[slides graciously prepared and shared by Lisa Thumann]

Today in the thick of the congressional battle over the debt ceiling bill, the Obama team published what they viewed as clearly a critical important communication in support of their agenda: an infographic.   Increasingly, I think we are recognizing that in age of information saturation, we must become more effective in communicating key ideas, facts, and statistics, and graphic representations of these data are valuable tools for this.

(Please note that I am not posting this to support any political agenda, and I am really unsure whether I support this bill at all, nor as an example of an especially effective infographic, but rather as an example of their role and growing significance in communication today).

Last week I attended edubloggerconEast, in Boston, and my good friend Lisa Thumann presented an “Ignite” session as a sort of keynote. Ignite sessions, as an aside, are something that would be terrific to experiment more with in our schools, both by our students and teachers: they could present a nice way to refresh the old standby, what I did this summer, into a more dynamic presentation format that requires close attention to visual communication and public speaking.

About Ignite, from Wikipedia:

Ignite is a global event, organized by volunteers, where participants are given five minutes to speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions, accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced. The Ignite format is similar to Pecha Kucha, which features 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each. The presentations are meant to “ignite” the audience on a subject, i.e. to generate awareness and to stimulate thought and action on the subjects presented.

As a prominent EdTech trainer in New Jersey, Lisa posed the following question:  What’s the next big thing in ed tech?  Her answer:  Infographics.  She explained that free online tools for creating infographics have now become widely available and more user friendly, just at the same time when the importance of effective visual communication is cresting from useful to essential.   She also promised her audience, bloggers everyone of us, that using infographics on our blog will dramatically increase our readership.

This very same week I encountered a very similar message in the new book by John Maeda, President of RISD.   In the book, entitled Redesigning Leadership: Design, Technology, Business, Life, he explains that

The ability to make sense with a simple picture is powerful…. Consider a data table: When they are revealed in visual form, clear relationships can be ascertained…. Seeing the whole picture for the first time can change how you feel and move you to action.

“What the heck is an infographic?”  Lisa asks above, slide 20, in an infographic format, and answers it the same way: “It’s a great big picture, with good interpretation, good data, and it is good looking.”

A link is provided in the slides, and here, to a terrific guide by a longtime New York Times graphic designer, Lisa Slobin, called 7 1/2 steps to terrific Infographics.  Teachers considering developing infographic curricula will find this very helpful.

Lisa also kindly shared suggestions for these new online resources for preparing your own infographics.

Another site to recommend in this regard is the absolutely fabulous resource, Information is Beautiful.

In the office today, I found myself thinking about three or four ways we could use infographics to better communicate changes we are aking at the school: a redefined administrative position, a broad curricular reform, and a new student diploma program.

As we think about the central and essential skills we wish to foster in our students, effective communication always rises very nearly to the top.  I believe that written communication is as essential as it ever has been, but I think we can do well by our students to cultivate broader communication skills alongside writing, believing that if they can clarify their own thinking with powerful visual imagery, their writing itself will improve as they develop these powerful parallel communication tools.

Infographics may not be the next big thing, and Edward Tufte has been promoting them for years, but with these new tools available, and the demand for clear and powerful communication rising swiftly,  they are an exciting “next thing.”