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On wrapping it up with a meme: reflecting on the semester

Each semester I ask my Search and the Information Landscape sections to reflect on yodadrawtheir learning by thinking about it figuratively and metaphorically, visualizing the landscape and their place in it. This year, I added the option of a meme to the visualization menu.

I wonder what would happen if you asked your students to wrap up their year in the library, their year of learning, or their year in a particular class with a visualization of some sort.

Why visualize learning?

If you are a constructionist, you believe learning is an active process. Learners construct their new understandings by integrating them into their existing knowledge structures.  When we ask learners to construct visually, we literally ask them to see a bigger picture–to synthesize, to prioritize, to consider patterns, connections, and relationships. Because students each come to the learning from different contexts, their schema are different and more personally meaningful.

Having some type of spatial mnemonic aids in organizing our memories for later retrieval. Asking learners to choose a strategy for communication of information enhances multichannel processing.

This semester my students described the search landscape as icebergs, porous hourglasses, archaeological digs, complex maps, equations, air purifiers, etc. Each came with a narrative reflection.

First I’ll share some of suggested digital tools. Scroll down for a few samples of my own students images and a little taste of their reflections.

Digital Tools

Here are some suggested digital tools learners might use to visualize their learning. Many are available as apps as well as web-based options.

For infographics:

For posters and images:

Memes: I am curating a list here as well (Check before using these with little ones)

Comic makers

Sample visualizations

Here are some examples of my students’ semester summaries that demonstrate how personal and different these creative syntheses might be.


From Jamie Anderson, who explains the meme:

This meme of the Bifröst Bridge along with the tag about LibGuides is meant to convey the feeling someone may have once they successfully locate a LibGuide containing information pertinent to their research goal(s) . . .
(Note: Our final project was a LibGuide to support an inquiry need.)


Sticky ideas from Miriam Terron-Elder


Ah-has from Elizabeth Smith


Elizabeth Norris on the landscape and our role as librarians

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Eden Mazer Schwartz explains her notion of a porous hourglass:

The hourglass is submerged in the water, with murky water flowing in, out, and around the glass. The hourglass felt important for the obvious reason that search requires time. This class helped me realize that it’s okay for a search to take time. Even a search that I think will be quick may become more of a safari adventure.

Another point I wanted to get across in my infographic is that search is a process that can lead in multiple directions, and that these directions may involve searching the deep web, depending on what kind of information is needed. I used a slightly larger fish leading two other fish into the deep web waters to suggest that sometimes a leader — or librarian — can take people in and out of these searches. I was really struck by some of our readings in our module on search engines, portals, and the deep web. Before this class I hadn’t realized there was an open web vs. a deep web.

Lastly, I highlighted s-e-a in the word “search” and f-i-n in the word “find” to suggest that what one may find in the vast sea of search is a fin — a detectable point, that leads to a fuller bodied fish, a dolphin, a shark, a whale, or even a piece of trash. This fin may be connected to information that is of vital importance. This fin may be connected to information that is dangerous — or in the case of Aaron Swartz, has dangerous consequences. It reminds me of the importance of the information professional — perhaps with an underwater flashlight or an oxygen task — who can help people evaluate information for credibility and accuracy, who can teach the skills and mindsets of evaluating and sharing information.

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Karen Bessin describes herself as an intrepid researcher in a giant web of a landscape

with thousands of connections, thousands of gaps, and unclear pathways from one point in the web to another. The information is all there, but can the researcher get there from where she is?  Our intrepid researcher (me) lies in the middle of the web equipped with many different stances representing her toolbox.

First and foremost is her skeptical, “prove-it” attitude. Then (counterclockwise from the top) tools include:

  • A “BS meter” to recognize information that should not be believed and sources that are not trustworthy
  • The ability to fail and learn from failed searches, one search at a time
  • A chef’s creativity to piece together new approaches to information seeking
  • A reluctance to satisfice
  • A sharp knife to apply precise search terms
  • A detective’s nose of where best results are to be found and what they might look like
  • The willingness to search tirelessly through various types of sources until the right results can be found
  • Caution to stay away from sites that do not respect users’ privacy
  • The ability to put on new pairs of glasses and try different approaches to search as needed and to visualize what the idea results would look and sound like
  • An understanding that talking to others (IRL or virtually) can lead to some of the most valuable information
  • A questioning mind that asks what might be missing from the results
  • The ability to recognize how one awesome source can open up avenues to a host of new discoveries
  • The persistence to find those just right sources, the knowledge to recognize them, and the joy to take those lessons forward to apply to the next search!


Rebecca Morel concluded her reflection with an elegant Dryden quote.


And Melanie Konstantinou constructed an elaborate map based on Lord of the Rings.  She created an impressive key to this searchy version of Middle Earth, but that is a bit too long to share in this space. Write me offline for a copy.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Thanks for sharing samples of student work, Joyce. I have asked undergraduate students to create sequences of 15 memes to document key ideas they learned and synthesize their understanding of propaganda. Check out an example of student work here:

    I think meme-making is a great form of creative synthesis that forces learners to connect academic coursework to contemporary popular culture. In doing so, some seem to generate new ideas. For this reason, I will continue to use meme-making assignments with my learners. You can see more examples of student-created infographics, visualizations and memes here:

    • Joyce Valenza Joyce Valenza says

      Thanks for sharing that wonderful collection of student synthesis memes, Renee! I will use them to further inspire my own students.

      And, wow! I can’t wait to explore the new book. I am already digging into the rich chapter resources on the companion website. Let’s plan a follow-up post soon.

  2. I ask the students to make a concept map of Statistics and Probability. They did that on the first day of class, so we are revisiting the same task. I do it to show them how their mental model has changed. Without fail, their networks have grown, there are more nodes and more/better connections.

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