Are We Text Snobs?

This post will be double posted to the tech learning blog shortly.

Schools are text snobs. Most people reading this are text snobs. Our institutions are built around the written word. That in itself is not bad and we owe much of our culture, knowledge and understanding to the written word. It’s not our fault, we’ve been living in a world that up until a few years ago, only offered us to easily produce content via the written word. But like the revolution of the printing press, we are in the midst of a revolution of a digital nature that’s allowing us to easily create and consume context in many different forms, specifically audio, video and imagery.

So what are our schools doing to address this? I’d say for the most part very little. I must say I’m please to note that many curricula, are beginning to address this gap. In fact my own Saskatchewan Curriculum identifies these six strands as the cornerstone of the English Language Arts Curriculum: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening and Viewing and Representing. All are considered equal but take a wild guess as to which ones receive the bulk of the attention? No doubt that many standardized tests and assessments focus solely on reading and writing and thus perpetuate the lack of attention on the other four. But even those who are building vast digital footprints and experience the power of publishing and connecting are doing so mostly via text. Believe me, I don’t want to discount its importance and value. Writing and the written word will always hold a prominent place in our understanding and experience of life but I’m concerned over the limited use of video, audio and even imagery among teachers and leaders in our schools and in particular those who have created and are developing an online presence.

(This post continues with the following video)

(And now some audio)


In general, schools have placed writing ahead of other forms of expression. Writing is what is measured and what is valued. As we consider the changing of the guard of modern communication.  The recent marketing ploy by the Australian government to find someone to be the caretaker of an island illustrates the shifting of communication skills. Instead of simply asking applicants to write an essay, they were to submit a video to sell themselves. Consider this quote by Stephen Downes.

OK, these are videos for that contest to live on an Australian island (the contest was probably the public relations coup of the year). They are, of course, creative and imaginative and effective. Now for the kicker: ten years ago, not one student in a hundred, nay, one in a thousand, could have produced videos like this. It’s a whole new skill, a vital and important skill, and one utterly necessary not simply from the perspective of creating but also of comprehending video communication today. Some people out there

Marco Torres get a great deal of credit and is seen as an extraordinary educator. Not that he isn’t but part of the reason Torres gets the attention is the fact that very few teachers/schools allow students to create and express themselves with video. I’d love for this to change. We need more Marco Torres’. The challenge is that most teachers who have developed their online presence is largely because of their ability to write. This continues the bias towards text over other mediums. We need kids that can write, tell a story, engage in a coherent, interesting conversation and tell stories with still and moving images. Shouldn’t we be modeling this? Who’s going to teach them?

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  • I’m with you, Dean—video is playing a more important role in communication and persuasion.

    The instructional barriers to incorporating video in the classroom are HUGE though.

    A simple example from my experience:I’m given 2.5 GB of storage space on our school’s server—and the majority of free video hosting services are blocked— so simply posting clips for students who are in the pre-production process is nearly impossible.

    I think there are more teachers interested in video than you think. We give up, though, when we have to fight through constant digital roadblocks.

    Does this resonate with anyone else?


  • I get where you are trying to go, but I’m thinking “snobbery” is a bit strong here. If it were snobbery, we would inwardly feel that our text form of communication is vastly superior, where it is more a case of being vastly familiar. We would ridicule and look down our text noses at those video idiots.

    It seems to run the other way- people clinging to the textual dominant communication form due so in fear- of the unknown, of looking incompetent, of not being able to “grok” it (if the texties know what ‘grok’ is?).

    Yes, we need more use, appreciation, and acceptance of media as a forms of communication/literacy/etc. At the same time– I would avoid an implication that video is always better. There are some limitations. I cannot easily scan video like text (yes I can scrub, but it is guess work- there is no equivalent for a quick eye scan of text). Also, search to find within video is a technology still beyond our grasps. Is video better for a person just talking? I question that as well. And really, we should not be talking OR but AND for media.

    And doh, I should have commented in video 😉
    .-= Alan Levine´s last blog ..Tech Glory Days (stuff that gets spammed) =-.

  • Your post reminds me of Seth Godin’s ‘Textbook Rant.’ He argues that they often don’t sell the topic, and that they are incredibly impractical. Instead, teachers should develop material, including visual and auditory resources, to energize and empower learning.
    .-= Paul C´s last blog ..Obama’s Ghana Speech Inspires, Prods =-.

  • Not long after reading your post, I was reading through Chapter 5 of Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” where he addresses this topic head on, outlining how the worlds of words and pictures meet in a plane of creation where comics sit. It has a great opening series of a kid doing a typical show and tell where “he uses words and images interchangeably… it’s considered normal in this society for children to combine words and pictures, as long as they grow out of it.”

    .-= Alan Levine´s last blog ..Getting Around Google Search’s Theft of Copiable URLs =-.

  • Alan,

    the word “snob” came to mind as I thought of a story told to me when attending a conference last year on First Nations people. The story was about a treaty document that was rescued from a collector by local Indians. The treaty agreement was a pictograph created by the Indians while the English had a pure text document. At the time and even currently the text document was seen as the more sophisticated and continued to view the Indians as less educated and ultimately not as smart. The details and intricasies of the pictograph detailed emotion and much richer context than the text document.

    In many ways this belief still reigns. Written text is the superior, more intellectual way of communicating. I’d call that a form of snobery. Yes?
    .-= Dean Shareski´s last blog ..Are We Text Snobs? =-.

  • I agree with Allan and Dean. Its not an text snobbery OR new media proposition we are faced with in this revolution. It is an AND proposal. The leaders of this revolution will have to be superheroes, I am glad to have the support of people like Dean as I begin my teaching career.
    .-= Dana Woods´s last blog ..The skills of which century? =-.

  • Tim

    Excellent post. I started writing a comment here and it got so long I turned it into a post instead. Lots of text and no audio or video, however, so I need to work on that. 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration.
    .-= Tim´s last blog ..Educators Are Snobs =-.

  • Hi Dean,

    Great post. I would go so far as to say we are even more than “text snobs.” We are format bigots – favoring one format (print) over other equal or greater means of communication. We definitely treat print resources in different ways than we do other media – especially in schools and libraries.

    Keep up the good work,


  • Doug,

    Coming from someone who works directly with libraries and librarians, you represent an important but I’m guessing controversial perspective in your circles.

  • I would say that the audio and the video presence is so
    important.. The text would just be as simple form to read.
    I am thinking of that too…
    We need to have good communication towards the society by using videos and not just text

  • Great job Dean, i often read your post to keed up to date. I dont consider a text snob, i like reading and blogging. So im more than a simple text snob, im a text freak!

  • Erin Nash

    Great post! This reminds me of a novel I just started reading called Proust and the Squid. I’ve only started reading it, but one of the author’s main assertions is that humans aren’t genetically wired for reading. As the author begins, ” We were never born to read [. . .] And with this invention (reading), we rearranged the very organization of our brain, which in turn, expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the evolution of our species.” Our ancestors made primary usage of visual and oral communication prior to the invention of reading. Considering this, it only makes sense to try to incorporate various forms of communication into any learning environment. Nothing is wrong with reading; similarly, nothing is wrong with utilizing other forms of communication within the classroom.

  • Schools should embrace technology they seem to shun it. There is alot that could be done to embrace text.

  • I don’t think the term “snobs” is too strong at all. If a learner is relatively less gifted in dealing with text than in working with other media, he or she faces all manner of penalties and barriers in our schools. There are learners for whom it is essential that information be presented in non-text formats. It’s also necessary for many learners to have non-text ways of showing what they know. Check out this video, made recently by a learner with diagnosed learning “disabilities”, where she discusses some of the barriers faced in her own journey to achieve a teaching credential —
    .-= Paul Hamilton´s last blog ..Celebrating Diversity =-.

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