Making the Most of Infographics
You can't miss them online. Infographics mash up facts and ideas with illustrations and design. Educators and journalists use them to make complicated stories memorable and easier to understand. Marketers and lobbyists use them to persuade and motivate. If books were the meat and potatoes that nourished a previous generation of learners, infographics are the lite bites that can substitute for dinner, but only if they are very carefully chosen.
Colorful and concise, the best infographics provide instant insight into challenging topics. By condensing and organizing data, they draw young people into new material so they remember it more easily and think about it more deeply. As attention spans shrink, it's seductive to think students can communicate and learn in quick, bright bursts of information.
Unfortunately, all infographics are not created equal. Although they can clarify information, some are confusing and even misleading. And of course, any infographic is only as good as the facts on which it is based. Kids need some guidance about how to extract meaning from infographics.
Recognizing Good Information
Some of the best educational infographics come from sources such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today. Liking these organizations on Facebook can infuse a teenager's timeline with interesting, fact-based maps, graphs and charts.
Sometimes your child may encounter material intended for adults. Point your child toward Coolinfographics.com, a blog that presents and critiques a new infographic each week. A word cloud makes it possible to search the archive and zero in on topics of interest. Find educational infographics suitable for elementary-age children at pinterest.com/k12inc/educational-infographics.
Encourage your children to ask the same critical questions they should be asking about other online materials.
Who is the source? Infographics come from media companies, educators, marketers, bloggers, political organizations, health providers and lobbyists. Encourage your child to figure out who made the infographic. If the source isn't clear, the information is suspect.
What is the purpose? Sometimes infographics are simply about presenting complicated data in an interesting way. Often, however, the person or organization behind the infographic has an agenda. Others pick and choose their facts to persuade viewers or sell them something. In other cases, infographics are simply meant to entertain.
Where did they get their information? A good infographic, especially one about a controversial topic, includes the equivalent of footnotes. Point out to your child that someone who is confident enough to cite sources is at least trying to present objective information.
DIY Infographics as a Learning Tool
Here are a few free, kid-friendly tools for creating infographics a child can explore.
Create.ly. This site offers open-ended options that are ideal for creating timelines and diagramming ideas by identifying key concepts and clustering facts around them.
Easel.ly. This site features an intuitive interface that makes it easy for students to create eye-catching posters.
Infogr.am. The free version on this site gives students access to 30 easy-to-use templates for charts, graphs and other ways of presenting data.
Piktochart.com. Designed for business, the free version of this site offers a variety of templates that will help students construct charts, graphs, maps and other infographics.
Textisbeautiful.net. This fascinating tool allows students to find patterns in a piece of writing by uploading text and then creating graphics that show different words being used.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids including one with special needs. She is working on a book about constructive responses to con