Visual Thinking, Branching Scenarios, and Mind Mapping

What’s the best way to demonstrate the relationship among concepts, key terms, events, significant characters, themes, and other pieces of course content?

Visual representations of your topic can really help students see which items work together and which items are in tension with one another. The tools outlined in this post tilt a little more toward the concept-mapping and diagramming end of things, although they certainly could be used to illustrate digital story elements like branching scenarios and diminishing choices.

I’ve covered a few products below, and Chris Clark at the University of Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning offers a nice discussion of the myriad ways to use graphic organizers and mind maps.

Lucidchart is more of a whiteboard diagramming tool, but it supports Venn diagrams, flowcharts, and site maps, and org charts. Templates (including those for software, network, and systems design), objects, shapes and fonts are provided; you can also upload your own photos and embed documents. LucidChart offers free educational licenses (equivalent to the Team-level premium option in terms of features).

LucidChart is a pretty powerful collaborative option. With this tool, all content is created online and stored in the cloud. This certainly makes collaboration easier, whether your students are working together to build a scenario or whether you are working with colleagues to connect content from various disciplines. All changes appear in real-time and there is no limit to the number of users who can collaborate on a document; conveniently, there is an embedded group chat feature. Revision history is also available. When your work is complete, you can publish to the web or PDF.

Below is a brief Lucidchart demo:

Creately is similar to Lucidchart in that it is also a mapping whiteboard with a variety of export/import, template, and privacy options. Creately also offers desktop software that you can use on your computer if you happen to be offline; the next time you connect to the internet, the software will automatically sync with your content in the cloud. Alas, Creately isn’t free: the cloud-based version costs $5 per month for a single user and $25 for up to 5 users, though the price is reduced for charity or open-source projects. The desktop software bills separately.

Below is a brief Creately demo:

Spicynodes is another diagramming / concept map tool. The emphasis here is more on organization and brevity, quickly displaying relevant information so that a reader scanning the content can locate exactly what she needs. I like that you can integrate images, links, videos, and audio files. Spicynodes also has previous / next arrows in several foreign languages. Alas, it is flash-based, so you’ll want to think about that and device compatibility, depending on how / when you will use spicynodes; Spicynodes is primarily designed to be published online, on a website or blog. The free version allows you to create an unlimited number of node maps, although some of the nice features (in terms of design, privacy controls, and collaboration) are reserved for the paid subscriptions. As other reviewers have noted, the American Association of School Librarians selected SpicyNodes as one of its 2011 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

Here is a sample spicynode (click on the image to be taken to a new page where you can experience the interactive features).

sample spicynode image showing center topic question and related questions

Last, we’ve talked about Prezi before on this blog, but Prezi is also a great tool for allowing learners some choice in how they relate pieces of content to each other. Focusing the branching scenarios and content clusters around topics, themes, characters, situations, diagnoses, etc. lets students actively engage with course content. Here is an example from Ian Beatty showing how a prezi concept map can help introduce students to key course concepts (this was published on Derek Bruff’s blog).


Better yet, Derek’s blog post includes examples of how concept maps can be used at the beginning, middle, and end of a course. This really does seem like great way to share a road map for the course, transition between topics, or synthesize knowledge at the conclusion of the class.

Do you have a favorite digital visualization tool? Or favorite way to use such tools in your course? We’d love to hear about it!

Xtranormal is Ending

We’ve discussed the animation-creation website Xtranormal a few times. Now it looks like Xtranormal will be no more (at least not in the way it was). Xtranormal, we hardly knew ye. Where else will we get our snarky videos about awkward social situations?

You have until July 31st to complete any Xtranormal projects and download all your content.

Go!Animate is a reasonable alternative; you might also consult this list of Five Innovative Animation Tools.

Animations remain a great way to introduce a topic, start a discussion based on a model scenario, or highlight other applications of course content. You or your students can easily create animations. Generally, one begins by selecting, creating, or uploading avatars and backgrounds; then typing in the text the avatars will speak; and last adding other effects (music, captions, links, etc.).

Data Visualization Tools

As a follow-up to my earlier post about templates for student research posters, I wanted to share a list of the top 20 data visualization tools, according to informatician Brian Suda.

Data visualization tools nicely bridge the gap between data analysis and the communication of results: sometimes they can help you and your student researchers discover new findings, and sometimes they can help the larger audience really grasp the significance of the work that has been done. A win either way, right?

Best, the list above includes a diverse set of tools. Tools listed range from the very basic and very user-friendly to more complex and code-driven options. Online and offline options are provided. The list also reflects the fact that data output takes many forms, offering tools for making graphs, charts, maps, as well as infographics and interactive data visualizations.

(Many thanks to Kim Mann and the Academic Technology blog at the College of William & Mary for drawing my attention to this resource!)

Templates for Student Research Posters

Whenever I see student research posters, I’m always amazed at the wonderful work our students do: these posters are really detailed and complex.

Throughout my education, the emphasis was largely on the components of good research questions and the varieties of data collection, manipulation, and analysis. Figuring out how to communicate my results was a secondary topic, if it was addressed at all.

And yet, presenting data is a very different skill from analyzing data.

Enter Colin Purrington and his downloadable templates for conference posters. Purrington, a former biology professor at Swarthmore College, provides some truly elegant poster templates. The page is long, but it’s useful, well-written, and quite clever. He also offers a wealth of design advice, including tips on layout, logos, typesetting, color choice, and other things which – when done correctly – can make a poster sing. There’s even an example of what not to do, and several suggestions about how to solicit feedback on your poster.

In helping your students put together their posters, you can share posters you’ve made, posters from conferences you’ve attended, as well as other online examples. But there’s nothing like a well-designed template (or five!) to help students clearly present their findings and teach them the very specific academic skill of poster creation. Successful poster design really is part of acculturation into the academy, requiring that students not only master the skills of summarizing their research and making wise design choices, but also gain an awareness of disciplinary norms and presentation styles.

Although Purrington’s examples and templates favor conference posters for the hard sciences, it would be easy enough to adapt the templates for many social science research presentations.

There’s no need to re-invent the (conference poster) wheel. Note, however, that you must cite the developer of the wheel in some instances. You may use Purrington’s templates without acknowledgement; but should you use text directly from his page, you’ll need to do the right thing. On that note, I originally found out about Colin Purrington via a post on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Percolator blog.

Flickr

I’m a huge fan of the photo sharing site Flickr, especially since they finally got it together and released some Flickr apps for smartphones and a Flickr app for the iPad. However, I understood Flickr to be primarily place where you uploaded all 2,347 pictures of your new baby (ahem). But recently I’ve run across a few other blog posts detailing the scholarly side of Flickr. Who knew?!

The Academic Technology blog at the College of William and Mary has a great post discussing the options for sharing your research-related images. How do you share a gallery of annotated images with select individuals without the need for additional accounts on the part of the viewers? A Flickr album!

Note that the above presumes you have – and have the rights to use – the images. If you’d like to use properly licensed Flickr images, there’s a lovely how-to from Derek Bruff, the director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the department of mathematics there. ProfHacker has also recently outlined how to use Flickr to make better slides.

If you’re not finding the images you need through Flickr, you can always try Google: we’ve written about finding properly licensed images using Google image search.

And, in case you feel like going image-crazy, here is a past post of ours about the ways in which you might find, edit, and use digital images.

Infographics

We’ve mentioned infographics before and we share them with you quite frequently, but we haven’t yet devoted a separate post to the process by which one can make an infographic. As the revelry of fall fades away, Thanksgiving seems ever-distant, and the reading keeps coming, why not mix things up with an infographic?

Infographics are visual representations of data built around a theme. In telling their story, infographics usually have a mix of several small pictographs, a fair amount of data presented in chart/graph form, and a few short paragraphs and key sentences.

Consider my favorite (meta-) example:

Edudemic has a nice summary of the background and educational theory of infographics in their Ultimate Guide to Infographics. They’ve also gathered an informative assortment of education infographics. While the story each infographic tells is interesting, the ways in which the creators have used color, data, images, fonts, and manipulated the size of different design elements provide great examples for those of us thinking about making our own infographics.

You can use the resources below to create one (or multiple) infographics to start discussion with your students. What a great way to illustrate different perspectives, time frames, or sub-topics in a quick and engaging format.

Alternately, it seems to me that creating infographics could be an intriguing exercise for students. Derek Bruff, Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, has a nice two-part blog post in which he lays out the logic behind an infographic assignment he gave his statistics students in the spring, the ways in which he prepared his students to look critically at visual presentations of data / information, how he created and refined the grading rubric, what tools his students used, and the terrific infographics they produced (post one and post two).

Without further ado, the infographic tools:

Infogr.am lets you easily create your own infographics. Using their simple interface and templates, you can upload your own data (in Excel or csv format), add video if you’d like, and then share your product on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, the web, or grab the embed code provided underneath your finished infographic and put your design anywhere you’d like. If, for example, you’d like to place your infographic in your Pearson LearningStudio course shell, you can do so by pasting the embed code into the HTML view in the visual editor, as our documentation illustrates.

Visual.ly is another infographic generator. Although it may not be as user-friendly as other options, visual.ly is specifically designed to help create comparison-based infographics. You can use their provided templates and then enter a pair of Twitter or Facebook accounts, hashtags, or webpages about which you’d like visual.ly to produce attractive statistics. I think the comparison feature is a nice angle, and certainly a real aid in framing a data-driven visual story.

For a bit of navel-gazing, or perhaps as part of a larger project about society or self, Intel’s What About Me? infographic engine offers to create an infographic based on your Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook profiles (or a combination of all three).

If the options above aren’t quite meeting your needs, you might take a peek at this list of 20 Web 2.0 Tools for Creating Infographics. If you’re still searching – either for theory, examples, data sources, or infographic tools / tutorials – Daily Tekk has a list of 100 Incredible Infographic Tools (these are broken into separate topics, thankfully!)

Last, if you’re using infographics in your course or considering doing so, we’d love to hear from you!

Finding Properly Licensed Images for your Course

First, an update to an earlier post of ours regarding how to find images with the proper use licenses, so that you can feel absolutely comfortable using said images in your course. It seems that Google’s layout has changed a little, so here is how you would do this in the current Google set-up.

To find a properly licensed Google Image:
1. Go to Google and click on the word “Images” on the left-hand side of the options running across the top of the page (in the black bar). This will ensure that you are only searching images.

2. Enter your search terms in the box. Hit enter or click on the blue magnifying glass button to see the results of the simple search for your image.

3. To refine your results for the type of use that fit your needs, google image search settings buttonclick on the settings button (see image at right). The button is located in the upper right corner, just above the returned images.

4. From the drop-down menu that appears, select Advanced Search.

5. On the new search page (which will have retained your original search term), scroll down to the very bottom for the usage rights options. Click on the drop-down menu to select the use that matches your needs.

6. Click the blue Advanced Search button, just underneath the usage rights field, and watch your results appear. Voilà!

Of course, Google is only one way to locate the right legal image. Pearson’s online education blog has a very informative post reviewing several options for locating free and properly licensed images. Building on that post, which mentions Flickr as an option for images, ProfHacker has some advice about the easiest way to search Flickr for Creative Commons licensed photos.

Last, once you’ve located all those amazing and legal images, here is the documentation from the Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence regarding how to put images in your Pearson LearningStudio course shell.

p.s. If you’re still on the fence about using images in your course or would like a review of what Creative Commons licensing is all about, we’ve got you covered in this post from our archives.