Note Taking Skills for 21st Century Students


Note taking skills aren’t just automatic. We tell students “take notes” but they have no idea what that means. What makes “good notes.” What do they write down? What should notes look like?

note taking skills

Every since I went through the Writing Across the Curriculum Course at my school I realized the tremendous gap between “writing” as we’ve taught it traditionally and 21st century writing skills. That frustration threw me into research about how to teach writing in my classroom (all of that research was then put into my new book Reinventing Writing – just because I couldn’t find the book I needed when I was struggling with teaching writing in the digital age.)

5 Great Online Tools for Creating Infographics

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5 Great Online Tools for Creating Infographics

Randy | Friday, October 10, 2014 at 6:00AM Permalink

Professional infographic designers rely primarily on a core vector graphics software program to create their infographics designs. The main advantage is that all the icons, charts, images, illustrations, and data visualizations are treated as separate objects that can be easily moved, resized, overlapped, and rotated. No matter where you create the individual design elements, the final infographic design is usually put together in a vector graphics program.

Creating infographics using online tools has never been easier. In the last few years a number of online tools have emerged that allow anyone to create great visual content.  Whether you are working on a project for work, personal use, or social media, each new project starts with a template. With the dimensions laid out for you, you can focus your attention on quickly creating effective designs. Search, drag, and publish – it can be that simple.

These new tools are vector graphics applications that run in your browser as a replacement for using an expensive professional desktop application like Adobe Illustrator to put your infographic design together.  Each one offers different tools, image libraries, charts, fonts and templates as a starting point.  None of these have the full capabilities of a professional desktop application, but you probably don’t need that much power to create a simple infographic.

In this article, we take a quick look at 5 of the best online tools for creating infographics: Visme, Canva,, Piktochart, and All of these tools are evolving quickly, and this is just a snapshot of their current capabilities.

Visme screenshot

1) Visme (

Visme allows you to create interactive presentations, infographics and other engaging content. With tons of templates, and huge library of free shapes & icons to choose from, Visme has you creating awesome visual content right away.

The templates are set up simply and beautifully. If you wanted, you could just edit the placeholder text, insert your own, and publish your infographic.

One of the greatest aspects of this service is changing percentages within the charts. All you have to do is click on the graphic you would like to change, enter a new number, and the chart changes to reflect the new information automatically. Saving you hours of frustration trying to do it on your own.


  • Creates infographics, presentation, animations, ad banners, and custom layouts.

  • Insert and edit chart objects directly by changing the data values.

  • Large library of icons and images.

  • Embed YouTube videos directly into designs.

  • Special pricing for students & teachers.


  • The basic free version is limited.

    • Only 3 projects.

    • Must include the Visme logo.

    • Limited access to charts and infograph widgets.

  • JPG download is still in Beta, with a few bugs.

Price: Basic version is free with pricing plans available


Canva screenshot

2) Canva (

Canva just celebrated their 1-year anniversary last month, and has made a big splash in the online design space.  Your experience kicks off with a great “23 Second Guide to Beautiful Design,” where they walk you through a brief introduction to their design program.

After finishing the brief tutorial, you can start a new design. Canva is filled with options, whether you are working on a project for work, personal, or social media. Each new project comes with a template for the project you choose to work on. With the dimensions done for you, you can focus your attention on creating beautiful designs in seconds.


  • Excellent (and short) intro tutorial to get you started, and many more on advanced concepts.

  • Templates for social media, blogs, presentations, posters, business cards, invitations, and more.

  • Easy and intuitive to use.

  • Large library of images to choose from.


  • No editable chart objects. You need to import your own data visualizations as images.

  • Have to pay for different image assets individually, instead of a monthly subscription.

Price: Free, but you have to pay for Pro quality design assets individually


Easelly screenshot

3) ( is a great program, but lacks some of the guidance, and features, that come standard in other programs. lacks a “How-To” introduction section to their program, and just kind of throws you into the design process right away. Their focus seems to be primarily based on infographic design. Whereas other programs offer a plethora of design project options.

If you’re just looking to design an infographic, this program will work well. If you want more variety, you’ll have to utilize one of the other programs in this list.


  • Free.

  • Very basic design layouts and assets.

  • New charts feature allows some basic editable charts in your design.

  • Easy downloads for JPG and PDF versions.


  • Not a very large selection of themes, called “Vhemes”.

  • Small library of image assets. You’ll want to upload your own images and icons.

Price: Free


Piktochart screenshot

4) Piktochart (

Piktochart is one of the best looking programs on this list. All the information you need to get started is provided in their tour.

Their program is easy to use, and offers tons of freedom in building and editing your infographic using their simple graphic tools. They have categorized icons, resizable canvas, design-driven charts, and interactive maps to utilize.

Their intuitive user interface is where Piktochart truly excels. All the tools you need to create are laid out intelligently, making your new job as a “designer” so much easier.

One of the coolest aspects of this program is that they show how versatile infographics are for different projects. Whether you’re creating for a classroom, office, website, or social media setting – Piktochart gives you the heads up on how to use infographics effectively.


  • Themes and templates are of high design quality.

  • Intuitive. Allows you to edit anything and everything with ease.

  • Create infographics, reports, banners and presentations.

  • Embed videos from Youtube and Vimeo in your design.


  • Limited selection of free templates. Higher quality templates are available with a Pro account.

  • $29 per month is a high subscription price compared to the others.

Price: Start for free with pricing packages available

Infogram screenshot

5) ( has got the best charts. For illustrating data, there are more than 30 different types of charts to choose from. Anything from bubble charts and tree maps to simple pie charts.

Editing data can be easily done in’s built-in spreadsheet, or you can import your own XLS, XLXS and CSV files.  Once your infographic has been edited and beautifully designed, you can save it to your computer as a PNG or PDF file with a paid subscription.


  • Ability to create and edit great charts by changing data

  • Built-in Spreadsheet. Can also import your XLS, XLXS and CSV files

  • Widest variety of available chart types

  • Educational and Non-profit pricing plans available

  • Embed videos from Youtube and Vimeo in your design.


  • Only creates infographics and charts

  • Small selection of infographic templates

  • No image library, you must upload your own image assets

  • Download options require paid subscription

  • The White Label subscription service is the most expensive options of the group

Price: Basic version is free with pricing plans available


A nice article on assessment:

Do you have different criteria for all the different projects students do?

As you plan evidence of learning for students given the learning outcomes, do you sometimes hesitate to ‘get creative.’ Last week a teacher in Alberta asked me, “What do you do about setting criteria with students when they are all using different ways of representing their learning? Some of them are building models, some are writing, some are making videos and so on. Do I have to have separate criteria for each one?””
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Today’s text-to-speech voices are excellent. Monotonic, robotic voices are history. But getting it to read something you want to listen to is not always easy.Voice Dream Reader can load and extract text from many sources and file formats. After extraction, Voice Dream performs additional processing to optimize the text for text-to-speech. Ads on web pages are stripped out, page numbers go away and strange characters are removed, so you can focus on what matters: the content. The text is stored on your device so you can listen to it anytime, even when you’re not connected. FIND OUT MORE

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Would a Course Syllabus Be Better as an Infographic?

At the college where I teach, professors have the unique opportunity every May to develop a course outside of their typical curriculum. Teachers get to explore their interests in new courses as diverse as “The Chemistry of Cooking” and “Writing a Film Short.” Students are offered a wide variety of four-week courses that provide a break from their typical coursework. These short May-term courses are usually something interesting, fresh, experimental, and in many cases fun.This past May, I opted to teach a course entitled, “Infographics in the popular media.” As a class, we reviewed numerous infographics in magazines like National GeographicTime, and Popular Mechanics and we looked at scores of infographics that have been produced on the web in order to develop brand recognition, advertise products and ideas, and even sell news. We discussed the ethical implications of visualizing data and how to adapt for editorial-, academic-, and marketing-centric purposes.Students had a good time experimenting with the development of their own infographics, utilizing common design and communication techniques and playing around visual metaphors and rhetorical devices. Shoot, at one point we were even drawing infographics with sidewalk chalk on a large wall on campus!As I developed the course, it occurred to me that if the subject matter was going to be on infographics, the syllabus probably ought to be an infographic as well. Not wanting to be accused of doing what has been labeled a “performative contradiction” (talking about one thing, but doing something else), I opted to go this route. This is what I came up with:

Inventing Infographics: Visual Literacy Meets Written Content

I’ll admit it. In my early years as a teacher, I thought that encouraging students to improve their writing invariably involved encouraging greater depth, adding more detail, crafting more complex sentences. In short, I implied to my students that the most valuable revisions involved adding to our work and that writing better equaled writing longer.

Enter the infographic, the twenty-first century text/structure/genre/design that blows my earlier beliefs about “better = longer” right out of the water.

As texts compete for attention with soundbites, scrolling headlines, tweets, and vines, writers and readers alike are seeing the value of text that uses visual design features to organize ideas, provide background, and emphasize key facts in ways that make it easier for readers to engage a topic thoughtfully. I have always encouraged my student writers to “swim deeply” when they read and write, moving beyond the basics, braving the imposing waters at the “deep end of the pool.” Reading and writing infographics is like cannonballing into ten feet of water — you splash in deeper and more quickly.

I knew that this year I wanted to have students experiment in creating their own infographics, so I made an early decision to build infographics into our Article of the Week routine (inspired by Kelly Gallagher). I occasionally substituted an infographic or two instead of the news articles or essays they were accustomed to reading. Of course, the reaction was positive. The first thing students noticed was the substantial time savings in reading an infographic or two versus a traditional article. It was like asking them to readAnimal Farm after completing Great Expectations — there was an immediate “can do” reaction. Continue reading


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It only took one year and an accordion player to redeem the rapiest song that ever became a massive worldwide hit. I never thought I’d be saying, “Thank you, Robin Thicke, for giving us ‘Blurred Lines,’” but now I do. Because were it not for “Blurred Lines,” we’d never have the Weird Al parody, “Word Crimes.”

“Weird Al” Yankovic has been releasing a new video for his latest album, “Mandatory Fun,” each day this week. But with more videos still to go, he may have hit the apex on Tuesday with his epic grammar rant. Frankly, the whole thing would have been worth it for the “Weird Al has a big dic…tionary” gag alone.

For a man who’s distinguished himself for spending the past 30 years in funny shirts and big hair, writing songs that involve doughnuts, Yankovic has also always made it clear he’s a really bright bulb. His videos are meticulous homages to their originals, and his commitment to honoring the distinction between “less” and “fewer” is already YouTube legend. But in “Word Crimes,” he takes on everything that makes being part of modern Internet culture such a goddamn ordeal for frustrated liberal arts grads and assorted pedants everywhere. Oh, Weird Al, you had me at “conjugate.” Continue reading


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