Listen to this Post
This post has been a long time coming.
For a while now, I’ve been intrigued by the ever-growing need for visual literacy in our off- and on-line worlds. This is not ground-breaking stuff…the sense/need for learners to gain visual literacy has been around for a while – even pre-Web.
People have been studying and manipulating how the eye moves over a page of text (see any speed reader) or scans an advertisement (see any cigarette ad in the past 10 years) or views a web page (see any basic web design course) for quite some time now.
For the most part, it is humanity’s top sense and so our brains are wired to interpret a visual world.
More recently, though, I have been struck by how effective tag clouds have become as a visual representation of popularity or importance. (In today’s web is there a difference? But that’s another post) I remember the first time I saw a tag cloud and thought, “wow, that makes so much sense.”
Does it makes sense because the human brain builds understanding in visual ways (seeing is believing) or is it because I have become so visually sensitive from years of doing this ed tech stuff?
Does it matter?
Ultimately, our learners live in this world. So do we.
This world is requiring of them (us) a sophisticated visual literacy that reaches beyond the “scanning of a page” to understanding visual cues, reading iconography in an instant, and deciphering intent and meaning from intentional layout and design.
A month or so ago, I was on the TED Talks site. Terrific stuff, most of you reading this have been there, seen the videos, bought into the messages.
But have you checked out their homepage? Have you seen how they handle communicating popularity? Or currency?
Squares of various video moments grow or shrink depending on what criteria you click on the left. You want most recently updated? Click that and the videos change size to reflect your choice. Watch them change when you click most talks or most discussed or most emailed.
Don’t trust my little explanation…check it out. View the videos later. For now, learn from how they use visuals to communicate.
A kind of dynamic image cloud – always changing, always user-driven.
That thinking got me thinking, “what if you kept notes that way?”
students people became so visually-tuned that they organized thought that way?
Maybe we already do. In which case, what if note-taking matched that visual style?
I’ve always been an “outline” note-taker. You know the type…make a point, related points get indented underneath that point. New points get outdented (I love that that’s become a word). You’ve seen this form of note-taking or done it or taught it.
And that form works. You can study from it. You can remember how points relate and there is a flow to your notes that reflect the chronological time spent listening.
But what if a more visual style fostered better understanding?
I decided to play with the idea.
At the Learning 2.0 conference, I used Smart Notebook software (typically used for presentations on Smart Boards) to take notes in each of the sessions I attended. (They were awesome by the way) I chose this software, because it allows for quick typing and then instantly moving the text object anywhere on the page. Resizing is a click and a drag of the mouse and font color changes are no more than a highlight and click away. Add to that the ease of adding new “slides” (one click) and re-ordering them if needed. The ease of layout manipulation and simplicity of tools made this an easy choice over Word, Photoshop or any other software I had on my computer.
Did it work?
That’s a little harder to say definitively.
All note-taking is subject to personal taste and recall. It’s intent is recall for the note-taker, rarely for someone else. It’s why supplying the notes on the conference Ning was helpful for others, but still NOT like being at the session.
I’ve shared one example from a session I attended given by Alan November. At times I added my own questions in among the notes, emphasizing them with white space, color, size, or alignment.
Have a look…the slides lose a little impact in the export/translation to PowerPoint and then to Slideshare (not to mention the size factor is lost). But you get the general idea. “Order of slides” still handles general flow of the session, but the freedom to go back, add comments and manipulate layout to reflect thought processes was pretty interesting.
(And I wasn’t playing so much with it that I was missing out on what the speakers were talking about.)
I was putting thoughts to screen in a way that was reflective of how they were being formed in my mind.
That’s pretty cool.
Maybe it’s not the way to teach note-taking to children. Maybe it’s too wishy-washy or hippy or crunchy or new agey or Web 2.0-ey. Maybe children need help organizing their thoughts rather than fostering “cloud” thinking.
But given the visual literacy requirements of the now and the future, we are obligated to show students tag clouds and sites with visual components like TED talks.
We NEED to talk to them about visual literacy and making meaning from color and alignment and layout and design.
And then, we need to ASK THEM to explain to us how they see the world and how they make meaning from what they see.
Because I bet that’s pretty cool too.
And I don’t think we ask them enough.
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