Visual and Information Literacy: Which is more factual… text, audio, or video?

After writing a few very dry posts for class this week, I kind of liked this one. It also inspired me to do my first real podcast, which is included here.

I know that we have all been taught that the written word is more reliable than that which is seen on televsion, etc. But is this really true? If a student researches a topic and presents his/her findings visually vs. in written form does it lessen the ‘factual’ content?

I think I can reply with a resounding "no!" here. When it comes down to it, the written word is a communication medium devised when we could not transmit direct experiences over space and time. While "direct experience" (via VR or whatever) may still be a way off, our ability to transmit audio and video facts over great distances – and our ability to store and replaly them as well – has significantly increased the accuracy of information we can share with each other.

I can think of dozens of examples… but for starters, why do you think newspapers included photographs as soon as possible, and then color? And why do so many people choose the television for their news delivery? The only reason I chose the internet for news delivery is the flexibility and customization available in contrast to a broadcast… if I could get full motion video and audio news from clicking on a link in Google News or through my RSS aggregator, you better believe I would want that more than the simple text.

Why do you think an image, can generate so much more of an emotional impact with people… it contains much more meaningful information for a human being. (This is also true of audio – consider the power of music.)

Consider the tsunami as a recent example. How poorly did text articles convey the truth about what happened. Weren’t the pictures and footage much more powerful? And I can tell you from experience, sanitized american news footage does nothing to communicate the horror of the event compared to looking up amateur footage of survivors online and seeing elderly couples washed away while on vacation… as those around them scramble to climb buildings.

And this touches on why teaching our students visual literacy is so important. What is shown, and how it is shown, is very important to the interpretation of an event – just as what is written and how it is written can in a text story (think pro-life or pro-choice.) We must teach our students to understand the power of everything from a Yu-Gi-Oh advertisement (and is the cartoon simply just an add – or entertainment in its own right) to the images from Abu Ghraib which undermined much of what was left of the United States moral standing in Iraq. Have the images of Iraqi women with ink on their finger as they step out of the voting booth helped to repair this damage?

This touches on the broader importance of information literacy, of which I consider visual literacy a subset. How will our students deal with the information available to them? How will the learn to sift through the deluge, ignore what is useless, and find what is important? As they use powerful and customizable tools for doing this (such as RSS feeds) how will they keep from merely reading, hearing, and seeing information they agree with – and thus losing the opportunity to explore and acquire other perspectives?

We are crippling our students if we only teach them to read and write. They need the power to express themselves with sound and visuals… and to critique the expressions of others. We should be encouraging students to present their findings through audio and visual mediums as well as the written word. The final product of a research project should be more than just a "paper", it should be an evening news story.

And in today’s world, that news story need not be broadcast, and a student’s podcast to an authentic audience might be even more powerful.

Or a teacher’s for that matter.