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The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Picturing a New Form of Literacy

Recorded human communication began with cave paintings and then grew into murals and hieroglyphs before developing into written alphabets. In some ways, digital technologies and social platforms are taking communication back toward its visual origins.

In a commentary in T.H.E. Journal earlier this year, Cathie Norris, a professor and chair in the School of Information at the University of North Texas, and Elliot Soloway, a professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, noted that K-12 students spend far more time with text-based materials in school and far more time with image-based materials outside the classroom.

With an average of about 2.5 billion daily Snaps on Snapchat, and more than 400 million daily users partaking of Instagram’s shared photos and videos, it’s no surprise that today’s digitally savvy students are gravitating toward “picting,” the use of images instead of words to convey information and ideas.

Picting is an emergent form of literacy, but not one that many schools are embracing. That presents a risk that students who aren’t able to access the same tools in the classroom that they do outside of it may see schoolwork as irrelevant to their lives.

The solution, of course, is not to supplant written communication with picting, but to make reading and writing as engaging as picting’s imagery, and to teach writing as a way to support and improve visual communication.

“Schools must teach written literary skills,” Soloway responded to comments on his and Norris’ post. “This is a teachable moment. Educators can use the Snapchat/Instagram story to help students craft good stories.”

A recent post on the EdSurge edtech news site offered suggestions for how to use Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and Seesaw, The Learning Journal, to help give students “ownership of their learning” and make the classroom more engaging for digital natives.

However, engagement can’t be the only metric. Because many complex ideas can’t be communicated with images alone, effective reading and writing skills remain paramount.

They’re also a necessity for full participation in society. As recently as just a century ago, illiteracy could prevent the poor from full participation in their rights as voters and citizens. In an age of “fake news” and calculated disinformation on social media, critical reading skills may be more crucial than ever.

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