Visualization assignments in TechComm

One of the more important needs for the 21 century information worker is the ability to turn data into information. This means using visuals (charts, graphics, images, etc.) to correctly, appropriately, and ethically represent and describe data. Once the information is constructed it can be used in documents and other communication products; reports, proposals, presentations, etc. Many, if not most, students have a decent understanding on how to make a bar chart or line graph, but when and where to use these visuals and how they contribute to an argument or “story” in a document is a more difficult concept. In my class, I use an assignment that is predominantly visual to help understand these concepts. This assignment forces students to examine more thoroughly, the meanings and rhetorical choices of data representation, to use reader-centered organization, style, and language, and to summarize important information using chunking and other visual design techniques (e.g., contrast, repetition, proximity, alignment). This assignment is an infographic. In class we build up to this assignment in 3 phases, including a group critique, a remix, using tools that everyone is familiar with.

Final infographic. Click to see the full image. 

Final infographic. Click to see the full image. 

Infographic remix with annotations

Infographic remix with annotations

In Phase 1 students, in small groups and as a class, examine and critique a series of existing infographics. One of the latter critiques is done visually, in small groups, students are asked to annotate an enlarged giant sized print infographic with sticky notes. These notes explain what changes they recommend and why. Subsequently, students work to improve the infographic using their critique.

 

Group infographic drawn on the board. 

Group infographic drawn on the board. 

Working in small groups, students remix the infographic using a large white board, scissors, scotch tape and markers. In a written memo to the instructor, each student comments on the success of the remix. In Phase 2, small groups of students create a new infographics given existing data and an a specific audience. Again, this infographic is mapped out and drawn in the classroom using whiteboards. This low tech approach emphasizes that ideas are not dependent on high technology. In the final phase, individual students choose a topic, an audience, and data and create their own infographic. This infographic must carry an argument and visual metaphor to advance the argument. 

The infographic is later printed in large format for final display in the classroom.

This is one of the infographics produced from the course.