Engaging Students Using Infographic and Word Cloud

My digital fellowship project is for the Accounting Information Systems course in Spring 2022. The project has two components. One is an infographic assignment on blockchain technology topics, and the other is the use of Kahoot! word cloud to facilitate a discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) ethics.

The Infographic Assignment

In the course, I cover both visualization and blockchain technology topics. Over the past few years, business intelligence tools have become much more scalable and easier to use and now visualization and storytelling are critical skills for business professionals. Blockchain is a very technical (translation: boring) and novel topic. Students may find it difficult to relate their day-to-day life to the technology (well, except for the one who mines Bitcoins). To hit two birds with one stone (disclaimer: I love birds and the boardgame Wingspan), I decide to sugar-coat the technical content with a fun exercise of infographic creation.

The infographic project is assigned after a lecture on visualization and storytelling but before the lecture on blockchain, so that students have the project in mind while learning about blockchain. This is a team project. Students are free to choose any blockchain technology topic based on their interest and create an infographic with the purpose to inform or explain the chosen topic to the general public. Their work is evaluated along two dimensions, creativity and effective use of visuals, by both their peer classmates and me. Students also receive qualitative feedback from everyone. By incorporating competence, autonomy, and relatedness in the assignment like above, I aim to intrinsically motivate students in the learning process and hope they enjoy the exercise.

The primary learning objective of this assignment is for students to gain hands-on experience of applying the lecture content. I also want to foster their visualization mindset and enhance their digital literacy skills by introducing a new visualization tool that is easy to use and trendy at work and in life. Moreover, it is my hope that after completion, the infographics can serve as visual notes for learning the topic as well as artifacts that showcase students’ digital skills.

In terms of resources, apart from examples in the lecture, I also provide a few URLs that have samples good infographics (e.g., https://www.canva.com/learn/best-infographics/ and https://www.visualcapitalist.com/our-top-21-visualizations-of-2021/). Students are encouraged to find a few infographics they like, think about the best features and how to incorporate those features into their own work. For tools, I introduce to students Canva (https://www.canva.com/), Piktochart (https://piktochart.com/), and easel.ly (http://www.easel.ly/). Among all three, Canva has the best tutorials (https://www.canva.com/designschool/tutorials/getting-started/). It is also the tool used by most of my students.

The setup is very easy. Using Canva as an example, students can login to the website with their Gmail credentials and start creating an infographic immediately. Upon completion, they can export their work into a PDF file for dissemination and demonstration.

The success of the initiative is evident from three aspects. First, from my perspective, the quality of the infographics is quite good, especially considering that some students have never created an infographic before. Here are some examples:

Second, each student has offered their peer classmates with constructive feedback. They have highlighted many best features and identified areas for improvement for each infographic. Third, the results of my survey (N=21) based on the Bryn Mawr Digital Competencies Framework are positive. In the survey, I ask students’ perceptions towards this assignment. They answer each question on a 5-point scale from 1-Strongly Disagree to 5-Strongly Agree. Here are some examples of questions and students’ comments:

Word Cloud

It is very tempting to advance technology without careful evaluation of its impacts on human beings, yet that is irresponsible from a moral standpoint. Biased AI applications can prompt users to make unethical decisions. Given that AI technology is so powerful and prevalent, it is important and necessary to encourage students to think critically about this revolutionary technology and understand its implications at work and in life. Thus, I plan to have a discussion on AI ethics in the course.

In discussions on debatable topics, students could be reluctant to share their thoughts with the class when they do not have an organized, complete opinion. However, sometimes “pre-mature” ideas are more intriguing and could lead to richer discussions, because it facilitates spontaneity, curiosity and allows everyone to participate in the same thought process. Another problem is that, after one student provides a complete opinion, the others who see their opinions as similar may be less willing to speak, thinking that they do not have enough to add to the conversation. I would like the class to hear from everyone and feel that they are all in the discussion together and contributing to it. I think a word cloud can help me achieve those goals.

A word cloud is a visual representation of text data. Here is an example:

(source: https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/word-clouds-writing/)

There are many word cloud generators online. I decide to start with Kahoot!, because in my previous teaching, students liked Kahoot! quizzes. The discussion is held after a lecture on the basics of AI technology and biases. After viewing a use case of AI technology in recruitment and employee performance evaluation, students form two groups representing people who support or do not support the AI technology used in the case.

I first use the word cloud function on Kahoot! to collect students’ initial thoughts on both sides. Then I put the two word clouds on the projector screen and keep them there during the discussion. Below is a sample of student’s work:

The keywords captured in the word clouds serve as prompts to help students organize their thoughts. Also, looking at what their peers are thinking, students can connect the prompts from the entire class, expand their thinking and generate new ideas.

My survey (N=18) on students’ perceptions shows that this initiative is effective. Students answer each question in the survey on a 5-point scale from 1-Strongly Disagree to 5-Strongly Agree. Here are some sample questions:

Comments from students also indicate that the word cloud can facilitate better discussions. Here are some examples:

Lessons Learned

So much has been said about the bright side, now let’s look at the caveats.

For the infographic assignment, one thing to note is that if the infographic contains GIF visuals, the GIFs will only work if the output format is MP4. But the resolution of MP4 files is much lower than images or PDFs, which means that some part of the infographic (e.g., where the font is small) can be blurry. In the future, I may have to ask students to avoid using GIFs if there is not a good alternative.

As to the word cloud, I plan to use a different tool next time, based on students’ feedback:

As you can see, the word cloud function in Kahoot! has some limitations. It is exciting to see that using word cloud can greatly motivate students to share their thoughts, and the concern is not being able to share enough. However, the limitations counteract the purpose of the activity, so I will need to find another word cloud tool to use in the future.

Overall, it was a very fun and rewarding journey for both my students and me. I really appreciate the support from the Academic Technology team. I think both infographic and word cloud are very versatile tools and they can be used in other courses to achieve similar teaching goals and more. I would strongly suggest trying them out in other courses and will be more than happy to help in any way I can!

I look forward to hearing more successful (and unsuccessful) stories.

Zhuoyi (Zoe)

May 2022

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