Polman, J. L., & Gebre, E. H. (2015). Towards critical appraisal of infographics as scientific inscriptions. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(6), 868–893.
This study ultimately sought to inform efforts to design learning environments with infographics. To that end, the researchers asked, “How do different groups of experts appraise science infographics?” Polman and Gebre interviewed 10 professionals with expertise in three fields: science (N = 4), science graphic design (N = 3), and representations in STEM education (N = 3). Each participant interpreted and evaluated two infographics, such as Dirty Water and Animals in the House . Interviews lasted 39 minutes on average. The researchers transcribed each interview and qualitatively coded the interview responses for the kinds of practices the professionals used.
The authors found that the individuals appraised science infographics with respect to five broad categories:
- The infographics’ purpose or message
- Their relevance to their audience
- The quality of their organization and design
- Their use of representations
- The quality of their data
Polman and Gebre then frame these five categories in three broader dimensions:
- Purpose, or potential impact on a target audience
- Content, or the merits of the data
- Clarity of representation
Polman and Gebre base their work on sociocultural theories of learning, which posit that groups of people use language to build cultural communities of mutual understanding, called “discourse communities.” They argue that infographics are a part of the cultural discourse that science communities can use in their practice. Thus, teaching people how to use infographics is a necessary part of bringing them into scientific discourse communities.
Implications for Practice
The authors highlight the following implications for how educators could use infographics to support students in scientific practices such as question formulation, explanation, and communication.
- Inquire about an infographic’s target audience
- Ask what message the infographic is trying to convey
- Ask how the particular content contributes to the infographic’s message
- Engage students in redesigning an infographic to improve its design, content, or purpose
- Ask critical questions, such as the implications of omitting certain content
- Examine the completeness or incompleteness of the data
- Interrogate the credibility of the sources
- Consider alternative ways of organizing and representing the data
- Build their own infographics with attention to purpose, content, and representation
Finally, the authors caution that this work is an introductory study in the nascent field of infographics communication. More research is needed to fully understand how to teach learners to interpret, create, or work with infographics.