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  • Friday, 17 November 2017

    Designing infographics on educational inequalities in Cape Town's wards- a new #UCT Media Studies project.

    Written for Media Studies educators interested in teaching data journalism and infographic poster design.

    A new infographic poster design course (FAM2017S)


    Professor Marion Walton, Dr Martha Evans and I recently prepared a five week course in which I taught second year journalism students to design infographic posters that focused on educational inequalities in two Cape Town wards.

    The course comprised the following lessons (which dovetailed with Martha's on article layout):
    week 1: Introducing typography;
    week 2: Designing an online identity using type, shapes and paths;
    week 3: Introducing infographics and preparing a poster template;
    week 4: Exporting data from youthexplorer.org.za and designing charts;
    week 5: Short infographic poster presentations by students for assessment.

    All students had access to the Mendi lab, where they could learn to use Adobe Illustrator for detailed design work and Microsoft Excel for chart design. Most students had already been to a workshop that introduced them to youthexplorer.org.za. I taught its use for exporting Excel files, cleaning their data and preparing various comparative charts. Students also had the option of using Adobe InDesign in class or a similar alternative at home.

    A diverse group of students produced work in different infographic sub-genres in response to the lessons. The posters were shared to their blogs (see my Diigo social bookmark index for the public ones), as well as to other online accounts as part of the assessment process.

    Fast facts infographic poster by Ester van der Walt, 2017



    Infographic chart diagram by Jamie Kawalsky, 2017:




    Academic research poster by Alana Schreiber, 2017:


    These three posters exemplified the high-quality work that most students achieved and the innovation of those who departed from my academic research poster that I designed as an example for the course:



    Recommended changes to the course

    Being the first course of its kind, several ideas emerged in the process that could improve it for next year:

    Technical recommendations:

    #1 Support maximum flexibility in terms of software choice
    Many students could not make every lesson due to anxiety over their safety. Violent protests at UCT by the #feemustfall movement and the near-militarisation of campus with private security and police resulted in students feeling anxious and unsafe. In response, they were granted increasing freedom to choose the software they had access to. While most students continued to use Adobe, several chose to use Microsoft Word, one Google Docs and another infogram.com).

    #2 Prepare teaching materials on export options for best quality 
    Students found exporting imagery to be challenging and will require better support materials on achieving quality exports. This is particularly important given the varied software that students may need to use.

    #3 Prepare support material on compressing files
    For assessment, students had to submit six files to Vula, UCT's intranet. An upload limit of 4MB on particular file formats, meant that several students required email advice on compressing their files close to the submission deadline. Again, support material should be provided upfront for students on compressing the graphics in their files, creating compressed web-friendly, low-res versions and also archiving their work to .zip formats. Interestingly, the students who compressed their work in .zip files could upload large files.

    #4 Organise that fewer files have to be submitted for assessment
    Students submitted at least five files, which enabled the assessors to appreciate the process behind students' poster, rather than just the final project. While such insight proved valuable, it was highly time-consuming to assess, especially when combined with checking how students shared their work online. Consideration must be given to whether there is a more efficient way to assess the process.

    Content recommendations:

    #5 Emphasise the importance of curation as a digital literacy with new slides
    For students keen to work in data journalism, it’s highly important that they develop digital curation literacies. While this was spoken of in lessons and foregrounded through an assessment process that required students to evidence their process through uploading their source logo, chart- and poster files in addition to final work, it could be better emphasised. For example, the insights of Potter (2012) and his 'Curation and Media Education' manifesto could be drawn on for developing dedicated slides. These should highlight the benefits of having an archive of one's source documents and process, so that they can be refined, corrected or referred back in the case viewers raise concerns about their accuracy.

    #6 Provide examples for students' diverse work in the infographic genre
    Innovation was an important assessment criteria for students' work. The examples above should be used to suggest to students the wide variety of options they can choose from, rather than replicating my poster's look-and-feel, as a few defaulted to.

    #7 Present a work-in-progress for early assessment
    Rather than assessing all work at the end, a draft presentation followed by a final submission would work better next year. This will give those students who went for the wrong goalposts feedback they can use to adjust their direction.

    #8 Introduce students to how South African sociologists in education explain local educational inequalities
    To improve their analysis, students would benefit from being exposed to South African research into educational inequalities and relevant concepts from educational sociology. Students would also benefit from seeing examples of what not to do. For example, do not confuse correlation (i.e. high internet access..) with causation (... supports a high matric pass rate! Rather internet access is a marker of privilege that is often linked to households that can afford better schooling).

    N.B. You are most welcome to suggest further recommendations in the comments box below, ta!

    Sunday, 28 May 2017

    Feedback on a workshop for coding research conference abstracts and exploring academic impact


    Report back on the workshop focused on coding the SACOMM conferences from 2011 to 2016.

    Over forty MA and Honours students attended the short workshop.  For convenience, they split into five teams based on where they sat. No teams used software for coding (while two Masters students planned to use NVivo this year, neither had installed it or done training*), but rather used highlighters, pens or pencils.

    Phase 1 Teams code conferences using key themes
    In phase 1, each group focused on coding one whole programme (excluding their plenaries, workshops or sections without authors/titles) rather than a particular section. Teams preferred this approach as students tended to have very different individual foci, making it difficult for them to focus on just one section. The workshop’s timeframe proved overly-ambitious: the groups took longer than anticipated to define their shared themes and create a team coding index. There were also more basic queries; i.e. on what a conference is, who gets to participate, etc.

    Each team coded one full program using common themes they chose either from their individual ones or new ones reflecting a shared team interest. Based on a review of the teams' coding choices, the themes for each were most likely:
    Group A (2011 schedule) > marginalized groups, low income, discourse analysis, social media
    Group B (2012 IAMCR programme) >  social media, university students, media effects, health advocacy
    Group C (2013) > social media, newspaper journalism, health, Africa
    Group D (2014 & 15's) > social media, marginal identities, gender, race/decolonization   
    Group E (2016's) > social media, identity, fake news, discourse analysis

    Despite individual diversity, it was notable that all teams shared ‘social media’ as an interest. Themes linked to social origins, identity and health advocacy also proved common.

    Team A leader's notes: her interests (top), her team's themes (bottom) and impact notes
    Figure 1. Team A leader's notes: her interests (top), her team's themes (bottom) and impact notes 
    Such similar interests supported discussion of changes over time at SACOMM. In relating each team's feedback on what they found to the others, we learnt that:
    1. Social media has been covered increasingly at SACOMM from 2011. It has risen from just a few to over 50 citations. However, in my review of their codings, it was evident that some teams used ‘social media’ too broadly (for example, covering any papers that included ‘internet technologies’ or ‘technical policy’, which would not accord with a strict definition of ‘social media’). 
    2. While advocacy was well-represented by many presenters at IAMCR, it has been poorly represented in SACOMM conferences. 
    3. Linked to that, issues related to marginal identities, decolonization and Africa were seldom focused on by SACOMM's presenters between 2011 and 2016.
    4. In doing their coding, students had to decide on changing topical theme words (i.e. ‘fake news’...) to synonyms (... changed to ‘propaganda’) for achieving matches. Some students noted that the lengthy gap between conference submission and acceptance (6 months) would seem to pose an obstacle for "hot topics" to be addressed at SACOMM. By contrast, team E also identified where topical trends for the year, such as  #feesmustfall, had been addressed by several speakers. 
    Such disconnects (2&3) between the teams' interests and the conventional foci of SACOMM's presenters seemed mirrored in students' disinterest in attending; at most, three would attend 2017's conference**. Its theme is 'Locating the power of communication in a time of radical change' and its presenters may well focus on topics that resonate better with postgraduate UCT media studies students' thematic interests. 2016 saw the emergence of a very energetic 'emerging scholars group' at SACOMM managed by a team of PhD students. They should hopefully also be highly visible at the Rhodes conference (email feedback from Professor Keyan Tomaselli).

    Phase 2 Teams explore research impact using top five articles
    Each team selected five papers that resonated most with their shared focus. The teams did online searches to explore different types of research impact; four focussed on which presentations were linked to online publications, while the fifth focused on researchers’ different types of social media presences and whether these were linked to SACOMM papers.

    The overall feedback was :
    1.  For research articles, the impact following paper presentation was highly uneven.
    2. It proved hard to source any of the original papers (or presentations) online. Such poor online availability seemed tied to the optional status of submitting full papers to SACOMM.
    3. Most of the research articles linked to papers had few, or no, citations.
    4. A well-cited paper on Arab bloggers seemed timely in presaging the major political uprisings of the 'Arab Spring'.
    5. Researchers differed widely in using social media platforms, which ranged from Facebook to LinkedIn and ResearchGate. Few academics used a combination of platforms to create an overall online identity as an academic researcher.

    Changes to the workshop
    Feedback on the workshop was mostly positive as it provided many students with their first view of a conference programme and its coding assisted them to establish a broader view of local work done in their field.

    Two changes could improve the workshop significantly: In hindsight, I should have prepared a worksheet for each team’s leader to complete as a target. Figure 1 was the best example of a hardcopy summary; the other teams' provided less information (for example, see Figure 2's summary) or even none.

    Example of conference coding 25 May 2017
    Figure 2. Example of conference coding 25 May 2017
    I briefly addressed using Google Scholar Advanced Search syntax, but should also have printed out hardcopy guides for students' ease-of-reference. Worksheets would also have been helpful for checking students' application of search syntax.

    * One student plans to do a social media project looking at two international church groups’ Facebook page branding in South Africa, the other student plans to explore an under-resourced fishing community’s use of social media in Hangberg, Hout Bay.
    ** One student had submitted an abstract and one would attend as part of her job, if asked.

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