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 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 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

#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.

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Media Studies workshop for students on coding research conference abstracts and exploring academic impact

This post describes a short workshop with UCT Honors and MA in Media Studies students. They are taught to code a local communication conference's programmes according to their team's research keywords. The academic impact of select conference papers are also coded and explored.


Today’s workshop focuses on exploring what presenters at the South African Communication Association (SACOMM) annual conference have shared there since 2011. In the first half (phase 1), you are going to review at least two program in teams with a similar research interest (or theme) to yours. I trust that your team will find local presenters whose focus resonates with yours. In the second half, you will explore whether there was any dialogue between the papers you coded or other forms of academic impact. The workshop is intended to help you to develop a better understanding of SACOMM's papers, which could be added to the literature reviews you need to do for research. At best, you’ll identify some important gaps at SACOMM and be inspired to think how your end of year project(s) could address these and what types of academic impact that could make.

> phase 1
2pm Introduction, split into teams and linked research coding scheme discussion
2.20 Teams code two SACOMM programmes (or more!) and explore links related to their focus
2.45 Teams define what they found in a document, discuss what they found across conferences and email it to me
> phase 2
3pm Coding research impact discussion
3.15 Teams explore research impact of shortlisted papers
3.40 Teams prepare a document on the the impacts they found and share key insights with us

Professor Keyan Tomaselli has suggested that the outputs of the workshop be used in a plenary session at SACOMM 2017, hence the importance of each group emailing me their findings in a document. Please include your names in it for acknowledgement.


SACOMM is an interdisciplinary conference that offers an opportunity to learn about the philosophies of communication science, critical communication studies, or cultural and media studies and how these engage with each other (Tomaselli, 2005). It is the sole functioning local disciplinary association for these studies and can offer a valuable forum for the disciplines and paradigms represented by its epistemologically diverse membership.

SACOMM’s program typically represents four areas of interest: Media Studies and Journalism (1), Film (2),  Corporate Communication (3) and Communication in General (4). The four interests may be elaborated or expressed differently at each conference. For example, this year’s conference ( includes streams for: Screen Studies (5), Communication education and curriculum development (6) and Communications advocacy and activism (7).

N.B. For more on SACOMM’s history and development, please read Professor Keyan Tomaselli’s Internationalising Media Studies: The South/ern African Communication Association (2007) and Ideological contestation and disciplinary associations: An autoethnographic analysis (2016) 

> Split into teams
Let’s split into research teams that match the interest group areas of the class. Just checking that these are..: Media Studies and Journalism (1), Film (2), Screen Studies (5) and Communications advocacy and activism (7)?

Please would the “ones” raise their hands and move to the far left. “Twos” move next to them and so on, so that we can have a good idea of how big teams 1, 2, 5 and 7 are, ta (and if there are "teams of one")! Being an inter-disciplinary researcher, I appreciate that some of your work may bridge categories, so please bulk up a team on your second choice if you can. Each team can collect a SACOMM annual conference program from this desk, now.

> SACOMM (& IAMCR 2012) schedule and programs (2011 - 2016)
For those keen to reference the digital files, please note that there is no central archive of SACOMM’s programmes before 2014. Here are links to what is available on SACOMM’s site from 2014. Plus, I’ve uploaded 2013 and 2011 to my Google Docs, which are public:

2016 schedule/programme

2013 schedule/programme with abstracts

 SACOMM absorbed into International Association for Media and Communication Research conference at UKZN- schedule/programme with abstracts
A significant observation from the Durban IAMCR conference is that there were double the number of paper proposals from SA based communication scholars than when SACOMM's conference was not twinned with an overseas organization!

2013 schedule/programme with abstracts

Those using CAQDAS may want to classify the source data by (year), conference (type) and type of document (programme or schedule).

> Define your interests
Your team’s researchers may have very different research interests. To create a shared list, each of you should write up to three keywords that are essential to your end-of-year project and number each by priority. For example, my Google Scholar profile lists five: creative producers (1), digital identity (2), habitus (3), infrastructure (4) and e-portfolio (5). These concisely describe my research focus and are ordered by priority. Each team should shortlist its most commonly chosen keywords. It must then formulate the coding index for your team’s foremost shared interests and share that with us.

> Coding the programs/schedules and abstracts and linking them to your research focus
Our next step is for each team to apply its coding index to a schedule. As you’ll notice when comparing the conference documents, most are extensive in providing a schedule and the abstracts. However, 2015’s only shows you the schedule. Here, you’d need to base your judgement of a link solely on the paper’s title. Given time constraints, your group might choose to focus only on titles and go through all 5 programs if you struggle to find research that resonates. Those teams that find strong resonance for several keywords may rather choose to do a detailed review of two conferences’ abstracts when searching for links.

It is easiest to code manually on hardcopies with highlighters. Alternatively, if you have experience with computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (whether it be NVivo, one listed under or another) you can import the relevant document (see links below) for coding. There’s always Excel, too!

Once you have completed the section(s) that match your interest, move onto the next program and code it. Since the programmes have been printed single-sided and are not stapled together, I trust you will be able to share different sections of the same programme between teams with contrasting foci. 

> Nothing to code?
Should you find no matching ‘keywords’ in your section; you could change your keyword coding index as a “Plan B”. Or Plan C would see your team rather focus on papers whose methods or research tools link to those you plan to use in future research.

The Media Studies field in South Africa is small and there is limited resourcing to cover what potentially is a huge, rapidly evolving field. You may find that speakers seldom address topics outside traditional institutional ones (such as online gaming) or bleeding-edge methodologies (such as large-scale quantitative analysis of social media via big data). Such developments may be perceived to be outside the scope of the local field, but would be covered in those countries’ conferences where Media Studies is far better resourced. Plan D is to describe what themes/topics/methods were absent from the programme and identify which communication conference(s) do cover them (i.e. IAMCR working groups, National Communication Association, World Communication Association, Association of Internet Researchers, International Communication Association and International Conference on Information & Communication Technologies and Development). Lastly, a Plan E could be a meta-analysis that identifies the main themes of SACOMM papers in one section and how these change between conferences.

> Each team member describes an aspect of what the team found
Although part of a shared interest team, its members may be interested in very different research topics. Please reflect this in each team member’s (sentence-long) feedback and email me your team's.


> Coding research impact discussion
Like many Humanities conferences, the quality of its papers can vary greatly. SACOMM does not result in an accredited publication. Rather, its conference papers may translate into: 
  • Academic dialogue at the conference {and between them}; 
  • Growth in personal academic visibility (Google Scholar,, ResearchGate and other profiles); 
  • Networking that supports conference papers being developed into research papers for journal publication, namely -
    • Communitas
    • African Communication Studies (see especially the Research Panel edited by de Beer, following the 2004 NMMU conference, to which  members kept referring in later years)
    • Communicatio
    • Many corporate communication journals
    • And least, Critical Arts (one highly viewed paper by Pieter Fourie)
  • Chapters in books and other forms of academic publication.
          Your team should discuss which academic impact(s) you want to focus on for developing the next coding index. This should include the <source> and <type of impact output> plus a classificatory schema for the <output>. You may also want to track the sources you used in searching and the types of searches you did (i.e. keyword combinations and Google Advanced search syntax <download guide at>).

          > Teams present on research impacts related to their keywords
          Each team member should describe at least one research impact and how it relates it to his or her research focus. Email me your overview, ta.

          N.B. Your research may point to limitations shaping local Media Studies research and SACOMM
          Culture and media studies do not have a long history in South Africa. Historically, SACOMM has been driven by the communications departments of Afrikaans universities focused on good business communication and PR. Such an agenda’s focus conflicts with the strengths of other Universities (for example, Rhodes journalists would be expected to find out the “bad” PR side!) English and historically Black universities kept their distance from the conference before 2005. There may still not be great compatibility between University departments with dissimilar interests/philosophical backgrounds (i.e. Marxist studies) versus SACOMM’s orientation towards business communication. Let's close by discussing the enablers your exploration revealed as well as any other constraints it suggested?

          Thank you
          I greatly appreciate the assistance of Dr Julie Reid, Associate Professor Tanja Bosch, Professors Herman Wasserman, Keyan Tomaselli and Marion Walton. All helped with sourcing the SACOMM and IAMCR schedules and/or providing additional background regarding local conferences.

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