Undraa Maamuujav, Jenell Krishnan, & Penelope Collins
Infographics are visual representations designed to present information, data, and knowledge quickly and clearly (Krauss, 2012). A writing curriculum that explicitly teaches writers how to develop infographics as an authentic method of planning their ideas and communicating them to an intended audience may hold unique affordances for their writing development.
By engaging students in developing infographics as a part of the writing process, teachers create an opportunity for students to compose within a legitimate, multimodal genre used in many public and private sectors.
Moreover, teaching students how to create infographics before they compose their full-text drafts places greater emphasis on effective communication and reinforces the value of planning—a behavior demonstrated among successful writers (Graham & Harris, 1994).
Why Use Infographics?
Writing in an academic context is a complex, multifaceted process that requires:
It is a cognitively demanding task that involves executive function, memory, and motivation. For writing instruction to be effective, instructors need to use a wide repertoire of resources, strategies, and tools to support all students’ writing development. Integrating infographics into a process-based writing curriculum can support students’ writing development in several important ways.
➊ Reducing cognitive constraints of writing
Writing involves multiple processes that involve internal mental activities and external contextual conditions. In traditional process-based writing courses, students are asked to produce full-text first drafts and often juggle between idea generation and text production in their initial drafting process. Both idea generation and text production place heavy demands on cognitive resources (Flower & Hayes, 1981). Creating an infographic as a first draft disrupts this traditional approach, separates these two major cognitive processes, and alleviates processing constraints of writing. The task of creating infographics involves proportionally less linguistic and more visuospatial processing, which helps ease the cognitive loads developing writers encounter when drafting. Infographics, used in this way, engage students in a writing practice that uses multiple modalities—words, images, graphs, and other symbolic systems.
➋ Infographic as a procedural facilitator
Visual and other semiotic tools such as diagrams and graphic organizers help writers “organize mental reasoning by offloading aspects of thought and functions onto the tool, and by making elements of the activity more visible, accessible, and attainable” (Englert et al., 2006, p. 211). Infographics, as a more sophisticated and open form of graphic organizers, can serve as a procedural facilitator to scaffold students' writing process and performance. By providing an opportunity to create infographics prior to full-text composing, instructors encourage students:
In short, an infographic can be a beneficial mediating tool in determining a text's main ideas and the visual relationships between those ideas.
➌ Communicative function of infographics
An effective infographic demonstrates audience awareness, and writing instruction that integrates an infographic as a planning and communicative tool requires students to consider their intended audience. This important rhetorical component is often absent in more traditional methods of outlining and conventional use of graphic organizers that are writer‐oriented and often not intended to be shared with others. Presenting information to an audience and allowing the audience to explore that information are two basic goals of effective infographics (Cairo, 2013).
➍ Targeting feedback on higher-order issues in the early drafting
Research indicates that initial draft feedback is more effective when it is geared toward more global writing issues, such as argument strength, information relevance, and organization of ideas (Sommers, 2013). The visual representations of students' thinking early on through their infographics allow instructors to more quickly assess and provide feedback on the strengths of their ideas and the areas that need improvement. This may provide students with a greater awareness of what they must do to improve the clarity, organization, and relevance of their ideas before they begin to draft their academic text. Teaching students how to create infographics places greater emphasis on effective communication and reinforces the value of planning—a behavior demonstrated among effective writers (Graham & Harris, 1994).
The Instructional Approach
The integration of infographics in writing-intensive courses is grounded in the process-based writing approach that involves iterative planning, writing, and revision processes.
This instructional approach uses infographics to scaffold the cognitive demands of writing all while acknowledging students’ writing motivations.
As illustrated below, the approach invites students to move from creating infographics to composing full-text drafts. Hence, the infographics serve as a planning tool in process-based writing.
This approach emphasizes three key pedagogical strategies:
Explicit instruction was provided via mini lessons on the rhetorical features and visual appeals of an infographic for effective communication (see Collins’ infographic above for the mentor text used). Explicit instruction is also provided on how organization of content in an infographic may lend itself to a specific text structure (i.e., sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect). Instruction that uses infographics as models of how to communicate through different modalities other than text promotes students’ thinking about different rhetorical situations, including genre, purpose, and conventions to shape authorial choices.
Collaborative and Independent Practice. Small groups practice developing an infographic based on a shared reading. The collaborative, in-class activity allows students to co-construct an infographic using a free program (i.e., Canva, Venngage, Visme) and think about how to organize main ideas using text, images, and graphics. Students draw on their funds of knowledge by leveraging the technical experience they bring with them to the classroom (Fox-Turnbull, 2012; Gonzalez, et al., 2006). Their independent practice allows them to build on what they learn to create an infographic based on an interest-driven topic.
Feedback and Revision. There are multiple opportunities for feedback and discussion, including peer feedback and teacher comments, on both group-created and individually-constructed infographics. Peers give feedback during a gallery walk activity where students present their independently-constructed infographics and engage in one-on-one discussions.
The instructor provides written feedback on all independently-constructed infographics through the LMS. The instructor feedback focuses on macro-level elements and is geared towards improving content, organization, visual and stylistic appeals of the infographics. The feedback students receive from their peers and the instructor is intended to guide the revision of the infographics for effective communication, taking into consideration the comprehension needs and expectations of the classroom community.
We conducted an initial pilot study in an upper-division undergraduate writing class to learn how students use infographics to support writing. The study took place at a large, public university in California that serves a culturally and linguistically diverse student body. Students created infographics before writing traditional, academic essays on their interest-driven research topics. Our goal was to provide a rich account of the ways in which undergraduate students used their infographics to support the writing process as well as their perceptions of its utility as an instructional approach.
(1) In what ways do students use their infographics to write their research paper on the same topic?
(2) What do students find beneficial about integrating infographics in process-based writing?
(3) What do students find challenging about developing infographics to communicate their ideas.
What Are We Learning?
How did students use infographics? We identified three patterns in how students used their infographics when writing their research papers. These patterns reflect how their infographics shaped the rhetorical choices students made in their papers.
What did students think about using infographics? The findings suggest that integrating infographics into a process-based writing approach is beneficial to student writing in affective and rhetorical domains. Our analysis of survey results reveal this instructional approach to be new, innovative, and engaging to students. This method was engaging to students because it offered them an opportunity to communicate their ideas using multiple representations of meaning in a way that is often restricted in traditional, text-only writing. Given that this instructional approach was new to students, they reported being challenged by navigating online infographic programs and making rhetorical choices specific to this multimodal genre.
What Comes Next?
The next phase of our research is to test how infographics may support writing using an experimental design where students create infographics at various points during the writing process. We are further exploring whether infographics are most effective when used to:
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