Recently I was involved in a discussion regarding the use of visual and textual content in education. This arose out of a presentation I did on some of my tools (Focuspad and Trackpad) both of which present material in a textual manner. The discussion centered around which methods were most effective but in reflecting on this discussion I have had some valuable insights.
I’m not going to deny that the use of visuals in education is a valuable tool. However, like most things, it has to be used in the right situation. It is also interesting to note that approximately 90% of communication is non verbal (number varies based on different studies).
That 10% of verbal communication is very important however. In the majority of communication it is the verbal that delivers the actual message and the non verbal that provides ancilliary information (allows you to assess the nature of what the verbal part is delivering). As usual with these types of things, both components are vital and depend on the other. So it is still important to develop strong textual skills.
The premise was that my tools were predominantly textual and were poor as a result. I feel that both a tool to foster creative writing and a tool to manage tasks are textual by nature but let’s leave that part for now.
Many examples were given to illustrate that visuals are important and necessary for effective education to take place. What I realised after however was the distinction between our points of view. The supporting material that was presented in favor of visuals was pretty much all to do with delivery of material. The textual based however was largely to do with students creating and managing. One was giving and the other was doing. Both are important and both are to do with education but they are relly two distinct activities and the problem was that we were comparing them as one.
This isn’t to say that delivering content should only be visual and creating content should only be textual. Far from it. I do feel they favor being given in these ways however in the interest of creating a free flowing workflow when used on a computer. Presenting information in a visual manner takes time to create (especially if done well) yet is easier for the end user to absorb. Vice versa, textual material is easier to create however the end user requires more effort to absorb, not just in the actual reading but also in the use of their imagination to recreate the model in thier mind. This is also dependent on the tools you are using:
- With pen and paper, or whiteboard, it is often much easier to pen out a sketch of an idea than it is to write (especially if you have handwriting like mine).
- With a computer based medium it is often much easier to type out a description than it is to rig up a sketch.
This presents some interesting opportunities as education is both learning how to express ideas as well as learning how to absorb them. Ideally we should have a mix between non technology based activities and technology based activities intertwined around a common objective. Students should be given the opportunity to explore and reflect on how they deliver and absorb information via the two.
When the student is being creative you want to provide as little resistance as possible to them getting their ideas out of their minds and into the open for everyone to share. So when you are using pen and paper get them to draw pictures and when they are using computers get them to write. The writing also presents other advantages in that they have to practice being eloquent (which is a valuable skill in itself) but also that the other students have to practice using their imagination in understanding and applying it.
An interesting exercise would be to get the students to pass a message from one to another in a chain like in chinese whispers. The only difference is that they will alternate between drawing the idea and writing the idea. After you can present the chain to the class and see how the idea changed as it went along.
As with a lot of these things it appears to me that there is no black and white. It isn’t one or the other. The ideal is a mix of the two used in the right ways.