Thursday, April 28, 2016

Infographics in Two Ways


This year I wanted to use infographics with my 5th grade students to explore visual design. This format provides a rich vehicle to teach color, typography, and even statistics. Earlier in the year my 5th grade students explored Canva.com and they recently used a Google Drawing template. This post will look at the product from each and compare the two experiences.


Canva


Canva came very well recommended by my PLN and I jumped in with two feet. I created a free account for my teachers to be in compliance with COPPA and had students share a log in. The tool managed multiple sign-ins well, although it would occasionally freeze under the strain. When this happened, students learned to save their graphic and refresh the browser. It wasn’t a big deal and I have no doubt that our experience would have been smooth if we were able to create individual accounts using our student Google sign-ins.
I LOVED the Canva design school. Canva provides resources and slide decks for teaching, but I particularly appreciated the Canva lessons found behind the sign in wall. The lessons use Canva’s interface to teach the basics of graphic design in discrete tutorials, including one on making infographics. Students proceed through these lessons at their own pace and I stop them periodically to discuss what they’ve learned.
My students used Canva to create infographics to share what they learned after studying a U.S. State. Although they found the Canva interface intuitive, we discovered that it doesn’t easily support long form content, preferring designs with quick facts. Students needed to set very small type sizes in order to accommodate paragraph-style writing and much of their research was left in their notes.  In fairness, I’ve found Canva works quite well for succinct posters and web graphics, but you might want to try a different tool if you want your class project to feature deeper content.


Google Drawing

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We decided to use Google Drawing to create posters for a fifth grade heritage project. Students had interviewed teachers about their family histories and they needed a way to design posters to showcase what they’d learned.  I turned to Google Drawing after realizing that Canva wasn’t well suited for long form content. In the past we used Apple’s Pages for this project, but found the number of templates in the new Pages thin and the collaborative capabilities were limiting. Collaboration was important as our students were working groups.
A lack of templates is a mixed blessing. In the past, the Pages templates would be too guiding, robbing students of important design decisions. On the other hand, we didn’t really have time to start completely from scratch and created a nice middle ground by starting with a Google Drawing template.
The template was inspired by the “Grid” designs in Canva. Students pick a grid from the left margin and scale it to fit the poster.  Once scaled, the grid can be ungrouped, colorized, reorganized, or completely redesigned. The image crop, text boxes, or simply double clicking the cells provided by the grids create a flexible and easy to use solution. On the right of the page are items from Google’s Infographic Toolkit and icons from a SlidesCarnival presentation. Students can use these elements as necessary. Best of all, both members of each team are able to edit at the same time using their Chromebooks. The built in commenting feature was welcome and comfortable from a teacher’s perspective. Compared with Canva, it should be no surprise that I found it much easier to provide feedback to students with Google Drawing.



Conclusion


Both Canva and Google Drawings are capable tools for Infographics. I think the Google Drawing project was more successful, but I honestly wonder if that’s not in part because of the Canva experience they had earlier in the year. The Canva Design School is really well done and students benefited from what they learned during the project. I still have students who are choosing Canva for various projects which is a testament to the tool. That said, Google Drawing is an amazing and flexible powerhouse. The grid system, co-opted from Canva, was a big advance in how this project developed. I will still use Canva earlier in the year, but students will link from the various infographic sections to a Google Doc for more information. The Canva component will work like a magazine insert, rather than a stand alone product. We’ll also stick with the Google Drawing poster - it’s a winner.