We value collaboration in our classes and with digital tools we can involve students in meaningful communication and community building activities. With the support of digital tools and spaces, teachers can draw upon collaborative theories and practices to design engaging assignments and involve students in participatory learning. Google Drive and other online spaces allow students to communicate, manage teamwork and collaboratively revise documents and presentations. However, like all multimodal platforms, it is not enough to have the tools, we must teach students how to use them effectively and articulate their group processes for future successful collaboration.
Many of us already assign reflective narratives in which we ask students to evaluate and describe their models and processes of collaboration. It is through these kinds of reflective assignments that students come to understand their roles, conflict management strategies, interpersonal dynamics, and the paths of their projects. Reflective narratives give students the opportunity to step back and articulate the ways the processes of collaboration are as significant as the goals and results.
I have used reflective assignments of all kinds for years in all my classes. I usually include regular in-class and online collaborative activities and at least one collaborative project in all of the courses I teach. In this multimodal extension of a collaborative project (any one will do), students create infographics that represent their collaboration models and processes. Like many multimodal assignments, I require them to use both text and image to communicate meaning.
You will find infographics used to communicate information in all aspects of life. Some consider cave drawings an early form of the infographic but they also have worked their way into personal, educational, and professional settings. Digital representations are particularly present on the internet and across other multimodal genres. Whatis.com – an excellent educational tool that has over 75,000 tech definitions and references, defines infographics as
A representation of information in a graphic format designed to make the data easily understandable at a glance. People use infographics to quickly communicate a message, to simplify the presentation of large amounts of data, to see data patterns and relationships, and to monitor changes in variables over time.
Infographics (also often referred to as data visualization) include charts, graphs and diagrams that visually represent ideas, information, concepts and relationships. They can be used on their own or to support or summarize ideas from larger documents or presentations. Although often used to represent data, students can also use them to interpret texts, communicate complex information and give us insight into our communication, processes, obstacles and achievements. Basically, infographics bring together text and image to communicate meaning.
- To introduce students to online tools for collaboration and revision
- To encourage students to reflect on their collaborative processes
- To represent their collaborative processes both textually and visually
Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts and helpful links. I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 16, Design for Print and Digital Writing; Ch. 18, Communicating in Other Media; Ch. 6, Working with Others
- The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help: Ch. 3, Multimodal Assignments, Section 6g; “Collaborate”
- Writing in Action: Ch. 6, Multimodal Assignments; Section 7h, “Collaboration and Communication”
- EasyWriter: Ch. 4, Multimodal Writing; Section 1h, “Collaboration”
- Google Drive – Collaborative Online Team Space
- Piktochart or any other online, infographic generator
The purpose of this assignment is to have students reflect on their processes of collaboration, including a description and analysis of their online collaborative space.
- I start by introducing definitions and examples of infographics and data visualization and then send students to the Web to look for examples and ideas. Sites such as Daily Infographic website offer great categorized clearinghouses of infographics for all kinds of purposes, audiences, and contexts. Students can work together to discuss ideas, observations, and rhetorical criteria that make up this genre.
- I have each team compose a collaborative process reflection as part of their project. Once again I turn them to their Google Drive space to collaboratively compose and revise this document as a team. The real time revision tools allow students to discuss, draft, revise, and edit their documents. I ask them to explore, in writing, their processes of collaboration, negotiation, and composition for a public audience to explain their group experiences to outsiders. They should reflect upon the group dynamics, processes of collaboration, and project results. Students also compose a similar, individual reflection - this time with a teacher audience in mind to submit in their evaluation folders. In these individual reflections, they also evaluate their team-members group performance and assign each person a letter grade along with a justification of their teammates’ roles and contributions (I average these together and include them as a substantial part of their grade on their projects – along with other components and criteria. See Group Processes and Evaluation Assignment and percentage breakdown.).
- Once the draft is completed teams compose a multimodal infographic that represents their processes. The visual/infographics should describe and illustrate their collaborative processes and the organization of their online team space as they represent the different ways they communicated as a team. The challenge is to visually represent their processes of collaboration, including invention drafting, revising, and editing along with the processes, goals, and interpersonal dynamics of their group. They should also include a written explanation for their infographics.
The infographic should cover their processes of collaboration, including
- Group Roles and structure
- Connection to collaborative theories and models.
- Collaborative Writing and Revision Processes
- The story of their collaboration
Reflections on the Activity
I have included excerpts from each team’s reflective process statements. They provide insight into what students were trying to communicate through their infographics. I also have visual examples of each team’s projects on the Digital Collaboration page of my website.
“Our infographic can be divided into three parts: introduction, collaboration process and the data diagram. “About the action project” is the general introduction about our action group. We convey our project time, location, goals and perspectives. The very right vertical column shows each group member’s Gmail pictures and names.”
This team also indicates that the infographic is divided into two parts – the upper that explains the flow of the process and the lower that designates the roles of the members. They include a “data diagram” in which they reveal communication statistics about their project such as social media postings, emails and other forms of communication.
Team 2* attempted to show organization and structure. And, since everything did not go on “without a hitch” they wanted to represent some of their team’s conflicts and resolutions. They reflect on the connection between communication and integration.
“Without communicating we would've never branched out, or solved any of our problems. In fact this project would not have been done if we did not work together. It would have been too much for one individual to handle alone, and do well. We needed each other to each build each block to make this work and make the project a success. We want those who look at this infographic to know if you truly work together to solve issues, and communicate they can accomplish anything.”
Team 3 believed that infographics should present complex information quickly and clearly to the viewer. They refer to Edward Tufte from his book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; one of the main objectives of an infographic is to “induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the technology of graphic production.” Their infographic reflects this philosophy.
*Note: Both Team 2 and 3 used Piktochart, an online infographic generator.
Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website Acts of Composition