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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter handle: @ElizabetStojano
Department for Education (2017) Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework specification