The Use of Visual Data in Arguments: the Case for the Infographic

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SWBAT identify the basic principles of the "infographic" -- an emerging method for presenting data and information during research.

Big Idea

... tracing its heritage to (maybe) the mid 19th c., "infographics" are a powerful and utterly modern tool for presenting ideas, persuading others, and conceptualizing difficult real-world relationships between people and phenomena ...

Context and Introduction

8 minutes

The concept of data visualization for research, especially persuasive research, has been developed by a broad range of learned professionals since (maybe) the mid-19th c.  In fact the first three images that serve as "cover images" for this short unit are all early examples of the form: (1) English doctor John Snow's "cholera outbreak map," (1854), (2) Florence Nightingale's chart of troop casualties during the Crimea War (1855), and (3) and Charles Joseph Minard's very famous "flow map" of the march of Napoleon's Grande Armee (1869).  So, clearly, the idea to represent data visually for a curious public in newspapers, scientific papers, and magazines significantly predates the internet.

However, the internet has grown visual data representation.  Not only does the net allow for super easy distribution of creative data presentations in dozens of file formats the overt visual and graphic orientation of the net more than lends itself to the uses of data visualization and information graphics. Indeed, a simple Google search for "information graphic" renders over 560 million hits in .35 secs.!

Furthermore, many educational scholars and theorists are just beginning to identify information graphics as one of the genres of the new visual literacy, and this new literacy requires our instruction in the high school classroom.  In point of fact, I created this three lesson unit to produce an infographic -- a handy "type" of information graphic -- explicitly in order to address visual literacy.

For further reading and reflection, I can recommend the following three websites, ones I have culled from many:

Direct Instruction: Defining the Infographic

40 minutes

I begin this longish period of direct instruction with a 14 min. youtube video, created for National Geographic by former NY Times data visualization expert Jer Thorpe.  Before I show the clip, I mention that this video is primarily about three dimensional data representations, but students will produce two dimensional, "flat" image graphics.  Still, I add, it is worthwhile to understand the burgeoning field of data visualization from a most sophisticated standpoint.

After the Thorpe vid, I show a series of self-selected visualizations and graphics from a range of sources, demonstrating different aspects of data presentation:

These six examples are, again, highly selective, and I encourage each teacher of this lesson to develop his or her own selective list.  

Following this extensive presentation of the elements, components, and, even, the possibilities of information graphics, encourage some discussion and reflection as time permits.