Widening participation in Higher Education, with and through infographics

Due to the government initiative to widen participation, many university entrants arrive with vocational qualifications (Department for Education, 2017; Kelly, 2017). As a result, there have been issues concerning lower retention and completion rates and lower numbers of first-class and upper second-class degrees for non-traditional students (Kelly, 2017). These students are often described (among other characteristics) as students who might struggle to cope with extended reading, are well versed in practical, and have an applied and disadvantaged background (Kelly, 2017). Does it sound familiar?

The above is also the case for the institution where I am conducting my research. All participants entered Higher Education (HE) through a non-A level route. Although my research study is concerned with students’ embodied experiences of infographics, what was perhaps (not so much) surprising was their embodied experiences of the written word. Students shudder when they read a journal article, and their minds “just go blank” when they see text. When they look at the text, the words muddle up, and they get frustrated, overwhelmed, and anxious. These are the lived experiences that our non-A level students arrive with in our lectures.

On closer look, these are not just students who entered HE and our course with vocational qualifications. These are also students whose first language is not English, students diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, and students from a minority ethnic background. Yet, we welcomed them into our classrooms and lecture rooms and expected them to fit the tiny “white” HE square that they could not fit in. So, what am I proposing?

I suggest that we (lecturers, teachers) bracket our own experiences and start from the experiences of the students in the class. I propose we extend our practices beyond the skull and include the body and the whole person. But how, you may ask. Although there are different ways to move beyond the boundaries of the skull, here I propose the infographic. Not as a magical, mystical visual tool from which students magically learn while you share the infographic via the projector. No, not in that way. I suggest we reimagine the infographic as a complex and a pluri-sensorial tool, and use it to bring the information closer to our students through the whole body. To welcome them, make them feel more comfortable and relaxed, make learning more enjoyable, engaging, simple, and fun and, dare I say, engage them in further reading. After all, these are not students who “hate” the written word “just because”, but students who arrive in our lecture rooms and classrooms with different lived experiences.

Here are some examples of using infographics and what I learned from my students. I learned that embedding infographics within my presentations were not seen favourably. For them, it was just another presentation with slides, regardless of the medium I used. Students preferred delivering a topic through a one-page infographic, prompting me to keep the information concise. They also recommended that I could provide a brief audio recording to accompany the infographic to revisit if they needed a reminder. At the beginning of every module, students ask me if I have an infographic to communicate the assignment. So, now I have an infographic for each assessment that I embed the sharable link on Moodle. Also, students favoured reading/viewing infographics instead of, e.g., journal articles or books. It enabled students to discuss the infographics, make sense of it, and generate ideas and interest in reading the written piece. Creating an infographic by hand and electronic one was another activity that students found helpful and enjoyable, such as summarising a topic, converting notes into an infographic, and producing one as part of their assessment. So why not use, produce, or ask students to create an infographic to challenge yourself to step away from the comfortable? By the way, every time they walk into the classroom, we make them feel uncomfortable, scared, and anxious. Are we (teachers, lecturers) prepared to be uncomfortable and, just for a moment, contemplate that there might be another way of communicating with our students that not necessarily favours the written word? Perhaps a way that might be more welcoming for all? Maybe if we allow “the body” to enter our curriculum, in this case through the infographics, we can provide opportunities and possibilities for engagement for all.


Elizabet Kaitell is a senior lecturer (FHEA)  and a PhD student aiming to better understand the value of infographics among HE students for teaching and learning purposes. She is interested in developing creative and innovative teaching strategies to engage and include students in the learning process.

Contact details:  elizabet.kaitell@roehampton.ac.uk
Twitter handle: @ElizabetStojano

References

Department for Education (2017) Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework specification

Kelly, S. (2017) Reforming BTECs: Applied General qualifications as a route to higher education – HEPI

3 thoughts on “Widening participation in Higher Education, with and through infographics

  1. Thanks Elisabet for an interesting article. I definitely think infographics could be better used in HE, though I sometimes struggle with the design elements. It’s certainly a useful skillset to develop, and I love the idea of assignments or course / unit handbooks making *much* more use of visual communication.

    However, I’m a bit concerned about what sometimes feels like a ‘you said, we did’ customer service type relationship that I see in HE (including in Widening Participation). I don’t think universities should operate like a sports centre of cafe (‘you wanted bigger changing rooms, so we added X or Y’). I fully support including the student voice in various elements of HE, but I feel it should be as one stakeholder amongst others.

    I think it’s fair to say that for deep learning to occur, students may *need* to feel uncomfortable and struggle with certain concepts or stages in their development. I’m not particularly surprised that students prefer looking at an infographic than engaging with a journal article (they could use a screen reader if they struggle with the written word). One factor in this preference may simply be that the latter requires more time and mental effort. But can an infographic + discussion really attain the depth or nuance that’s contained in wider research? You note that an infographic might encourage them to read more widely, but I’m not clear how this addresses their initial resistance to extensive reading.

    You state “By the way, every time they walk into the classroom, we make them feel uncomfortable, scared, and anxious”. Do *we*? Some students may feel those things – part of education is surely to help students manage or overcome such feelings which are unavoidable in life. Getting a degree should be hard. Most topics are huge, some questions are intractable, and we need to learn to deal with overwhelm using various strategies. I think it’s really important to help students prepare for an uncertain world and inevitable, difficult challenges. This is no doubt an oversimplification, but I’m not convinced that saying ‘you don’t like X? Ok I’ll take it away’ is the right approach.

    Like

  2. Elizabet, thanks for sharing a great idea. Your approach not only breakdown the course and assessment requirements into bite-size for student. You also demonstrate that you don’t just ‘talk the talk’ and ‘can’t make one’ yourself.

    I have been researching and applying infographics in teaching in EAP and ESP context based on Toulmin’s argument model. My PhD thesis also examined the possibility of developing students’ argumentation skills using infographics.

    My findings show that visual literacy is not a given. We need to teach students the basics to read, interpret and produce images combining with text. Using infographics is an important initial step to help students understand dense concepts by skipping some of the challenges in reading text. Once they grasp the concepts or content, teacher can ease their students into reading more complex and complicated ideas and readings.

    Imagine if you were a non-native English speaker and struggling with academic reading and writing. The last thing you want is to read another academic journal article that fills with difficult words and sentences.

    Like

  3. Elizabet, thanks for sharing a great idea. Your approach not only breaks down the course and assessment requirements into bite-size for the student. You also demonstrate that you don’t just talk the talk and can make one yourself.

    I have been researching and applying infographics in teaching in EAP and ESP contexts based on Toulmin’s argument model. My PhD thesis also examined the possibility of developing students’ argumentation skills using infographics.

    My findings show that visual literacy is not a given. We must teach students the basics of reading, interpreting and producing images combined with text. Using infographics is an essential initial step to help students understand dense concepts by skipping some challenges in reading text. Once they grasp the concepts or content, the teacher can ease their students into reading more complex and complicated ideas and readings.

    Imagine if you were a non-native English speaker struggling with academic reading and writing. The last thing you want is to read another academic journal article that fills with difficult words and sentences.

    Like

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