You’ve heard of microcredentials, and of course we have all been micromanaged at one point or another, but have you heard of microconsumers? I won’t claim to have made up the word, but I am co-opting it here to talk about students’ reading habits, not about microconsumers in the life cycle. Students today have a tendency to get nearly all of their information as microconsumers, which I’ll define as people whose news and facts come in bite-sized pieces, predominantly online, and often served up as fact in the form of an infographic. As educators, we must teach our students both how to create infographics to showcase their salient points and how to read the ones that fill students’ social media streams.
Creating Infographics to Synthesize Information
Summarizing wasn’t one of my favorite topics to teach, but I’ve learned through the years that being able to summarize is crucial to student success, so I recently came up with a way to teach it that is going to revolutionize what I had considered a “boring” lesson into a hands-on, engaging activity. As many good lessons do, this one evolved from a real-life experience. Venngage SEO manager, Cécilien Dambon, emailed me, explaining that he’d recently read a blog of mine called “Three Atypical Tips for New Teachers,” and he thought that his team could create an infographic for me. As I read his idea, I got to this statement that sparked my lesson idea: Let me know if you're interested! All I would need from you next is an outline of the copy you'd like included in the infographic, and we can handle the rest.
At that time, I was working on a piece called “The Three P’s of Engaging All Students,” and all I had at the moment was the P’s: passions, project-based learning, and personalization. As I pondered Cécilien’s request for an outline, I realized that this was challenging, and it was challenging in that great “I’ve never been here before, but I can tell that this is important” way. What is important is that information at this moment in time isn’t about the “long story,” but rather identifying the key features, choice points and most relevant details. As I found myself trying to narrow down what to send, I was doing all kinds of great 21st-century skills all at once! As it turns out, writing “small” for an infographic is way more difficult than creating an entire article or blog. Here’s the graphic Venngage designed for me, explaining the “3 P’s of Engaging All Students.” https://infograph.venngage.com/s/nXPyZga2fQo (Please visit site for full size info graphic)
My students are going to experience a similar “assignment.” Instead of writing an essay about the short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” I’m going to ask them to create an infographic to share their insights about the story’s most important conflict. (Here is the link to my website with the other assignments.) I’ve been trying to step up my game when it comes to traditional assignments, and we’ll be doing an “Escape Room” type of activity with “The Most Dangerous Game.” This blog is a great resource if you are interested in trying to do your own. The key to differentiating with activities such as these is that you must identify what your purpose is and what you want students to know. If you want them to know how to write an essay, so be it. But, if you want them to deeply engage with literature, then creating an infographic or participating in a hands-on problem-solving activity meets your goals, and your students will thank you. This isn’t meant to demean essay writing—I’m an English teacher after all; however, before I started differentiating in earnest, I assigned essays for everything, in effect always measuring that one skill instead of my students’ knowledge.
If you want to give infographic making a whirl, there are several sites in addition to Venngage. Canva, Piktochart, and Easel.ly are all user-friendly and have options that are free. My students used each of these last year, and I am excited that we’ll be putting them to good use again in an innovative way. Having students create an infographic for the simple purpose of creating one reflects one level of thinking, but when students create an infographic to synthesize information, then we’ve jumped way up on Bloom’s scale.
The flipside of creating accurate infographics is being able to analyze what’s in them. This blog takes some of the worst and most misleading to task, as does this piece from the Guardian. As I help my students deconstruct infographics, we are going to use this guide, which, in turn will help them with their own design skills. It is important to note that there are a number of “fake news” examples, but sometimes the tool itself is to blame. This video is a great place to start when showing students the ways they can be misled.
The other assignment I’m going to be doing this year is a direct result of the proliferation of fake news, which is swallowed hook, line and sinker by the microconsumers on social media, including people I know are otherwise intelligent. I knew that people who disliked political candidates would create false news stories, but I was a bit taken aback when I found myself fall victim to misinformation about the much anticipated solar eclipse. I followed this story, about how a photojournalist represented a photo as if it were taken from one vantage point while it was actually carefully planned. Additionally, my Facebook feed was filled with an image of a cross being formed from the light escaping around the eclipse, but Snopes quickly disproved it.
Students, as microconsumers, need to be able to analyze whether the visual information they are receiving as news is actually accurate. This lesson from PBS and this collection of lessons by the New York Times is a great place to start. Educators need to be forward thinking as we approach both infographics and visual information as potential lessons for our students. This summer, I presented a workshop called “Creating a Culture of Literacy,” and a good portion of the day was spent identifying what “literacies” we need to be teaching. After these two experiences this summer, I’m even more convinced that the work of educators is shifting from simple summarizing to synthesizing, as well as verifying and critiquing information.