Ever since taking a class with Bill Bigelow at Lewis and Clark College I have been committed to the idea that a history class is most engaging and relevant when the content and concepts are shown and can be experienced or seen by students, not just told to students. The practice of show, don’t tell, can take many forms in the History classroom. As opposed to having the teacher stand in front of the room and deliver content (tell), students can be shown history though debates, role plays, simulations, and many other forms (show). This approach engages students with history and pushes them to critically think about what they are seeing and experiencing so as to make connections within history and grapple with the ideas and concepts in front of them.
The idea of showing history can even go beyond the traditional practices of placing students in a simulated time and place. With the idea in mind of contemplating historical content in a meaningful way, I have been thinking about how else students can see history. I have been interested in seeing how students can literally show history — how the data and statistics of history can be manifested in a visual and thought provoking war. To help in this showing of history I have begun to use and explore the use of infographics in the classroom. Infographics are essential visual representations of data, statistics, and information. While text can be included on infographics, text is not the heart of the product. While I believe in the power of writing so as to communicate ideas this is just one way for students to demonstrate understanding. An infographic engages students in another medium or learning style.
Using infographics challenges students to use a wide array of skills so that they can be the creators of a product and decided how to best make sense of history. There are some great websites out there that students can use to create infographics in organized and eye catching ways. Some of the sites that have been used in my classroom are piktochart, easelly, and infogram. All of these websites have free templates that students can use and manipulate to best display the information.
So why use infographics in the classroom? Infographics push students to think. The creation of an infographic in not a passive activity. There are steps that are needed to be followed so as to create a reliable and interesting product. In my experience it is as if students almost go through a mini design cycle.
First, Students need to research information to be placed on the infographic. Students need to decide what information, data, statistics is the most essential to include as there is not room enough on an infographic for everything. In the research process students still need to seek reliable sources, fact check, and cite. Once the inquiring is done students have to decide how to communicate information in an organized way. What graphics will they use? How will they communicate the vital statistics? These are all skills that students use across subject areas in school but are also skills that can be applied to life outside of school.
In the end through their hard work students are left with a product that shows history. It is visual, it is evidence based, and it did not come from a teacher lecturing them with spoon fed answers. I have had successes and flops with infographics but I do believe that they have a place in the learning process and are valuable in showing history as opposed to telling it.