In COETAIL Course 3, we’ve been talking about visual literacy and using mixed media to present a compelling message. I’ve always been more comfortable with text, but I’m coming around to the advantages of other mediums. It’s far from natural for me, though. The written word is thousands of years old, but infographics are much younger, so it’s no surprise they haven’t become a fixture in our lexicon. Florence Nightingale was one of the first:
Although remembered as the mother of modern nursing, Nightingale was an accomplished statistician too. She was particularly innovative in presenting data visually. The example above, of a type now known as “Nightingale’s Rose” or “Nightingale’s Coxcomb”, comes from her monograph, “Notes on matters affecting the health, efficiency and hospital administration of the British army” published in 1858. In the same year she became the first female fellow of the Statistical Society of London (now Royal Statistical Society).
It’s easy to speak of success in broad strokes: “America has a strong economy,” “America is powerful.” But how can we define success more clearly? This is an essential question of my World History courses, and to help students both define success and visualize what that looks like over time I use Gapminder.org at the beginning of the year to introduce the question to them. Gapminder takes statistical data from the past 200 years and charts it two-dimensionally. It follows visual hierarchy rules by distinguishing countries by size and color, and can animate its charts to show how statistics change over time. Here’s a great demo:
In this exercise, students analyze visual sources and construct their own definitions about success. First, I demonstrate how to use the Gapminder website, then give students a worksheet so they can engage in independent but guided investigation. Once students have had a chance to look at various indicators, I ask them to define success – do we want a country with high literacy rates? Long life expectancy? A high GDP per capita, or a high overall GDP? A low corruption index? This is where having an IWB works well – students can pull up Gapminder at the front of the room and single out countries for the class to illustrate their point.
Here’s another example of an infographic useful in studies of modern American immigration:
I’d give students the profiles of four or five people, and ask them to calculate based on the infographic how long it would take them to become American citizens. Then, I’d ask them to reflect on whether they think American immigration policy is effective, and what they would change, if anything.