Project Citizen: infographics as a 21st century skill for public policy

This week, we launched a modified, PBL version of Project Citizen, which aims to have “participants learn how to monitor and influence public policy. In the process, they develop support for democratic values and principles, tolerance, and feelings of political efficacy.”  In the past, this project has gone really well at my school.  Students use the 21st century skills that New Tech has equipped them with in order to engage in important discourse about community problems.  Students conducted their own field research through surveys and interviews.  They made phone calls to leaders and experts.  After their presentations at school (to a panel of school leaders and local officials), some even went on to present to the city council and school board.  The entire project is a big deal not just for the school, but also the community.  Students tackled the topics of bullying, gang involvement, etc..

My added twist to this previously-successful project was to bring in more 21st century skills.  Sure, we’re going to eventually write a definition / position paper, but along the way, I might get them to first critically analyze their data with a focus on how to visualize it.  We are consuming more and more information visually, so I’m hoping that some production/constructivism will add a new level of understanding to the students as not just researchers but also presenters.

Infographics have become a recent special interest of mine since I became a Wired magazine fan.  There are few periodicals that I read cover-to-cover, and Wired is the one I read cover-to-cover most regularly.  They have a number of great infographics in their printed magazine.  Some are even a series, such as the decision-making page that guides you on how to make the best of your nerd dollars, time or space.  If there’s one feature that I’d probably cherish on an iPad, it would be the interactions that could be allowed on Wired’s mobile app.

Anyway, I’ve added infographics as a tease into the rubric.  Previously, graphs were required for each of the survey questions, but those can be so…erm… “Excel”.  Now that many of my sophomores have gone through our Digital Portfolio class, I hope they will take the bait and run with the idea of using Illustrator or Photoshop to draw their audience into their field research.  I plan on using examples that I draw form coolinfographics.com or infographicsarchive.com.  With any luck, some Tweets might even attract their attention so I can have them run a Skype workshop on how to best build infographics (fingers crossed).

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