Although this infographic project was consuming (steeling hours of my sleep and then showing up in my dreams!), it taught me a ton! Although there were many things in course 3 that helped this process, the biggest takeaways for this project was to:
Tell a Story
I lost sight of telling my story during my first draft and realized that I had chosen colors and a picture that was too formal, stiff, and politician like. I was so focused on the CARP design elements and color scheme, that I forgot to look at it from my audience’s point of view. Man, that is hard! It is so much easier to write what I want to write – but when communicating with visuals, I must make a good guess as to how an audience will interpret my visuals. What will they see first? What does the look on my face say? What does what I’m wearing say? Do my font choices and color scheme say fun or drab? Queue tail spin.
So my best advice is to focus on your story. What is the best part of you and how can you get a picture that communicates that? Start there.
After I found my main visual, I sketched my plan out on paper. I literally cut up the page and rearranged the main items a few times until I thought my viewers eyes would go to my picture first and then the arrangement would naturally lead their attention along to the rest of my details. I wanted to make sure I stressed my passions and strengths, but did not add anything that visually led eyes to a blank area. I paid attention to the order, sizing, boldness, and font of my letters in an attempt for clarity and professionalism without being boring.
And finally, I got A LOT of feedback. Anyone who could spare a few minutes to offer advice or at the very least, tell me what they saw first or what they didn’t understand. The 7th grade boys were my toughest critiques; evidence that my ‘About Me’ infographic lessons were sinking in.
Have a look at my final product and please don’t hesitate to comment with your feedback.
I’m planning a mini unit about infographic design for the middle school students. We are going to start with an ‘About Me’ project to learn the elements of graphic design. As a bonus, the kids are looking for an interesting and attractive visual for the home page of their ePortfolio websites – I’m hoping this can fill that need.
While reading through other Course 3 posts, I found an excellent infographic on design principles that I will use to introduce the elements of CARP.
To help them understand The Big Four, I will provide some printouts of others’ personal infographics. The kids will work in groups to find and label examples of contrast, alignment, repetition, or proximity. Because these students are prone to over decorate their portfolio pages, I will also prompt them to look deeper into the color schemes and texts. In addition to a couple relevant examples on 9 Dynamic Digital Resumes that Stand Out from the Crowd, here are samples of what I will provide for analysis:
One of the challenges will be the understanding that every choice of the designer, from colors to images, was for a reason. Each element must symbolize or communicate something. For instance, we can look at how they used colors in this infographic to show where the changes are happening in the body:
Our next step will be to sketch out some basic plans on paper. As a class, we should be able to look at our examples and create a list of details that everyone should include, as well some optional categories like interests and skills.
Before they get too far into an actual design, I will need to show them the tools. I’ll give them the choice of PiktoChart, Easel.ly, or Google Drawings. With Google Drawings, to avoid clicking and copying, I will also need to include instructions of how to use sites like Font Squirrel, DAFonts, free clip art, or images licensed for reuse. Since they are all basic design programs, I won’t want them to get too far into drawing their design and then being disappointed that it can’t be recreated. I chose these three sites because they were the least confining if you already had a vision in mind and they all have the option to start from a blank page in order to practice their new CARP skills.
Here is a basic example I quickly made on a Google Drawing and can add to during instruction.
We’ll see how it goes and I’ll be sure to post an update here about changes I had to make. And of course, I’d appreciate feedback or ideas you may have thought of reading my plans.
When reading about presentation skills I kept coming across the advise to tell a story. To be honest I pictured Boy Scout dads telling scary stories around the fire, or Native Americans long ago telling hunting adventures in a teepee.
When thinking of my own presentations, I had a hard time conceptualizing how to tell a story when my presentations were meant to inform or teach my audience. However, after reading about digital storytelling, I’m realizing we tell and listen to stories all day long for a variety of purposes.
Gottschall’s encouraging thesis is that human beings are natural storytellers—that they can’t help telling stories, and that they turn things that aren’t really stories into stories because they like narratives so much. Everything—faith, science, love—needs a story for people to find it plausible. No story, no sale.
Furthermore, in an Interview for PBS Gottschall explains what he means when he writes, “Neverland is our nature, we are the storytelling animal.”
If you start adding up the hours that you spend in imaginary worlds you get to a pretty astonishing figure. We spend four hours a day watching TV, our children make believe, we spend hours and hours, actually about eight hours per day, lost in day dreams. We dream in stories. When you add all this time up, for me it was a startling conclusion, that humans aren’t really Earthlings. We’re more like citizens of this weird omni-dimensional world called Neverland. We spend most our lives wandering inside imaginary worlds.
Stories are everywhere, and I’m starting to see that humans do in fact communicate mostly in narrative forms. Listeners try to experience what has happened to the story teller, in a way existing right where Peter Pan says he will always be, “that place between sleep and awake.” Ironically, reading back through what I have written so far, I’ve actually just told you a story about my confusion and investigation into story telling.
In my elementary school, we have recently put in a lot of time defining our purpose for student portfolios; basically boiling it down to the simple idea that a portfolio should show a student’s learning journey. I read Jodee’s post this week on Digital Storytelling and made the connection that the work of documenting growth and discovery, that we have been asking the teachers and students to collect in an ePortfolio, is a great lead-in to digital storytelling. Using the pictures, videos, and reflections collected (already completing 2 steps in the process laid out on the University of Houston’s Digital Storytelling site), students can digitally create a story of how they learned a skill or concept in school. When thinking of sharing our work with a wider audience, I think it would be more interesting and inspiring (to people beyond mom and dad) to post a student’s digital story about their learning processes and achievements.
Story telling isn’t just for campfires, and when mixed with digital tools, it can be a powerful way to inform, persuade, and entertain. And as Jonathon Gotschall explains in his TED talk below, “We’re all a lot more like Peter Pan than we know; we never really leave the land of fun, imaginative simulations, the land of make believe.”
Last school year, I stumbled upon an eye-opening COETAIL Cast. The topic focused on the importance of teaching presentation skills in school, and argued that knowing how to design and deliver an effective presentation has become a critical skill for students.
I was gobsmacked that I had never considered these ideas and skills! To me, an effective presentation meant the kids could get up in front of an audience, tell about their topic without reading their notes or bulleted slideshow, all the while maintaining eye contact, pitch and volume.
At this point I was completely convinced that things needed to change at our school. Of course the best way for me to create change is to be the change – so I restarted two presentations I had been working on, keeping in mind all I had learned.
The first presentation was targeted to all the teachers, and was about a trip I had taken to Shekou International School to see their use of technology. The big take away from the trip that we needed to communicate to our teachers was that it is not about the tools, but rather the teaching methods that couldn’t exist without the tools. I felt it was hypocritical of me to stand up and tell them about my trip when what I wanted was for them to stop the old ‘sage on stage’ routine. I decided to build an interactive presentation that got my point across, but that also showed them a new tool and engaged them in the topic.
Here is the presentation that introduced the Kahoot game:
Although the first slide woke up my audience with a little humor, the slides are not a visual dessert by any means. However, the Kahoot game that followed was engaging and thought provoking, asking pointed questions like:
Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include learning about a topic in a collaborative social setting?
Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include working toward a common goal that was relevant to real life?
Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include having to sit and listen, perhaps following or being read a PowerPoint, for 20 min. for more?
Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include you having to read a 5 page article and fill out a note card with your reflections?
Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include an instructor who was obviously excited and passionate about the topic and task?
There was lots of laughter, some nervous, but most were nodding their heads in obvious resonance – especially the principals. The elementary teacher even elbowed me and “thanked” me for ‘raising the bar.’
Since that, I have seen many changes that I think may have started there. For one, Kahoot is used (and begged for by students) around our school from Arabic to P.E. Secondly, the elementary school completely revamped Back to School Night, doing away with most of the PowerPoints and creating a night where parents could truly get a feel for how learning at our school is becoming more and more student centered. (Check out Jodee’s blog to read more about how she changed her presentation for her 3rd grade parents.) The elementary principal even played a Kahoot with the parents to commence the evening on a fun, interactive note.
My second presentation was for a ‘Parent Share’- a once a month, informal gathering for parents to hear more about what’s happening at school. My principal wanted me to give a quick update on some of the cool ways we are using technology to make learning relevant and real world applicable, connect to others outside of our school, document and reflect on students’ learning journeys, and provide transparency to the happenings at our school. For this occasion, I was excited to try out more of the design principals that I had read and watched about.
It has been a great week revisiting the “presentation zen” learning I (luckily!) stumbled upon last year. I have renewed conversations about how and when to weave these new ideas into the secondary curriculum and spent time planning a presentation workshop with an English teacher to prep her students for their IB presentations this year. Exciting times ahead.
Part of my job as a technology integrationist is to show and inspire teachers to change the way they teach. Just because teachers use technology doesn’t necessarily mean they have changed their teaching methods. Multiple teachers forwarded me a recent study titled, Computers in classrooms have ‘mixed’ impact on learning: OECD report, which has me alarmed that I’m not doing enough to stress that it’s not about the technology, it’s about the new ways we teach and learn – starting with the learning environment. If nothing else changes besides substituting a computer for pencils and papers – of course there won’t be better results.
Since my audience is teachers (especially secondary teachers), I thought I could design a post that uses images to inspire changes in their classroom setups. And as Rory Sutherland said, “persuasion is better than compulsion,” so here it goes:
Remember back as a student walking into a high school classroom that was arranged in a circle? Did anyone else cringe, or was that just me?
This desk arrangement, in comparison to the normal cemetery-row seating, immediately upped my panic level. I knew we’d be having a discussion that I’d be expected to join, or else risk everyone seeing me in my ‘out to lunch’ mode that was easy to get away with in the back row.
At the beginning of the school year, I read Erin Klein’s post 9 Creative Ways to Avoid the Cemetery Effect, and after seeing the cemetery photo beside a picture of desks in rows I cannot get the image out of my mind. I have to confess, that when I walk by classrooms arranged this way, I can’t help assume the kids are board to death. Tah, da, dum!
As Rory Sutherland explained in his TedTalk, “intangible value can be created by changing the perception,”and I think this can apply to classroom design as well. Teachers, consciously or unconsciously, use the setup of their classroom to help communicate their expectations (like the circular set up of desks in my example above); but we can also use the design of the classroom to create a space that challenges the traditional perception of school, as well as the traditional style of teaching.
See how creating flexible classrooms empower student choice, increase student engagement, and improve student participation at Albemarle County Public Schools in the video below.
Desks in Rows – Article about what we lose with the ‘desk in rows’ model
Even if they don’t remember a word of what I wrote, hopefully the negative images of the rows in a cemetery and rows in a classroom will stick with the teachers as it did me. Since rows, especially at the secondary level, is very common, it is critical that a fundamental shift in their thinking needs to occur in order for them to rethink their classroom design and instruction.
During my last year as a classroom teacher, and my second year at RVIS, I developed an elementary faculty website in response to a huge communication need. Partly because my school was only 5 years old and partly because I was new, it felt like I was blindly feeling my way through a dark cave, never knowing what lay ahead. In my second year, and as a classroom teacher, I knew exactly what information needed to be more transparent in order for other new (and returning) teachers to be more successful and in sync. So, I set out to build a website that would house all those insights.
The trick, as it is with most people according to Brandon Jone’s post Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, is to organize lots of information “in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical.” As visual thinkers, and teachers pressed for time, it was imperative that I create a site that was quick and easy, in order for it to become our ‘home base.’ I met with my principal to come up with a list of things to include from both our perspectives; she was keen to use the site to lessen whole school emails that quickly got buried. We decided that the most important and information-packed elements should go on the home page: our calendar and announcements. Here is a shot of the home page:
After reading Dustin Wax’s blog post called Design Better with CRAP, I realized I had used the key design strategies before I had the vocabulary to realize what I was doing. On the sidebar navigation I put things that were procedural, policy like, or PLC and other meeting minutes. Across the top are tabs for initiatives, groups, and other specialist areas. Looking back, I arranged them by proximity to help teachers locate what they need. I also realized from personal behavior, that users weren’t likely to use the scroll feature, so don’t hide important things below the page. My goal was for this to be a site that was opened each morning and used on a regular basis, therefore I made sure to link all the external sites needed such as our login pages to PowerSchool, lunch count, NWEA, the PGP Framework, Atlas, the library catalogue, and a few others.
Alignment and repetition also play a part in the easy navigation and homepage design. I took out most of the ‘dead’ space on the sides and utilized it for the three main vertical features. The horizontal navigation bar has repeating, color contrasted tabs, which in some cases have related pages or links that drop down from the main category.
Admittedly, Google Sites eliminated some of the design woes, because it doesn’t easily incorporate fancy images or other textures and styles the way Weebly or Wix does; but the choice of Google for the site was a no-brainer since our school is so heavily immersed in Google Apps for Education. Plus, the ability to adjust the share settings to accommodate a single teacher maintaining the page or allowing the whole group editing rights, is another way the the whole ES has ownership and sees validity in the tool.
Students at my school from grade 4 to grade 12 are using Google Sites to build and maintain their educational portfolios and as the technology integrationist it’s my job to make sure they understand the importance of their design. While many have suggested using a template to streamline the process, I think building the website is an important part of learning how to use the tool. Reorganizing to include more content or manipulating the design to showcase their new interests or learning, can be an independent process if they have built their site from the beginning.
After learning about the design ‘rules’ of CARP, I can now build in a common vocabulary around web design at my school. In addition to those 4 rules, I found an article that explains a few more areas to consider. 10 Top Principles of Effective Web Designby Sofia Woods talks about usability, form and function aspects of web design. These principles pay particular attention to purpose and communication – arguably the first things to consider in design. It’s hard to explain to 4th graders why using a Pokemon background is misleading to their website’s purpose, however its a discussion (and at times a battle!) that needs to be taught in order for our students to develop a sense of visual literacies. Just as one should learn to read and write, we should be teaching our students to decode hypermedia and advertisements, in conjunction with creating effective web design that serves their communication purposes.