I fret with personal frustration over the public’s tendency to ignore facts in favor of sound bytes and trite analysis offered by fevered commentators. Too often dialogue disintegrates as someone expresses their agreement with the ideas of a given opinion-maker based on some vague (or crudely drawn) graphic presented in tandem with biased claims. And, of course, this happens on both sides of the political aisle. It seems as if individuals can’t see, for themselves, what the graphics do/don’t say…that the value of the graphic is based simply on it’s composition of arrows and lines (perhaps numbers) and the commentator is believed simply because he USES graphics to make his point.
And isn’t that a sad point to make. That perhaps people are more impressed with graphics than they are with the information they reveal. It leaves me wondering if the underlying problem lies in a level of illiteracy we too easily ignore. What if people don’t bother to read the graphics for themselves because they can’t.
Google Public Data Explorer offers “data visualizations for a changing world, and yet it (and a myriad of other information graphic resources) remains a mostly untapped resource in secondary schools. I’ve noted that while we may teach students the basics of create graphic information (i.e. a bit of MS Excel), I have to wonder if we take enough time teaching them to READ it.
As reported in the the UK-based Guardian’s introduction to it’s new data site, Tim Berners-Lee, MIT professor and director of the W3C credited with inventing the World Wide Web, recently said regarding the future of journalism:
[Journalism is] going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country.
“Helping people see where it all fits together?” Already media moguls are focusing on multi-modal delivery models that include the creation of sophisticated information graphics. How could they not? The medium appeals to our visually centered society and succinctly presents both information and analysis in an environment where digital publishing has reduced the size of the reading plane from that of a newspaper spread to that of a laptop screen…and even smaller (think iPad or even phone screen!).
So, if more of our news and information is being presented in this format, why aren’t schools devoting more serious time (curriculum) to decoding and re-using this information. During research projects, to0 often, I see this type of information skimmed (or simply skipped) over by students in search of the proverbial “quote” on which to hinge their own ideas. What if these graphics were to be the stuff from which new ideas spring? The possibilities for deep analysis are…well…deep.
So how do we compel our students to use these rich sources of information. The first step is necessarily moving teachers to see that these are more than “data representations”–that information graphics do, in fact, require analysis, interpretation and creativity in their production and deserve the same in their consumption. We then need to encourage students to use both original and found info graphics to illustrate their thoughts and arguments. And of course, we need to teach them to cite these as authentic sources of information, rather than a simple addendum.
Aviary (http://aviary.com) offers a free suite of online media editing tools that rivals the pricey software suites many of us are using in our schools. As educators, we know that student achievement comes with both practice and practical applicaiton, and yet, most students do NOT have access to these same tools at home, and likely never will. If students are to incorporate the tools we teach at school into their daily lives, it’s time to start teaching with tools that are more accessible. The Aviary suite includes:
The creators of Aviary software have committed themselves to making powerful tools available to artists in all genre, in an effort to grow both interest and contributions to the creative commons. Images published by the community of members are largely available for REMIX. These tools promote visual literacy in action and offer a generation of learners the opportunity to participate as media authors as well as audience.
Kimberley Ketterer, PhD, is the instructional technology coordinator for the Eugene, Oregon School District. She offered the following insight into 21st century communication taking place in today’s classrooms:
Using the alphabet as a framework, the following is a glimpse into what you will find in a 21st-century learning and teaching environment:
Access to all technological tools needed for learning
Beacons of global asynchronous conversations
Confident universal engaged learners
Dynamic online information made available anytime-anywhere
Engaged cohorts of learners immersed in simulations
Forecasted possibilities of collaborative solutions to real-world problems
Global awareness through real-time participation in major events
Harnessed creativity through multimedia for authentic learning
Innovations encouraged by out-of-the-box thinking
Jpegs that augment reports and storytelling
Knowledge transfer across curricular areas
Legal and ethical discussions fueled by overproliferation of opinion and fact
Morphed teaching strategies from passive delivery to multisensory presentations
Networked video resources for worldwide information exchange
Opportunities to enroll in online courses
Production of analyzed and synthesized information presentations
Quantitative data showing increases in academic achievement
Responsibility for learning shifted from solely the teacher to mainly the student
Streaming video access 24/7
Transfer of technological skills that are seamless between tools
Ubiquitous access to the technical tools needed for learning and teaching
Virtual tours and immersive learning opportunities
Web 2.0 tools integrated across the curriculum
Xerox copies as an archaic practice
Yearning to express oneself in a multimodel way is quenched
Zoning-out of learning is prohibited
As 21st-century educators we must continue to shift the paradigm of our teaching to meet the needs of the newest generation of learners.
Leading & Learning with Technology, December/January 2009-10, p. 35
Just got finished teaching this classic novel and it’s a wonderful book to be teaching in our current economic climate. The book is about the infamous Jazz Age and about the materialization and excess of the wealthy and what can happen to the American Dream. In America today we are just coming out of almost 20 years of living the “high life” and people buying more than they need, etc. Students reacted well to the book and of course they were involved more in the love story but I think they see the connection to “cruel rich” and their stuck up attitudes, etc. Next year we will be teaching it to sophomores and I’m not sure they will see the deeper meaning as my juniors have. Well, anyway it’s a wondeful book that is so full of symbolism that I really enjoy teaching.