Interactive graphics, like ThingLink, enhance online content

The following lesson plan, which would take three days of class time, introduces the students to ThingLink, a website that allows users to create interactive graphics. These graphics can serve as stand-alone content or supplement an existing story. Like infographics and other interactive content, content created on ThingLink would enhance a scholastic journalism publication’s website by making some of its content more engaging and user-friendly. Also, since many readers today, particularly teenagers, are visually driven, the graphics created through ThingLink would directly appeal to a scholastic audience.

Lesson Plan

Name: Michael Gluskin

School: Libertyville High School

City, State: Libertyville, Illinois

Title: Creating an interactive graphic with ThingLink


  • Students will be able to explain the importance of interactive graphics that accompany stories on the web.
  • Students will be able to create an interactive graphic that could appear with a story they have previously written.
  • Students will be able to use a variety of multimedia tools to help tell a story creativity and effectively.


Day 1 (50 minutes)

  1. To begin class, I will ask the students to recall examples of multimedia content that can appear on our website, based on websites they have read themselves and past work our publication has done. During this brief review period, I will remind students of the value that interactive features on the website possess, since they allow readers to access interesting content in new and innovative ways.
  2. Following this introduction, I will tell the students about ThingLink, briefly explaining what the site is. I will then show them various examples of graphics created with ThingLink, talking them through the following graphics:
  3. After that beginning part, I will next ask the students to go through our most recent magazine issue (or two) and, with those sitting near them, brainstorm different ThingLink graphics that could be created for various stories within the publication when those stories are posted online. Lastly, the students will share their ideas with the class about different graphics they think could work, including different links and hotspots that could appear within them.

Day 2 (50 minutes)

  1. To start this class period, I will mention to the students that they will soon start the process of making their own ThingLink graphic, which can then be posted on our website. There are two steps I would like to go through before they start this process. First, similarly to how class ended the previous day, I would ask my students to think about a story they’ve written this school year that would benefit from a ThingLink graphic; to help do this, they can review all of the content they have posted on our website. As part of this brainstorming process, they will also be asked to consider what sort of links and hotspots they could include in their graphic, and they should consult their peers if they need any help or want some feedback on their initial ideas.
  2. Next, the students will watch the Camtasia Studio tutorial that I have created on how to use ThingLink. We will watch this video together as a class, but it will also be emailed out to all of my students so they can re-watch it (or parts of it) by themselves.

3. Following the video, I will hand out and explain the students’ homework assignment (copied below, with its rubric) for these series of lessons, which is to make a ThingLink graphic of their own. After I go over this assignment and answer any questions the students have, they will have the remainder of the class period to begin working on their assignment.

Homework Assignment

Your task is to create a visually appealing, interactive ThingLink graphic to be published alongside a current story you have posted on our website. The graphic you create must meet the following criteria:

  • Its main image should be a picture taken by you or another Drops of Ink staff member; this picture should be clear, well-cropped and provide a strong central visual interest for the reader (5 points)
  • The image should feature a minimum of 4 hotspots and/or links. (5 points per hotspot)
    • 1 of the hotspots should be a link to a related article; it is preferred the article is something else written by our publication, but if not, that’s OK.
    • 1 of the hotspots should be a photo or video related to the story; whatever you choose must be properly identified and described.
    • 1 of the hotspots should be text-only; it should include either additional information not found in the story or intriguing yet non-obvious information.
    • The final hotspot is up to you. It can be an additional example of any of the three ideas mentioned above, or it could be a social media link, a quote or a link to a related website, for example.
  • Your final graphic should be carefully edited so there are no spelling or style mistakes. Once completed, it should be correctly posted on the website page where your story appears. Graphics posted after the final due date and time will be marked late. (5 points)

Due Date: (this would have to be updated and entered depending on when the assignment was actually given out; as my lesson plan indicated, ideally I would conduct the series of lessons from a Wednesday-Friday, meaning the due date would be on the following Monday, at the beginning of class)

Point value: 30

Categories and criteria Points earned/ possible

  • The selected picture is taken by the creator of this graphic or a different staff member.
  • The picture includes the proper photo credit.
  • The photo is clear and high-quality; it is cropped in an effective and intriguing way.
  • The picture attracts the readers’ eyes to the graphic, serving as a strong center of visual interest for them.
FIRST HOTSPOT (article link)

  • The article link provided works.
  • The article link is to a clearly related topic to the original story. If needed, some explanation about the linked article is provided.
  • If linking to an outside publication, that source is considered to be credible and reliable.
  • The hotspot is placed in an appropriate spot on the main image. Any wording used contains proper spelling, grammar and style.
SECOND HOTSPOT (photo or video)

  • The photo or video link provided works.
  • The photo or video link is clearly related to the topic of the original article. If needed, some explanation about the linked visual is provided.
  • The photo or video linked to contains the proper credit information. It is also usable under copyright law.
  • If the photo or video link goes to an outside publication, that source is considered to be credible and reliable.
  • The hotspot is placed in an appropriate spot on the main image. Any wording used contains proper spelling, grammar and style.
THIRD HOTSPOT (text only)

  • The text provided clearly relates to the article’s content and is relevant. It is either additional information that didn’t fit into the article or extended information from the story itself.
  • If necessary, the text is properly attributed or cited.
  • The hotspot is placed in an appropriate spot on the main image. Any wording used contains proper spelling, grammar and style.
FOURTH HOTSPOT (your decision)

  • If one of the previous hotspots is chosen and repeated, the same criteria will apply.
  • Otherwise, criteria will be established depending on what student chooses to do; this criteria will be provided to the student while he or she is working on the assignment so he or she knows what to expect and how this hotspot will be assessed.

  • The ThingLink graphic is properly embedded onto the page that features the story it accompanies. Its placement works well with the overall story and does not disrupt the text.
  • The graphic is posted by the assignment deadline.

Day 3 (50 minutes)

  1. This class period will be a work day for the students; they will have the entire time to work on creating and developing their ThingLink graphics. I will encourage them to ask their peers and/or I questions during class, so they can get whatever help and feedback would be beneficial for them. They would be expected to have their graphic completed and turned into me by the beginning of the next class period; ideally, I would end this third day on a Friday so the students could have the weekend to work on their graphics further, if needed.

A video needs to tell a clear, cohesive story

I struggled with this assignment more than I had done so with other assignments for this class. Initially, when I envisioned doing some sort of video project, I assumed it would be a broadcast with voiceovers and narration. Once I had this cleared up and I developed a better understanding of what we were assigned to do, I realized that my school’s annual Writers Week would be the perfect event to create a video for.

Unfortunately, I realized this after the week happened, meaning that I couldn’t shoot my own footage of the event. Had I been more prepared ahead of time, I think that would have benefited my overall video. Additionally, while I thought I put together a good summary-like package of the event, I now realize that my video did not contain a true narrative quality; it fails to tell a story in the typical story arc fashion. While I thought my two interviewed speakers — the teacher and student — did a nice job of talking about the event itself, their words do not match up well enough with the images shown while they are talking. For example, while the teacher is talking about Writers Week and what it is, I should have shown a variety of the performers who fit the criteria he mentioned, such as authors and musicians. In addition, while the student was talking, I should have included video or photographers of student presenters from the week.

As another example of this, the beginning of my video could have been improved. I thought it would be interesting and attention-grabbing to begin with a clip of the poet Anis Mojgani doing one of his well-known works, “Shake the Dust.” I thought this was one of the more powerful poems he shared, so to me, it seemed like a good way to begin the video. However, I now see that doing this out of context weakened the clip and may have made its inclusion confusing to viewers. Having one of the Writers Week presenter’s voice in there was important to me, but I don’t think I placed it as effectively as it could have been done. For my chosen event, the poet’s voice served as ambient noise in a way. Additionally, the audio quality on this clip was a bit fuzzy and grainy, possibly distracting from its content.

To conclude, while this was not my strongest work, I do now feel I have a better sense of what this type of video can and should look like. I have done some video shooting and editing before, so I was familiar with the technical aspects of the assignment, which I think is one of the bigger hurdles to completing an assignment like this. In the future, I will develop a better plan of the story I’d like to tell going into the video so that my footage and final package do a better job of telling the story.

Creating a good podcast consumes time

While I learned a lot about podcasting through our first two assignments with this medium, the interview podcast was the most difficult — as expected — of these assignments. In addition to having to record more separate segments of the podcast itself, such as the intro, interviews and conclusion, the editing was complex. Thankfully, due to our work with Audacity in the previous week, I was familiar enough with the software to make the necessary fades and cuts where I felt it was appropriate. The podcast turned out to be longer than anticipated, but overall, I was pleased with the result.

Although I did not struggle to come up with questions for each of my interviews, I learned how important my role as an interviewer is in a podcast and how it differs from interviewing for a print story, for example. Since my voice as the interviewer needs to be heard on a podcast as well, the way I speak and present questions is especially important. When writing a print story, the reader is usually never going to know the exact questions asked. So, while wording is obviously important, it will not be overtly transparent to readers. With podcasts, listeners are likely to hear your voice throughout the conversation, between asking the questions and interacting with the interviewees. If I were to record another interview podcast, I would pay more attention to how I am asking the questions.

In addition, when I have done interviews for a print story, I often make short, affirmative comments (like “mmhmm” and “OK”) to engage with the interview subject and acknowledge that I am actively listening. When I did this during the podcast interviews, it can obviously be heard in some instances in the broadcast. While part of me is fine with this because it creates an authentic interview feeling, and I don’t believe it totally detracts from the podcast itself, I could also see how these comments, if too prevalent throughout, could be a turnoff for some listeners. Ideally, the only sound should be coming from the speakers themselves.

Beyond the interviews, the editing process took me a little more than two hours to complete. This time was spent listening back to the interviews, recording my introduction and concluding sections and making the necessary edits to the broadcast. While I felt comfortable using the Audacity editing program, doing this process made me realize just how time-consuming creating a good podcast is. For example, I spent over two hours creating an eight-minute podcast. I am a devoted listener to the “Serial” podcast, which includes so much more interviewing and editing than mine; their episodes typically run between 50-60 minutes long. Doing this podcast assignment, and the others in previous weeks, showed me just how much time it takes to develop and broadcast a successful broadcast from start to finish.

Variety of audio options opens podcasting to all

Podcasts often help me get through the day, so I was happy to see we would be spending some time on them in class. I have about an hour-long commute each way, to and from work, and my podcast mix makes this time so much more enjoyable. Instead of worrying about why the driver in front of me leaves three car-lengths of space between his car and the vehicle ahead of him or why the car behind me feels the need to tailgate me in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I can instead escape to different worlds: a field of dreams (Baseball Tonight podcast), a world of inspiration (TED talks) and a realm of mystery and intrigue (Serial).

Despite my affinity for podcasts, I had never given much thought to their actual production and the work involved in making them. Obviously the audio quality and clarity is really important, and a key part of this, I learned, is the setting in which the podcast is recorded. A radio-like sound booth may be best for sound, but that’s not feasible for most podcasters and that would remove the convenience aspect that makes podcasting so efficient and attractive.

For the baseball podcast I listen to, the host is a reporter who is often traveling around the country attending different games and events. As a result of this, sometimes he tapes his podcasts from the airport or a hotel room; while the background sound for these locations is often not very distracting to me, it could be an annoyance or nuisance to some listeners despite the high-quality equipment he must use.

Currently, this reporter has been doing the podcasts from Spring Training in Florida, so the background is appropriate natural sound, like the noise of a baseball hitting a glove as the athletes play catch. This sort of ambient noise, as I learned, can be a really nice soundtrack to the podcast. Since my podcast topic — why journalism should be considered an English class by colleges — didn’t have any obvious sounds that should be associated with it, I decided to record in a quiet environment.

In addition, another thing I learned this week was about the variety of microphones and recording equipment that has been made specifically for podcasting. Again, having no prior experience in this field, I had never thought about the need for different types of microphones that could be conveniently used in various settings and that contained USB ports for easy uploads. What’s great about this is that for those who are serious and regular podcasters, they can purchase high-end equipment that produces the best, most professional sound. And for those who are more casual podcasters, they can still produce quality broadcasts with only their phone.

That’s where an app like audioBoom can be so effective. I was not familiar with this service before, and I had also never heard of B-Side Radio or Air Media. For someone like me who does not own any professional podcasting equipment, I am still able to easily create a podcast using the audioBoom service. I am glad I learned about this opportunity because I can now pass this information along to my students, which is a major reason why I am taking this course. The fact that a podcast can be produced just using the smartphone that is constantly in a student’s hand gives them to ability to easily broadcast in this medium.

While I have not had a student express interest in podcasting before, my new knowledge in this area can help me to more actively encourage students who might be interested in this and demystify the difficulties they might assume come with podcasting.

Learning how to manipulate manual mode

When I first read our assignment for this block of instruction, I was nervous and intimidated about using the manual mode for shooting. While I do enjoy taking pictures, I, like most people, rely on the automatic settings that cameras offer and had no experience shooting in manual mode.

The first chance I had to experiment with this came a couple of weeks ago when I attended a Chicago Blackhawks game. I knew hockey would provide me with a great opportunity to capture some of the motion-related shots we were required to get, and I arrived a bit early to experiment with manual mode so that I could be more comfortable when the game began.

During warm-ups, I was adjusting the shutter speed, trying to determine what setting would be best to freeze the players’ motion. However, when I took the photo and then checked to see what it looked like on the monitor, the picture was black. Since I knew the lens cap was off and not the problem (phew), my anxiety levels started to rise because I wasn’t sure exactly what to do next.

Looking over my notes for the week, I realized the ISO levels may need to be bumped up, particularly because I was indoors. As I started to increase the ISO, the pictures I was taking slowly became brighter, eventually reaching a point where the photos looked as I expected; my heart rate slowly began to decrease.

So, one of the major things I learned this week was the important relationship that exists between shutter speed and ISO. As I continued to experiment with these different features in manual mode, I realized that a really high shutter speed, particularly in the hockey arena I was in, caused the pictures to be darker, so I needed to find a point where the shutter speed and ISO came into balance.

Regarding shutter speed itself, I learned how it can be used to capture blurred motion in an intentional way. Prior to this block of instruction, if I was taking pictures as a sporting event, I would rely solely on the sports mode on the camera. Any blurred motion I captured would be by accident, and it did not look particularly good.

As I experimented with slower shutter speeds to see what would be right to capture the blurred action and panned motion I needed to get, I immediately saw how adjusting shutter speed could be particularly benefit for action photography, especially to convey movement.

I also learned about the third major feature that can be adjusted in manual mode, aperture. I was first introduced to this element of photography in the photojournalism class I took earlier in the Kent State program, but I had never had to manipulate it in manual mode. As I started to, in a couple of different settings, I learned that it can be a valuable setting to exploit, depending on the type of picture one is seeking.

In fact, during this block of instruction, a picture of my brother and his wife were featured in The Houston Chronicle, and I immediately noticed how the aperture was manipulated to create the photo used. In the picture, which used a large aperture, my brother and his wife held out an autographed baseball, which was clearly in focus, while they were blurred in the background. It was cool to see this photo and realize that I could now take something similar!

Multimedia journalism creates interactive, engaging content

Multimedia journalism has enhanced the power of storytelling to go beyond the written word. While words will always be at the core of journalism, today’s technology allow modern-day journalists to share information in a variety of interactive and engaging ways.

This is immediately evident when opening JEA’s Multimedia Tools page, which features 19 different multimedia categories that student journalists can use. This page was one of the most helpful links included in this first module, as it allowed me to learn about tools I was unfamiliar with, and can now pass along to my students (which I did this past week).

Two of the most interesting tools I looked at were Thinglink and TimelineJS, which I know my students would be able to put to good use, and these multimedia pieces would easily enhance our content. My students can also create video streaming, maps and quizzes — other elements linked to on the JEA page — to provide better interactive options for their readers.

As a newspaper adviser, I have exposed my students to some multimedia possibilities they can work on, but it’s the type of content that is most lacking on our website (which our critiques have correctly indicated). The JEA resource list, as well as the best online high school newspapers link, allow me to have cool, concrete examples to show my students; I was particularly impressed with Carmel’s HiLite, FHNtoday and The Kirkwood Call’s use of multimedia.

I am often encouraging my students to use more interactive elements on our website, but few actually branch out and do that. I believe that showing them what other high schools around the country (like those listed above) are doing will help to motivate them and give them ideas of what they can do to enhance our website.

Additionally, as a teacher, I can create multimedia content using the tools I’m suggesting they use. I did something like this a couple of years ago when I was trying to stress how effective infographics can be. When reviewing some of our web traffic stats and data, I created an infographic using Piktochart. My students now use that service often to design attractive graphics to either supplement a story or present a story entirely. I’m hoping that if I make a similar push with other multimedia tools, my students will begin to use them more.

This is one of the courses I have been most excited to take within the Kent State program. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and worked as a journalist for a year after college, after completing several internships in school. This journalism background has greatly helped me as a newspaper adviser and graduate student in this program, but I did not work with multimedia while I was a journalist. Since this is an up-and-coming area, I want to learn how to use some of these tools myself — particularly relating to video — so that I can better instruct my students.

In the future, I would love to help develop a broadcasting program at our school, and I’m hoping this class will potentially aid me in that effort, as well.