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Blog post Part of series: BERA Conference 2023

Widening participation in higher education: Reforming infographics beyond the visual through the eyes of sports coaching students

Elizabet Kaitell, Senior Lecturer and PhD candidate at Kingston University

In this blog post, I explore the value of infographics beyond their visual aspect for widening participation students. The post draws on my PhD research, which focuses on the value of infographics for sports coaching students from a relational perspective. The drive to improve inclusivity in higher education has resulted in the admission of more non-traditional students. However, there are concerns regarding their lower retention and completion rates (Bright, 2022). Among other characteristics, these students are often described as having an applied and disadvantaged background and may struggle to cope with extended reading (Kelly, 2017). The data from my PhD study identified similar characteristics among sports coaching students, along with some additional ones. These trends prompted me to rethink our pedagogical practices to meet the needs of non-traditional students.

‘My findings suggest that students not only use infographics as a visual tool (although this is very important for these students), but also rely on their bodies to make sense of the information presented.’

To explore this topic, I adopt the methodology of a/r/tography, in which a/r/t stands for artist, researcher and teacher. I employ embodied methods of data collection involving three art-informed focus groups (n=19) and network maps followed by unstructured interviews with sports coaching students (n=19), walking interviews with sports coaching lecturers (n=4) and a visual reflective journal for myself (n=1). My findings suggest that students not only use infographics as a visual tool (although this is very important for these students), but also rely on their bodies to make sense of the information presented. As such, I view infographics as embodied tools, creating opportunities for pedagogical approaches to draw on the body as a whole. Embodied learning relies on body-based processes for thinking and instruction to be meaningful (Nathan, 2022).

In this blog post, I focus on the hand (movement). For example, students use hand gestures to make sense of the information and convey knowledge they cannot express in words to others. Additionally, students have a tactile relationship with infographics, physically manipulating them in their hands and tracing or highlighting points of interest and importance. Research indicates that physical movements, such as gestures and tracing, impact memory and cognitive demand (Sweller et al., 2019). Body movement enhances the encoding process and may serve as an additional modality for working memory (Sweller et al., 2019).

Moreover, creating an infographic provides students with the opportunity to tell by hand what they know. I use Ingold’s (2013) concept of ‘telling by hand’ and ‘drawing as thinking’ based on his view of knowledge as embodied. He argues that knowledge is not something that is simply stored in our minds. It is something we express through our bodies and our hands. Although students create these infographics digitally, they often start and are encouraged to plan them by hand, using pen and paper. However, technological advancements, such as using a sensitive pen, argues Ingold (2013), could give us the best of both worlds. A technologically enhanced sensitivity, coupled with hands-on engagement, could create further possibilities for making sense with and through one’s body. Therefore, I propose that making infographics may allow non-traditional students to tell what they know with/through the body.

To summarise, the embodied data provide novel insights and foster a new way of thinking about infographics as a pedagogical tool that involves the whole body. It is essential to acknowledge that knowledge is not just verbal but also embodied, and students are disadvantaged when their nonverbal comprehension is overlooked or disrupted (Nathan, 2022). Embracing embodied ways of knowing and reimagining infographics as an embodied tool creates opportunities for action. Therefore, why not rethink our instructional approaches and assessments, both formative and summative, to include the body and make higher education more accessible to students from diverse backgrounds?


References 

Bright, F. (2022, January 12). Students with BTECs are successful across a range of university outcomes. Nuffield Foundation. https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/news/students-with-btecs-university-success

Ingold, T. (2013). Making: Anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. Routledge.

Kelly, S. (2017). Reforming BTECs: Applied general qualifications as a route to higher education. HEPI. https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2017/02/23/3852/

Nathan, M. J. (2022). Foundations of embodied learning: A paradigm for education. Routledge.

Sweller, J., van Merriënboer, J. J. G., & Paas, F. (2019). Cognitive architecture and instructional design: 20 years later. Educational Psychology Review, 31(2), 261–292. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09465-5