous to runner’s high. Perhaps “marker’s high”? A euphoric state reached through the release of endogenous morphine in response to clarity, insightfulness, and careful reading of rubric criteria. It is my favourite form of noncommodifiable compensation in our system of academic capitalism.
This piece emerges from my experiences with an assignment in my third-year course in which students conduct community-based experiential learning projects. At the end of the term, they prepare a traditional academic report that helps support their development of scholarly writing, but is not a particularly accessible form of communication for broader audiences. To provide an opportunity to further develop fundamental knowledge dissemination skills, students create an infographic to translate their project findings into a different medium, which is then printed and exhibited in a public poster forum, and further disseminated through digital media.
Infographics are graphic depictions of complex information (e.g., knowledge, data, concepts, ideas, etc.). This medium relies upon visual elements to clearly and concisely communicate complex information to diverse audiences. Infographics use evidence and practice based data, compelling statistics, easy-to-read fonts, complimentary color schemes, simple charts, bold graphs, and other graphics to disseminate information in quick and easily digestible format. An infographic can disseminate key findings and implications of a project in a manner that effectively communicates with diverse audiences (i.e., media, scientists, non-scientists, non-disciplinary experts, disciplinary experts, policymakers, voters, etc.).
Essentially, traditional headings and content in a final report can be translated directly into sections on the infographic. This process requires students to distill their report into its basic elements, such as purpose, key terms and concepts, methods, findings and implications. The process is iterative and often results in a first draft that is text heavy and aesthetically unappealing. Students then begin the process of refinement through a “hard prune” (agricultural imagery, Faculty of Land and Food Systems!) resulting in a more parsimonious depiction of their project. For the next step in our course, students develop a two to three-minute elevator pitch to compliment the infographic, which they perform in a public setting, invoking the spirit of a poster session at an academic conference. Finally, we encourage students, and community partners with whom they have been collaborating, to share the infographic through the current oligopoly of social media (i.e. the facebook, twitter and instagram). Some posters have even found their way to select office walls in Metro Vancouver.
Students report appreciating the infographic and poster assignment for a number of reasons. Here are a few select quotes:
I really enjoyed working with the Piktochart tool, and I believe that being able to create an infographic is a very applicable skill that I am excited to gain.
“The final infographic day was great, it was a positive change from the normal power point presentations and it was interesting going around and looking at what everyone else had accomplished this term.”
“The data our group collected has the potential to affect how the [Richmond Food Bank] is operated and having an infographic as one of the deliverables for the course proved to be quite useful as the RFB now has it on display at their distribution centre.”
“I thought that the infographic software was surprisingly easy and a useful tool that I will use for future projects. I guess that was because we got the chance to share our project with the public and teach them our discoveries.”
To get started, there are a number of free, on-line tools for developing infographics (we use piktochart.com and pay for four month access to the PRO version in order to have higher resolution end products for print). For more details on how we integrate infographics into our course, visit the following pages from our course website.
- Infographic Session Notes
- Assignment Description
- Examples of infographics generated by students and associated final reports (fall 2016 and winter 2017)
Additionally, you can engage with our students to hear more about their work and experiences (and ask them challenging questions). We will be occupying the atrium of the AMS Nest on Wednesday, November 29th, 2017 and Monday, March 26th, 2018 (both dates from 2-3.30pm).
Will Valley is the Academic Director of the Land, Food, and Community Series in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. Learn more about him here.